Diversity Champions exemplify an unyielding commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout their campus communities, across academic programs, and at the highest administrative levels. INSIGHT Into Diversity selected institutions that rank in the top tier of past Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award recipients.
Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) is committed to becoming the preeminent public, urban university in the nation, and it recognizes that placing a high value on diversity and inclusive excellence is an essential step toward achieving this goal. As such, the administration has implemented a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives over the past two decades, allocating $200,000 annually to such efforts.
[Above: The Metropolitan State University of Denver’s campus is home to students from a wide variety of backgrounds]
A Focus on Faculty
The recruitment and inclusion of faculty from underrepresented groups is paramount to the success of MSU Denver, says Myron Anderson, PhD, associate to the president for diversity and a professor of education technology at the university. According to Anderson, whose own experiences with inequities as an African American instilled in him a passion for diversity and inclusion, faculty members of diverse backgrounds bring different ideas and perspectives to campus, and when they collaborate, they strengthen the curriculum.
To aid the recruitment of diverse and underrepresented faculty members, MSU Denver created the Stealth Recruitment Portal, an interactive portion of the university’s website launched earlier this year to help attract new faculty to the area. While people used to visit a college campus before accepting a position and moving there, Anderson says that now, people are more likely to search for a new position and a place to call home simply by using the internet.
“One of the biggest challenges we face in recruiting is getting people to want to move to Denver. There is a misconception that because we are in Colorado, it snows all the time. Although we are in the mile-high city, we are in a valley, and it actually snows a lot more up in the mountains,” he says. “The Stealth Recruitment Portal is an interactive forum with links and videos that paint a picture of what it’s like to live and work here.”
The portal consists of information about Denver and the surrounding area and employment programs at the university, as well as an employment application that potential candidates can fill out and attach a résumé to in order to be considered for future openings.
Another way MSU Denver is working to improve diverse faculty recruitment is with its Faculty Recruitment Incentive Program (FRIP), which is designed for faculty who still need to complete their dissertation and are in the process of earning a doctorate degree. The initiative encourages academic divisions to seek out and invite candidates from groups underrepresented in their departments or the university overall to apply for open departmental positions.
“Participants get a $10,000 yearly stipend, a reduced teaching load, and have five years to finish their doctorate,” Anderson says. “The program focuses on underutilized groups such as women and minorities, but every participant must meet all academic requirements [regardless of race or gender] before they are chosen. They must stay at the university and work a minimum of three years after completion of the program.”
Tricia Hudson-Matthew, assistant professor and director of the Center for Addiction Studies in MSU Denver’s Human Services Department, says that FRIP gave her invaluable hands-on experience while making it easy for her to balance her work and academic load.
“FRIP allowed me to get my feet wet in an educational [setting] while still earning my doctorate and provided me mentorship while working on my dissertation,” she says. “It is a great way to open up that avenue for minorities who are completing a doctorate degree. You get to teach, but it’s not an overload while you are still learning.”
Another initiative focused on supporting minority faculty is the Tenure Track Supper Club, a voluntary program that uses mentorship as a retention tool. Tenure-track professors from all underrepresented groups and faculty members who already have tenure are welcome to join. At these suppers, which take place at a hotel on campus, senior faculty engage with and mentor junior faculty to help them on the path to achieving tenure. Anderson says the club usually has 15 to 20 members each year.
The Center for Faculty Excellence provides an additional on-campus resource for professors at MSU Denver. It supports the professional growth and development of all faculty members across disciplines and in a variety of areas: teaching, scholarly activities, and service. Through the center, individuals can receive feedback on and help developing their portfolios to aid them in the promotion and tenure process.
These and other retention efforts by MSU Denver seem to be having a positive impact.
When Anderson joined the university in 2004, he says that the success rate for African Americans earning tenure was only 40 percent, while other races — including other racial and ethnic minorities — hovered around 90 percent. However, since the inception of retention programs at the university, African American tenure-track professors have joined their colleagues, with nearly 90 percent achieving tenure.
“The Center for Faculty Excellence, the Tenure Track Supper Club, and our attention to the university climate provide an infrastructure for retention,” says Anderson. “Many schools focus on recruitment numbers and then wonder why their retention rates are so low. We focus on retention first, then recruitment. Recruiting diverse faculty doesn’t mean anything if you don’t retain them.”
Since 2005, MSU Denver has experienced a 62 percent increase in faculty and a 200 percent increase in administrators from underrepresented groups.— with minorities now comprising more than 30 percent of the university’s workforce. Anderson says the representation of women in campus leadership has also improved.
Diversifying the Student Body
Inclusive excellence at the student level at MSU Denver has involved a focus on the diversification of the student body, efforts which have led to a notable increase in Hispanic enrollment. Although the university currently serves more Hispanic students than does any other higher education institution in Colorado, it has not yet received federal Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) status — which requires at least 25 percent Hispanic undergraduate full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment — thus making the university ineligible for federal HSI funds.
However, in 2007, MSU Denver launched its HSI Initiative to identify strategies to increase enrollment of these students to 25 percent by 2018, as well as to support Hispanic students’ educational success through degree attainment. And over the past nine years, Hispanic FTE enrollment has risen steadily at the institution, jumping from 12.5 to 20.3 percent as of fall 2015. Reaching the 25 percent target by 2018 will be a challenge, but in June 2015, MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan instituted a new HSI Task Force to help the university accomplish this goal.
The task force has made several recommendations thus far, including developing a more strategic approach to providing both traditional and nontraditional first-generation Hispanic students ongoing assistance in navigating admissions, financial aid, enrollment, and other institutional and academic areas. Additionally, it suggested creating an interactive HSI website and collaborating with community colleges — where a majority of Hispanic students begin their postsecondary education — to develop transfer pathways for these individuals.
Placing a high value on inclusive excellence has made MSU Denver capable of successfully attracting and retaining diverse faculty, staff, and students, Anderson says.
“You can have diversity without excellence,” he says, “but you can’t have excellence without diversity.”●
Lauren Healey is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. MSU Denver is a 2014, 2015, and 2016 INSIGHT Into Diversity HEED Award recipient.