I recently attended the summer meeting of the Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence – a consortium of leading public research universities that focuses on ensuring that students from all backgrounds are achieving academic excellence. This year’s meeting focused on increasing the diversity of the professoriate; increasing the number of students from historically underrepresented groups enrolling in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs; and reducing achievement gaps on standardized tests, among other topics.
Importantly, each topic also raised a more fundamental and overarching issue: As we work to advance all students, how do we define and foster a sense of unity and shared purpose amongst all members of our community? How do we integrate our diversity?
As one example of this broader focus, while enrollment in STEM programs has clear impacts on the career prospects of students from historically underrepresented groups, this enrollment also has large implications for the economic health and welfare of our entire society. Students from historically underrepresented groups constitute a large and growing proportion of our nation’s college students. The success of this group of students will determine our overall strength in STEM fields – a factor that will have a significant impact on our nation’s economy.
As a university president, the issue of our unity and common purpose dominates much of my thinking, and my colleagues at CADE shared many reflections on this issue. At the broadest level, the example of enrollment in STEM fields demonstrates that America’s economic and political future demands that we see the interconnections among ourselves.
Closer to home, seeing ourselves as one Aztec family – members of one community – is essential to the university’s long-term development and success. Shared traditions, such as Templo del Sol and New Student and Family Convocation, and participation in our cultural, artistic and athletic events are ways that we develop a mutual commitment to our community. These common experiences buttress the shared values – commitment to truth; focus on the personal, professional and intellectual development of our students, faculty and staff; and service to our communities – that reflect the best traditions of American higher education.
Collectively, our commitment to all of our students, our shared experiences and our shared values represent the answer to the question of how we integrate our diversity and move forward as one community.