Board of Regents to discuss diversity plan

Rebekah Alvey

The Board of Regents will be discussing the new diversity plan at its upcoming Sept. 22 committee meeting, in the next step to approve the plan.

Board of Regents Chair Phillip Bale said from what he has reviewed of the plan, the goal is to create a “culturally competent environment.” He said WKU should be inclusive based on ethnic background and sexual orientation, among others things.

The intention of a diversity plan is partially to abide by laws, set by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, but also speaks to the better qualities of a university, Bale said.

“What makes a university a community [is] where ideas are shared,” Bale said.

Lynne Holland, Chief Diversity officer, said the plan has already gone through many steps and represents the work of a large group of people ranging from students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders. Already, the plan has been approved by the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Provost.

Since the plan has been finalized and shared with certain stakeholders, Holland said there is a sense of ownership and excitement that this plan can help achieve goals for cultural competency. Holland said the ideas in the new plan are less theoretical and seem more possible to others now.

Last week the Board attended Governor Matt Bevin’s conference on post secondary education in Louisville, which occurs every two years. Because of this, Bale said the review of the diversity plan comes at a good time.

Bale said the plan also plays into some other “hot topics” at WKU, including efforts to improve recruitment, retention and graduation. During the annual Board of Regents summer retreat it was revealed that retention rates for students have decreased since the previous year.

Holland said in order to retain students, there must be an environment that helps them thrive. She said the plan encourages the university to look at more than grades and scores, and to see what a student needs and create a web of services to help that student succeed.

Bale said this plan will focus on increasing recruitment, retention and graduation of specifically minority students and faculty to ensure their success. He said diversity of those factors is also included in performance based funding.

Performance based funding is state-allocated funding that takes into consideration a university’s student success or degrees awarded, course completion and operational support. This is a new model the state and state universities are shifting toward.

Bale said these factors and overall student success are the ultimate measures for a university to be judged on and are the “holy grail” for the Board of Regents.

“It’s what we are here for,” Bale said.

Included in the plan are references to the WKU mission and creed. Holland said these were things that helped guide and influence the plan because they represent what WKU stands for.

By including these statements, Holland said the ideas are made “apparent rather than tacet.”

Looking forward, Holland said she hopes to further engage students with the diversity plan. Already, she has created a Student Equity Council which includes students from a variety of organizations and backgrounds. Holland said the group is able to practice some of the ideas presented in the plan and provide feedback and ideas.

Holland said it is important for students to understand and practice cultural competency for a number of reasons. One of these, she said, is because employers are looking to hire people who understand that everyone is a part of many micro-cultures and is culturally literate.

One of the strategies in the plan is creating dialogue with parents explaining the importance and relevance of a college education. Holland said there has been a trend to not pursue a college degree.

However, Holland said it is important to illustrate that an educated population is still valued. She said she believes that no matter what occupation, people need to be educated, culturally competent and able to think critically.

Although the Board of Regents will not be voting to approve the new plan until the next Board of Regents meeting Oct. 27, Bale said he would be surprised if anyone objected to the plan and thinks the Board of Regents will be appreciative.

Holland said the current Board of Regents is an active and curious board and she looks forward to hear their thoughts and discussion.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].