One of the hallmarks of a great university is its genuine commitment to excellence in research, teaching and service to the community. An Inclusive Excellence (I.E.) university excels in these areas, but also values and practices inclusiveness, social justice and equity as values that are embedded into the heart and soul of the institution. The concept of I.E. (articulated and endorsed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities) moves a university away from a simplistic definition of diversity to a more inclusive, comprehensive and omnipresent notion of inclusiveness; melds inclusiveness and academic excellence into one concept (to practice inclusiveness is excellence); shifts the responsibility for diversity and inclusiveness to everyone on campus as opposed to one unit or department shouldering the responsibility; and moves an institution away from conceptualizing diversity only in terms of a numerical goal of diverse constituents. The focus becomes the transformation of a university into a vibrant community that embeds diversity and inclusiveness throughout the institution, including (but not limited to) demographics (numbers), curriculum, policies, enrollment, pedagogy, financial resources, diverse student learning outcomes, leadership, training, retention, student learning, marketing, technology, teaching, student advising, campus climate communications, administration, recruitment, hiring and promotion and tenure, assessment, institutional advancement and evaluation. I.E. employs abroad and inclusive definition of diversity that includes (but is not limited to) disability, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, race/ethnicity, nationality, veteran status and other important social dimensions that are part of the campus community. In sum, for the purpose of addressing inclusiveness at the University of South Dakota, “Inclusive Excellence is defined as a strategy for transforming USD into an institution that conceptualizes inclusiveness and excellence as one in the same, makes inclusiveness ubiquitous, assigns responsibility for inclusiveness to everyone on campus and utilizes a broad definition of inclusiveness.”
An inclusive institution, in pursuit of a multiplicity of educational and social outcomes, capitalizes on the varied rich backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, talents, gifts and cultures that diverse individuals and groups bring to an institution of higher learning. Such colleges and universities advance social progress among the communities they serve and also promote inclusive learning for all who enter their doors. Stated differently, I.E. institutions perceive diversity and inclusiveness as a resource that offers tremendous benefits and, subsequently, work toward cultivating, utilizing and embedding the concept in all areas of the institution. By achieving and maintaining inclusive student, staff and faculty bodies, along with creating an inclusive climate, an I.E. institution successfully connects with the reality of our evolving society and makes contributions toward a better world. Ultimately, I.E. institutions gain an edge in educational and research opportunities and in preparing all USD students for living and working in a diverse democracy and an increasingly complex global society.
The purpose of this statement is to develop a vision for the transformation of the University of South Dakota into an Inclusive Excellence university for the 21st century. This vision statement outlines what is possible and delineates the necessary goals to accomplish such a transformation. The process and implementation of I.E. will be accompanied by assessment and evaluation initiatives.
It is important to acknowledge that many individuals and groups have undertaken the critical work necessary to lay the framework for practicing Inclusive Excellence. The University of South Dakota has been engaged in diversity initiatives for at least 20 years. In 1994, the Campus Diversity Interest Group (CDIG) was created to conduct a range of diversity efforts on the USD campus. The 2001 report of the North Central Accreditation Association expressed concerns by the accreditation site visitors’ about USD’s commitment to diversity and required the university to submit a diversity progress report in 2004. In 2002, The Campus Diversity Enhancement Group (CDEG) was officially appointed by the USD president and charged with the development of a USD Diversity Plan. That 2004 plan was written with a five-year view in mind and had four main goals: (1) the creation of an Office of Institutional Diversity and hiring of a Chief Diversity Officer; (2) increased diversity of the students, staff, faculty and administration; (3) attention to diversity in the curriculum; and (4) creation of a welcoming, inclusive campus climate. The Office of Institutional Diversity was created in 2005 and a Chief Diversity Officer was hired. The Office of Institutional Diversity generated diversity report updates, but did not articulate a vision for the future of diversity at the university. Beyond the establishment of the Office of Institutional Diversity, the 2004 USD Diversity Plan was largely not addressed.
Concerns about diversity were revisited in 2010-2011 in response to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation process. The significant diversity-related issues that were raised through the self-study process indicated that there is a compelling need to continue to address diversity efforts at the institutional level.
An inclusive campus environment provides opportunities to increase enrollment at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and also helps USD to recruit and retain excellent staff and faculty from diverse backgrounds. A decline in graduating seniors from high school is expected according to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education projections. This along with declining state funding poses significant challenges for enrollment of students at USD. The self-study prepared by USD for the purposes of accreditation has identified recruitment of under-represented minorities as a “worthy goal” and also as a strategic objective.
Given the facts that diversity enhances USD’s competitiveness, fosters critical thinking and enriches the experiences of all stake holders, the success of USD may be rooted in providing a truly welcoming and inclusive campus environment where “everyone belongs.”
Moving into the future, there is a need to develop a new vision for USD that will capitalize on the cultural-demographic shifts and momentum of the past. The landscape for diversity has changed to include new notions about diversity, its complexity and the power it holds for enhancing the mission, values and goals of the university. If USD is to continue on target, we need to continue to envision new and innovative ways to harness the benefits that diversity presents. In the following section, this new vision is defined.