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Feb. 24, 2011 Volume 32, No. 21

Faculty Council debates the value of diversity-intensive courses

hate-crime forum

DIFFICULT DIALOGUE A panel of MU law professors discusses hate crimes Feb. 17 in Hulston Hall. The event, which drew about 100 people, followed the arrest of an MU student for allegedly spray-painting a racial slur on a campus statue. Nicholas Benner photo


Final vote likely in April

If a course devoted to “the diverse human experience” won’t prevent acts of racial, ethnic or gender bias on campus, why should MU students be required to take it?

That question is at the center of the debate over a mandatory diversity-intensive course being considered by the MU Faculty Council. In a spirited discussion of a draft proposal for the curriculum change at its Feb. 17 meeting, most members said they favored a diversity requirement, while suggesting ways to gather more support before the general faculty votes on the measure.

Harry Tyrer, a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department, said focusing on the recent case of a student arrested for defacing a statue with a racial slur or last year’s “cotton ball” incident does little to strengthen the case for a diversity requirement.

“These students are going to need this issue of learning how to deal with diversity,” he said. “I think we should try to sell it on those terms instead of [with] the shameful episodes that have happened. This is an improvement in our students, not a punishment for those who have done bad things.”

 One objective of the course is “to observe and critically analyze the diverse human experience.” The draft proposal includes nearly 160 existing courses that would fulfill the requirement. A subcommittee of the Committee on Undergraduate Education would develop critieria for new courses.

Nicole Monnier, director of undergraduate studies in the German & Russian Studies Department, said her colleagues had a “lukewarm response” to the draft because the course list emphasizes the study of racial and gender issues.

“We’re not on this list,” she said. “It would be nice to put in some other courses, just to sell this and get more people behind it.”

Economics professor Shawn Ni said he supports campus diversity efforts. But the requirement could “force faculty to spend hours writing justifications” for diversity-intensive courses, he said. Ni also suggested the course isn’t in the longterm interest of students who will compete in a global economy.

“I don’t see a single math and science class,” he said. “This will divert the student effort even further away from that.”

Victoria Johnson, chair of the council’s Academic Affairs Committee, said faculty would not be required to “submit or engage” in a diversity-intensive class. She added that most of the diversity courses overlap with MU’s general-education requirements.

Plant sciences professor Bill Wiebold said departments would love to limit students to courses focused on their majors. However, he said, that’s not the only value of a college education.

“In my mind, going to a university means something different,” Wiebold said, “and I trust my colleagues to make the assessment that going to a university is broader than just getting a degree in plant science, and that it makes my students better citizens if they at least sample other things, and diversity is one of those.”

The council will consider revisions to the draft in March.