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Diversity initiative leader selected

By Mitra Taj
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, April 16, 2004
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Humanities dean to head Hispanic recruiting team

As part of the UA's broader goal of increasing diversity on campus, the dean of the College of Humanities has been put in charge of spearheading a new initiative aimed at recruiting and retaining more Hispanic students.

President Peter Likins said he asked Dean Charles Tatum to take on the task of reaching out to Hispanic communities to close the gap between Hispanic representation in the student body and the surrounding populace.

"He's always been an active participant in outreach activities," Likins said. "I just asked him to officially take responsibility. He's willing to take on more."

Tatum said he will be able to recommend practices to the president and vice president that he believes will promote recruitment and retention of Hispanic students.

He said he will not implement policies or manage budgets, and that implementation of his recommendations will depend on cooperation among student leadership, faculty, the president and college deans.

"I'm going to develop an overall plan or strategy to substantially increase the number and quality of Latino and Latina students, faculty and personnel," Tatum said.

Because the initiative is so new, the means by which more diversity will be created is still "vague," he said.

What's clear, he said, is the need for more Hispanic representation at the university. "We haven't been doing an adequate enough job," Tatum said. "We're a land grant institution and have an obligation to serve our community."

In order to receive special funding as a Hispanic-serving institution, at least 25 percent of the UA's student body must be Hispanics from low-income backgrounds, Tatum said.

This year, about 13 percent of the student body is Hispanic.

Tatum said he is "passionate" about his new endeavor, and that increasing and retaining the number of Hispanics on campus should be a priority regardless of financial rewards.

"It shouldn't be our incentive," he said. "We should do it just because it's the right thing to do. We have a social responsibility to serve the community ... and a moral obligation as well."

Tatum said apart from serving the Hispanic community, the UA also has to adequately prepare all students for a rapidly changing and increasingly diverse world.

Tatum said a number of problems might be keeping Hispanics from applying to the UA and other universities.

The Hispanic community suffers from a number of obstacles, such as poor funding for K-12 schools, teenage pregnancy, high rates of high school dropouts and low teacher pay, Tatum said.

Tatum said recruitment should begin earlier to combat those problems.

"We need to be there with the parents, with the kids," Tatum said. "We need to send the message in very concrete terms that we want you to come to the UA in 10 years, or 15 years. And if you don't choose the university, go to another university."

Tatum has served on a number of groups related to diversity issues and co-coordinates the Presidential Hispanic Community Advisory Council with Edith Auslander, Likins' senior associate.

Tatum declined to comment on past efforts at increasing diversity on campus but said the new initiative "is different in the sense that it's an overarching plan and strategy."

Tatum said he's in the process of familiarizing himself with federal programs and admissions processes and is looking forward to writing his conclusions in his first report for the UA, a process he said might take nine months.

"I can't wait until I write a plan for the university," he said. "I need broad and deep knowledge in order to write a credible plan. Otherwise, it's just another piece of rhetoric. I'm optimistic that we'll get there."

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