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Cultural committee approved

Karen Langley | Thursday, February 2, 2006

Student government representatives presented the Student Senate’s resolutions on cultural competencies – which would create a committee of faculty, students and administrators to provide recommendations on incorporating diversity education into the Notre Dame curriculum – for debate at the Faculty Senate meeting Wednesday night. Though the debate turned heated at times, both resolutions passed.

The student presenters – including Senate Minority Affairs Committee chair Rhea Boyd and student body president Dave Baron – connected the resolutions’ goals to University President Father John Jenkins’ remarks about improving diversity in his inaugural address last September.

“Father Jenkins uses the term ‘diversity’ as an aspect that enhances the educational objects of ND, and we use the term ‘cultural competencies’ in the same way,” Boyd said.

Mark Gunty, assistant director of the Office of Institutional Research, presented relevant information from surveys taken of graduating seniors’ experiences at Notre Dame.

“There’s very strong relation between diversity practices and developing awareness of social problems,” Gunty said.

The studies showed that greater exposure to different cultures has some expected effects, but also some unexpected trickle-down effects, Gunty said, including a lower overall happiness with Notre Dame among those who have been most exposed to diversity issues.

“Although [students who have been involved in diversity activities] are slightly less satisfied with experience at Notre Dame, they are tremendously less satisfied with cultural diversity … at Notre Dame,” Gunty said. “At other institutions we’re getting 70 percent of students satisfied with the diversity of their campus, but at Notre Dame 37 percent are satisfied.”

Gunty suggested these results are indicative of overall impressions of the University.

“We can also see [it comes] as no big surprise that in almost all diversity practices, Notre Dame ranks lower than those schools,” he said.

One faculty member suggested Notre Dame’s low satisfaction ratings in matters of diversity derived not from the University’s attempts to educate its students about cultural competencies, but from the lack of diversity in its student body.

Other members expressed alarm at what they saw as an attempt by some students to enforce their beliefs about education on the rest of the student body.

“It appears to me there is concern by some students that other students aren’t taking the right courses,” economics professor Thomas Gresik said. “My concern is that we’re being asked as faculty to save the students from themselves.”

Boyd denied the resolution had any power of imposition over the student body.

“This committee in no way endorses a new requirement,” she said. “[This resolution] is simply to form committee to discuss the issue.”

Gresik questioned whether a new committee would trample on the grounds of other committees.

“Personally I would like to affirm students studying difference in cultures,” he said. “But I have a concern with the proposal because I’m wondering … I’m wondering if a committee like this might not cross paths with another committee that’s thinking about general education requirements of students in whole.”

Another faculty member suggested diversity could be brought to the student body without involving the curriculum, through broadening of study abroad options and increased admittance of international students.

“Our purpose to bring this resolution was expressly not to address experience; our purpose was to address the charge that President Jenkins brought,” Boyd said. “We want something that would contribute to academic experience, something formal.”

Not all professors opposed the resolution.

“I’d like to applaud the proposal,” political science professor Eileen Botting said. “At most other schools I’ve attended taught at, it’s been a matter of fact for the past 10 to 15 years to have a requirement for a class with a non-European, non-western approach.”

Boyd emphasized that while studies of other top universities have curricular requirements related to diversity issues, the committee would aim to develop a plan uniquely geared to the needs of Notre Dame.