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Monday, Oct. 20, 10:41 a.m.
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Dearth of diversity in UMaine positions cause ire

State representative, graduate student David Slagger questions university's out-reach to minorities

In a state where over 95 percent of its population is white, the University of Maine is an outlier.

With over 1,000 students representing 45 states and territories as well as 67 foreign countries, some feel that more should be done to reach out to minorities for faculty and administration positions.

“[I asked,] ‘Why is it all you old, white guys at the top?’” said David Slagger, a state representative for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and a graduate student at UMaine. “Of the whole campus, the thousands of employees, there’s four Native Americans working here. Where’s the outreach to us?”

According to the Office of Equal Opportunity, one of the 46 administrative positions is held by a minority. That one hire occurred between Aug. 8, 2011 and July 17, 2012. Of the 2,309 positions, from custodian to president, 5.8 percent self-identified as minorities and 4.5 percent chose not to self-identify.

That deficiency is one the UMaine Office of Equal Opportunity is combatting, according to Associate Director Bonita Grindle and Director Karen Kemble.

They said the office tries to make sure any job openings, whether faculty or administration level, are compliant with equal opportunity federal regulations and that the description is as specific as possible, to target the correct audiences.

“We try to be discipline-specific when hiring faculty positions because there are a lot of discipline-specific organizations, and those organizations often have mail lists people can participate in,” Kemble said, citing the American Psychological Association as an example of an organization that maintains special lists for women and minorities.

“When we start a process, if someone wants to fill a position [in their department], they design and create a job description and an ad,” Grindle said. “We review those and look for anything that could be discriminatory. We spend quite a bit of time doing that. We make sure that every ad has the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Employer disclaimer so that people know that we’re open and we certainly do not discriminate.”

After approving the position description, the Office of Equal Opportunity sends the job opening out to various agencies, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Kemble explained.

Soon after, according to Grindle, the description gets sent to a number of at least three dozen outreach programs, depending on the type of job. For example, a job opening in the liberal arts department could be sent to the Asian American Journalists Association.

“It’s important that we do this targeted outreach because I think it sends a different message,” Kemble said. “So if you read about the same position in the Chronicle, it may send a different message than if you read the same position in the [National] Association of Black Accountants, for example.”

“We’re hoping it sends a welcoming message,” she added. “I hope people understand that we are trying to reach out and be embracing and get as wide a variety of people to apply as we can.”

Grindle also said Maine’s location has something to do with the lack of people from minority populations who are hired.

“After Hurricane Katrina, I was on the phones saying we have these jobs, people were interested, they loved the position, but they couldn’t bring themselves to live in Maine, in the snow storms,” Grindle said. “We ended up with two or three folks who were [from] minorities and were the most qualified that couldn’t get themselves to come up here.

“It wasn’t for a lack of trying.”

In addition, Kemble believes that the lack of turnover in administration positions in higher education has something to do with the dearth of minorities.

“A lot of the times if you look at demographics that were getting Ph.D.s 30 years ago, the demographics were very different,” she said. “Nationally, that’s been changing. We’re an industry that doesn’t have a lot of turnover. Higher education isn’t like [other professions].”

Blue Sky Lodge

Slagger is also upset about a proposal he made that didn’t gain traction in UMaine President Paul Ferguson’s office.

As a proposal for Ferguson’s Blue Sky Project — a campuswide strategic plan that called for faculty and student input — Slagger suggested a Blue Sky Lodge, pushing it as “a place for gathering, sharing stories, making connections across cultures, gaining support, socializing in a safe and welcome manner [and one that] has roots that go far back in the cultural traditions of this region.”

The Blue Sky Lodge — put together by Slagger, Director of the Intensive English Institute Chris Mares, and Interim Director of Peace and Reconciliation Tina Passman — would have included monthly gatherings, outdoor activities and sharing traditions from various cultures.

The proposal said the lodge would be focused on attracting Native American and international students through these cultural and environmental activities.

“I said, ‘Paul, I want some action on this,’” Slagger said, referring to Ferguson. “He told me to draw up a plan, and this one reaches out to all marginalized populations of people.”

Slagger said he was prepared to meet with Ferguson, but instead met with Julie Hopwood, Ferguson’s senior advisor, and Dean of Students Robert Dana.

“As we expected there was all kinds of pushback,” Slagger said. “They were all like, ‘Great idea, David, but sell it somewhere else.’ That was the message we got.”

In an email from Ferguson to Slagger provided to The Maine Campus, the president rejected the proposal: “[It] does not yet fully and effectively integrate into our current outreach programs.” Current outreach initiatives include programs for veterans, non-traditional and commuter students, and the Wabanaki Center.

“Essentially, how will the Blue Sky Lodge partner with these current support groups so as to avoid duplication, confusion and cost-effectiveness and yet provide a tangible value-added service to our students?” Ferguson wrote.

“I wanted to see some effort,” Slagger said. “Even if the effort failed, it would at least show that they’re at least trying to be diverse.”

Outreach in the classroom

With a lack of diversity in faculty and administration, certain departments and faculty members are taking it upon themselves to provide a diverse learning experience at UMaine.

Associate Professor of Curriculum and Foundations for Education and Human Development John Maddaus has integrated the Native American surroundings heavily into some of his classes and teachings.

“I’ve tried to take my cues from native people, involve them as much as possible in the courses I teach [and] learn as much as I can to be as accurate as I can, but I’m really trying to give my students as many experiences as possible to hear directly from native people — what their perspectives are on issues related to education,” Maddaus said.

Maddaus believes that there has been progress concerning minorities represented, but concludes that more can be done. This semester, Maddaus is teaching a class on rural and urban education. The class has visited Indian Island and has traveled to Auburn to visit Park Avenue Elementary School, which has a large number of international students. He’ll also bring in a retired teacher from a Boston public school to talk to the class.

“I think it’s essential that all college students here gain diverse perspectives from a variety of cultures,” Maddaus said.

“It’s a huge change compared to 20 years ago,” he said. “I think it’s progress. It’s very considerable progress and I would like to have more. I would like to have each tribe represented.”

Darren Ranco, the coordinator for Native American studies in the Native American Program at UMaine has started a number of collaborative projects to help the university better interact with Native Americans.

“We brought together the Native American programs on campus, the Wabanaki Center and the Native American Studies program, and it’s starting to pay off,” Ranco, a member of the Penobscot Indian Nation, said. “We’ve expanded in our research. It’s a focal point of the outreach. We now have a much more active engagement with Native American communities to do collaborative research.”

In addition, the Wabanaki Center instilled the Alumni Mentoring Program, which connects Native American students with various Native Americans throughout the state who have obtained degrees and careers.

“Having this as a positive mentoring and culturing model, I feel it’s a really important step forward as well,” Ranco said. “It’s connecting our native students outward from the campus.”

While Ranco believes this work is contributing toward a more diverse and successful university, he wants to ensure that it’s more than just filling a quota. Ranco wants more than just opportunities for minorities, he wants relationships built between them and the university.

“When we do research that’s based on collaboration with native communities, not only do native people benefit from that,” Ranco said, “the whole campus is benefitting from the output and the experiences working with tribes.

“I think we’re doing work that has the potential for these transformations.”