University of Cincinnati battles lack of diversity in the wake of dean's resignation

'We have a lot of work to do'

CINCINNATI – University of Cincinnati students who are angry at the lack of diversity on campus won’t get an argument from the school’s top diversity official.

Interim Chief Diversity Officer
 Bleuzette Marshall shares in their frustration at the low numbers of African American and other minority students that attend and graduate from UC, as well as the number of minority faculty and administrators.

“I do feel like progress is being made, but we have a lot of work to do,” she said.

UC announced on Dec. 3 it was pledging an additional $440,000 annually beginning in fall 2014 for three scholarship programs plus a one-time $200,000 infusion into its Turner Scholars program.

  • $100,000 from President Santa Ono’s office annually given to the Darwin T. Turner Scholars Program, which offers full-tuition scholarships to some minority and/or low-income students from Ohio or areas that qualify for in-state tuition. Students must meet GPA and standardized test minimums; and the one-time $200,000 boost to its reserve funds to further support the retention of those students.
  • $140,000 for the new Niehoff Presidential Scholars Program, which will  support women and students of color in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine) majors.
  • $200,000 for  the Yates Scholarship Program by The Graduate School, in partnership with the office Provost Beverly Davenport.

The new money will assist 150-175 students a year, according to Caroline Miller, senior associate vice president of enrollment management. 

The long-simmering issue of racial disparity boiled over in November when Ronald Jackson abruptly resigned as dean of UC’s College of Arts & Sciences after just 16 months on the job. Jackson earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UC and was the university’s first African-American dean. The College of Arts & Sciences is the largest college at UC.

An open records request by WCPO for email exchanges between Jackson and Provost Beverly Davenport and for any Jackson's performance reviews show ongoing job performance concerns that culminated in an ultimatum for Jackson to resign or be fired.

“The only decision to be made by 5 p.m. today is whether you want me to communicate to the campus community that you are resigning as dean or that we have asked you to step down from your position as dean,” Davenport wrote to Jackson on Nov. 12, the same day that Jackson resigned.

His departure came just two months after an anonymous cartoon circulated on campus that lampooned Jackson and Carol G. Tonge Mack, director of Student Retention Initiatives, using crude racial stereotypes.

Campus administrators publicly condemned the cartoon and rallied around Jackson, but the author was never identified. State prosecutors ended an investigation by determining that the cartoon was protected by the First Amendment, no matter how offensive, and that no criminal conduct had occurred.

Jackson alluded to the issue of race in his resignation letter, writing, “The bitterness of this moment is in all that came with being the college's first and the university's only African American dean. While I stood proudly as dean, I, along with the UC community, endured racist cartoons and public mischaracterizations aimed at me.”

He has not responded to several emails by WCPO seeking comment.

Davenport, who came to UC as provost last summer, convened a town hall meeting the day after Jackson resigned, and heard several students express their frustration about the racial climate on campus.

The following day, Samuel Burbanks, a student and a leader of UC’s United Black Doctoral Student Organization, led a protest decrying what he described as “embarrassingly low numbers of black students, large gaps in graduation rates, poor retention rates, lack of recruitment, retention, and promotion of black faculty,” which he ascribed to “the continued failure of the President and Provost to enact recommendations made from their own Diversity Plan .”

A WCPO analysis of the racial makeup of students at UC and five other universities shows that UC fares better than Miami and Northern Kentucky universities, the Tri-State’s other two public universities, in terms of minority representation. But compared to three similar universities within American Athletic Conference – all of which are research-intensive and located in urban areas – UC generally lags.

See how the University of Cincinnati's diversity compares other institutions.

In the 2012-13 academic years, 7.5 percent of  UC’s students were African American. That tops University of Pittsburgh (5.3 percent African American) but fell far short of Temple (11.9 percent) and University of South Florida (10 percent).

UC also had a smaller percentage of Hispanic, Asian-American and multi-racial

students than the three conference peers analyzed (with the exception of an equal percentage – 2.5 percent – of Hispanic students as Pittsburgh).

The numbers indicate that UC’s students are more diverse in virtually every racial category than Miami and NKU.

Jackson's Departure Accelerated UC Review

The leadership team charged with tackling diversity issues is largely new, with Davenport joining UC last summer and Marshall assuming her role as interim chief diversity officer last February.

“My plan was to spend the month of December crafting an annual report and releasing it in January,” Marshall said in an interview. That timeline has been accelerated in light of Jackson’s departure and the tumult that followed.

She is leading an effort to quantify how well the university is meeting its diversity goals, analyzing raw data beginning with 2010 numbers over a broad array of numbers that paint a picture of minority representation at all levels of leadership and student programs.

“Part of the effort is making sure that initiatives are not tied to a person but engrained into the institution,” she said.

While Marshall concedes that UC falls short of its goals of creating a welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds, she said she and others are working on those issues.

She distributed an eight-point progress report to campus on Nov. 25, which included the following points:

• The hiring of an assistant director for multicultural recruitment.
• Distribution of 23 Diversity Incentive Grants totaling $280,000 to develop or enhance diversity initiatives across campus.
• A $350,000 investment to renovate and expand the African American Cultural & Resource Center.
• And for the first time, the president’s cabinet and deans will participate in Diversity & Inclusion training.

The problem of boosting minority enrollment isn’t easily solved, she said.

“One of the biggest barriers is competition. At this point, several universities are competing for the students. Being able to offer the best financial packages is key,” Marshall said. “Another is pushing against what has been a declining population of high school students.”

She said Ohio’s college-age white population is expected to decline between 2010 and 2020 by 11.6 percent, while the pool of African American college-age students will drop by 16 percent. The Hispanic population in that group, on the other hand, is expected to soar 95 percent.

Regarding faculty recruitment, Marshall said, “Much like students, there is still more work to be done. The recruiting of diverse faculty is kind of a hot commodity in higher education, and you have the challenge of competition. We need resources for startup packages,” like graduate assistantships.

“I will say sometimes that I think there is a matter of critical mass and sometimes if the faulty member is the only one in the department, it could be a very isolating experience,” she said. In such cases, departments have to work hard to make faculty of different ethnicities feel welcome. If they do, then those pioneering faculty members will pass along positive reviews to prospective minority faculty who are considering joining the staff.

Marshall hopes to mitigate the reality of UC’s current shortcomings with communication about efforts to rectify the problems. ‘

“The good work the university is doing and getting that message to students is key. The message is that there are people in place to help them get to their goals.”


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