Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

May 4, 2017

The diversity blueprint: From planning to action

“Attract, retain and graduate a diverse and excellent student body” is one of six goals in the Diversity Blueprint. Photo: University Marketing & Communications.

“Attract, retain and graduate a diverse and excellent student body” is one of six goals in the Diversity Blueprint. Photo: University Marketing & Communications.

The University of Washington is an enormous — and complicated — organization. As such, any high-priority campus-wide goals require flexible plans; a one-size-fits-all model simply won’t do. In terms of diversity, every unit on campus — from academic programs to administrative offices — has its own priorities and resources. That’s why the new Diversity Blueprint is structured as a framework of goals that allows each unit to tailor its own action plans, and to approach those goals in individualized ways.

Compared to plans that hold all participants to the same metrics, framework models are flexible and spark the local conversations needed for measurable progress across such a large organization. The focus moves to, “what will it look like to achieve this goal in our unit?”

“That was a lesson we learned from the previous Diversity Blueprint,” says Chadwick Allen, associate vice provost for Faculty Advancement, who explains that more localized and more flexible plans can lead to more meaningful accountability. “Unfortunately,” he adds, “when everyone is considered responsible, no one is really responsible.”

A flexible framework

We want to ensure [the Blueprint] is grounded in everyone’s reality.”

— Chadwick Allen, associate vice provost for Faculty Advancement

When the time came to draft a new five-year Diversity Blueprint for the UW, Allen, who co-chairs the UW Diversity Council, knew the plan could benefit from a modified approach. Ultimately, the council developed the current framework which still lays out big-picture goals with recommended actions but leaves the individual methods and metrics up to each unit.

Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Minority Affairs & Diversity, Rickey Hall, joined the UW in 2016 during the final stages of the drafting process and now co-chairs the new blueprint’s adoption going forward.

“The Diversity Blueprint is a framework model, which I prefer to a more prescriptive plan,” says Hall. “This way, everyone can see themselves in it.”

Hall points out that the ultimate success of the blueprint relies on inclusivity, buy-in and open communication across multiple stakeholders. “These issues are complex, often emotionally laden, so it takes time,” he says about the difficult conversations that are part of diversity planning.

Guiding a shift in culture
The Diversity Blueprint allows more space for individual units to make decisions about priorities and actions.

“We all know it’s important to have leadership buy-in from the top, but we also know people don’t like being told what to do,” says Allen. The plan should help units to “think across goals,” he says, and to take ownership of ensuring diversity throughout their programs. For example, a college that has made progress on student diversity may still struggle with faculty diversity. By considering how faculty diversity relates to larger pipeline issues, that college could prioritize plans to create a more inclusive pipeline for future faculty.

Diversity Blueprint Goals | 2017-2021

Goal 1: Cultivate an inclusive campus climate
Goal 2: Attract, retain and graduate a diverse and excellent student body
Goal 3: Attract and retain a diverse faculty
Goal 4: Attract and retain a diverse staff
Goal 5: Assess tri-campus diversity needs
Goal 6: Improve accountability and transparency

Broad input and representation
The blueprint was developed by the Diversity Council, which is made up of two representatives from each school, college and administrative unit, as well as the Bothell and Tacoma campuses. Multiple student and faculty representatives also sit on the council.

The UW charged the council with soliciting ideas from across campuses about goals and priorities, and consulting with experts in the field and at other universities. Over the course of the 2015-2016 academic year, the council developed, revised and reviewed the Diversity Blueprint, which was endorsed by the president and provost. The blueprint received approval from the Board of Regents in January 2017. “Part of why we asked the whole Diversity Council for their input rather than, say, simply have the chief diversity officer write it on his own, is because we wanted to ensure it’s grounded in everyone’s reality,” says Allen.

Workshops for next steps

“The new blueprint represents a more tricampus effort than we’ve ever had in UW history.”

— Terryl Ross, director of Diversity at UW Bothell

To guide units through the planning and action phases of implementing the blueprint, the Diversity Council has organized a series of workshops for unit leaders. Each session focuses on practical ideas for developing concrete plans under a specific goal area, as well as for identifying relevant metrics to track.

“The flexible framework provided by the Diversity Blueprint will help all of us in setting both near-term and long-term priorities for improving diversity in our units,” says David Eaton, dean of the Graduate School. “The support of workshops and resources allows each of us to determine plans for action in a way that is right for our area and the university as a whole.”

By helping to personalize priorities, the workshops are intended to empower and support each unit and campus in creating its own plans.

Staying nimble for the future
The Diversity Blueprint has a specific five-year time frame because, as Allen points out, “things can change, so it doesn’t make sense to create plans to enforce for the next decade.” The cyclical process allows the UW to self-reflect and adjust more regularly. Although it can be challenging for such a large institution to be nimble over a relatively brief five-year period, UW leaders believe the effort will pay off as the culture keeps shifting towards greater accountability — and dedicated action.

Forging An Inclusive Tri-Campus Vision

UW Bothell and UW Tacoma representatives on the Diversity Council helped write the UW’s overarching Blueprint and developed customized campus action plans that reflect individual campus priorities around diversity.

In Bothell
Director of Diversity Terryl Ross is helping the campus to finalize its current Diversity Action Plan and to reassess future steps to align with the UW’s Diversity Blueprint. In the next planning cycle, Ross recognizes the importance of balancing autonomy with a shared tri-campus vision. He also highlights the Diversity Council’s inclusive structure as a place to coordinate, advise and share best practices. “For me, the most important thing is that we [as diversity officers] have a common place to go with more of a tri-campus effort than we’ve ever had in UW history,” says Ross.

In Tacoma
A coordinating committee of representatives from across the Tacoma campus developed Strategic Impact Goals in light of Chancellor Mark Pagano’s priorities for diversity, community feedback and the UW’s Diversity Blueprint. “We identified six ‘wildly important’ goals that consider the needs of our student body, community, culture and growth,” says Sharon Parker, then assistant chancellor for Equity and Inclusion at Tacoma. The process included creating a committee with representatives from across the Tacoma campus who solicited ideas and input and led the work towards each goal, and who now track progress. “We’re educating the campus,” says Parker. “We’re at the point where we’ve succeeded in seeding issues of diversity and equity throughout campus, and now we’re looking at specific ways to implement plans.”