Remarks at CUNY Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Conference: “The Power of Diversity”

March 22, 2013

Remarks for Chancellor Matthew Goldstein
CUNY Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Conference
March 8, 2013

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Let me first thank Vice Chancellor Ginger Waters, University Dean Jennifer Rubain, and the many talented CUNY faculty and staff who have organized and are participating in today’s conference.  It is your hard work and your dedication—often unsung—that makes the University a welcoming, energetic, enriching, and, yes, more inclusive place to study, work, and learn.

And let me offer a warm welcome to today’s distinguished speakers and panelists.  We have an outstanding group of educators, scholars, and leaders assembled here today.  I know that the University will benefit enormously from your ideas and your work on issues related to diversity and inclusion—including those of the panel you’ll hear from in a few minutes.

This is a very special day for CUNY.  It represents the fulfillment of a key priority generated by the University’s recent focus on understanding and strengthening faculty diversity.  Our efforts began with the creation of the Office of the University Dean for Recruitment and Diversity in 2007 and include several initiatives, from our Latino Faculty Initiative to our Decade of Science initiative.  It continued with a comprehensive study of faculty diversity by Cambridge Hill Partners, which led to a Diversity Action Plan.

In commissioning that plan, I knew that it could only be successful if it identified specific strategies to increase faculty diversity.  That’s why the plan includes everything from a postdoctoral fellowship program to mentoring programs for junior faculty to reviewing the language and reach of job descriptions.  And it also includes the organization of a biennial diversity conference.  Today’s gathering is the inaugural effort, and this excellent result is beyond what I could have imagined for a first conference.  I hope that the conversations and ideas shared today will help all of us strengthen the diversity of our faculty.

It’s clear by the response to the conference invitation and request for proposals that this work resonates with so many across the city, state, and country.  I think there’s a fundamental reason for that: diversity matters.

If there were ever a place that reflects the significance of diversity, it’s New York City: 8 million people, each with a unique story.  We’re a city of immigrants and a city of great contrasts, and we thrive from the contributions of an amazing array of sources.  Even better, we celebrate that diversity, whether it’s expressed in parades, food, languages, religious traditions, clothing, or customs.

Diversity has long been a core value here at The City University of New York, too.

CUNY was founded on the idea that a college education should be accessible to all, and we take seriously our commitment to welcoming students, staff, and faculty from all backgrounds:

  • Our student body is 17.7% Asian, 25.4% black, 27.2% Hispanic, and 29.5% white.
  • 41% of our undergraduates were born outside the U.S. mainland.
  • More than 32% of our full-time faculty are from underrepresented. minority groups, and nearly 50% of our full-time instructional and classified staff combined are minority.

While we’re very proud of our diversity, numbers alone do not tell the real story.  It’s what this mix of people can generate, together, that is so powerful.  Understanding our differences—whether race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or age—and creating a climate of inclusion, where all people feel valued, are not simply feel-good platitudes.  We know that a diverse environment within colleges and universities fosters better intellectual engagement and academic skills, enhances teaching and research, and prepares students for success in a global marketplace.  That’s the true power of diversity—to strengthen the intellectual rigor of our academic enterprise.

Last year, I commissioned a Jobs Task Force to look at the jobs and skills that are in demand in key sectors across the city.  Employers in health care, finance, advertising, higher education, and information technology told us that an essential skill their workers needed (besides, of course, rock-solid communication and analytical skills) was the skill of “cultural competence”—that is, the ability to serve a diverse customer base, both in the United States and abroad.  As industries compete in a more global environment, they increasingly need employees who can speak other languages, understand clients’ cultural differences, and work respectfully alongside workers of different ages and backgrounds.

It’s clear that as the demographics of our city and our country change, and the urgency to remain globally competitive increases, we must harness the talents of our entire population.  And that starts with us—with higher education.  We’re the key element in driving a more engaged, more skilled, more inclusive citizenry.  So how can we better manage diverse classrooms, laboratories, and workplaces?  How should we help graduates prepare for success in a more global, more diverse workplace?  And how do we measure success?

I commend all of you on addressing those questions head-on—today and every day—and working hard to create an environment that enables all of our faculty and students to stay challenged and to do their best work.

But there is still much work to do—as all of you know better than anyone.  (For starters, we need far more students from underrepresented groups pursuing advanced degrees and entering the professoriate.)  So let me end with a caveat.  I caution us not to think about diversity simply as an abstract concept or a goal in a strategic plan.  Nothing can deflate a good intention as quickly as calling it a strategy.  If we’re really serious about diversity, then we have to start by making a personal commitment to it.  We have to challenge our own awareness.  That means listening carefully to those we work with, and discovering their strengths, talents, and aspirations.  We need to see each of our colleagues and students as individuals, and learn how to encourage their contributions and their potential.  It’s better for our students and better for our institutions.

So again, thank you for all you do create the highest quality education possible for students.  I hope that today’s conference only fuels your passion and creativity.