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Thursday December 2nd

UNC-system diversity programs under examination by BOG

UNC junior Alexis Hall works with UNC Office of Diversity & Inclusion and runs two programs through it.
Buy Photos UNC junior Alexis Hall works with UNC Office of Diversity & Inclusion and runs two programs through it.

Without Project Uplift, Alexis Hall said she wouldn’t be at UNC-Chapel Hill today. 

Hall, a born and bred Tar Heel and a black student from Charlotte, couldn’t see herself coming to UNC-CH until she attended Project Uplift three years ago.

The program invites rising high school seniors from underserved populations throughout North Carolina to experience academic and campus life at UNC-CH.

“Project Uplift gave me courage to apply because it gave me proof that people like me could make it to Carolina and survive once I got here,” she said.

Hall is now a junior and the excellence and initiatives coordinator with the UNC Office for Diversity and Inclusion. She's in charge of two programs: Beyond Carolina and North Carolina Renaissance. She also assists with Project Uplift.

She said these programs are crucial for diversifying the University and making underrepresented students feel comfortable and accepted.

“Diversity and Inclusion lets them know that, yes, there’s a place for you here, and you have people like us who will support you once you get here,” Hall said.

Through her job, Hall sees regular proof of how crucial funding is for these programs. But now the structure and funding of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and Inclusion offices across the UNC system are under scrutiny by the UNC-system Board of Governors.

“To me, taking funding away from diversity programs is taking diversity away from Carolina,” Hall said.

How the offices came under fire

Last year, a budget bill by the N.C. General Assembly mandated the UNC-system General Administration, now the UNC-system office, to study the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of the equal opportunity (EO) and diversity and inclusion (D&I) services delivered by its 17 schools. It also ordered the UNC-system Office to evaluate the feasibility of consolidating all EO and D&I services under a single office, headed by one senior officer, at each school.

The state legislature wanted to know the return on investment for EO and D&I and whether they could make all 17 UNC-system schools fall under a centralized model.

The results of the study, conducted by UNC-hired Conduent HR Consulting, were presented to the BOG's Personnel and Tenure Committee. 

According to board member Marty Kotis, the committee was only asked to accept the findings of the study, and they did. Kotis said one of the primary goals of the board is to make college affordable, which he said many of them felt they had slipped away from.  

“There’s not many things, I think in the system right now, that are completely efficient because we still operate as 17 silos sometimes,” Kotis said.

What the study found

The study reported 198 EO and D&I institution-specific policies and 11 system-wide policies. UNC-CH had 34 – the highest number of institution-specific policies. UNC-Pembroke had the second-most policies with 26. 

The study also reported 527 institution-specific programs, such as workshops, trainings and events like Hall’s Beyond Carolina. UNC-Wilmington had the most institution-specific programs at 172. UNC-CH institution-specific programs totaled 43.

The study found little system-wide uniformity in the way EO and D&I offices are designed, implemented and tracked.

Only 47 percent of schools with measures of success in these programs were identified, and almost none were quantitative since there is no consistent tool to analyze success in diversity efforts. 

According to the study, six schools follow a centralized model – meaning one person oversees both offices. This includes UNC-CH and N.C. State University. The other 11 schools follow decentralized models, in which at least one leader is delegated to each office.

Hall said the set-up of D&I works perfectly for her, allowing for collaboration and assistance among her administrative team, which are headed by two full-time faculty members in D&I.

This finding helped figure out if putting all 17 schools under a centralized model would be possible and cost-effective, the second mandate from the state.

The study said it would be possible to have consolidated EO and D&I functions across the system, but there are limited advantages and risks of disruption and negative stakeholder reactions to a uniform adoption of the model. 

The study reported the institutions that moved from decentralized to centralized reported no immediate cost savings. The report found most schools agreed increasing coordination and communication between EO and D&I would improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Effects at UNC-CH

Already operating under a centralized model, UNC-CH would not undergo any drastic change if the system centralizes offices in its institutions. UNC-CH's programs would only be affected by state budget changes. 

Kotis said it would be preferable to find funding from private sources, rather than allow costs to fall on students. 

Beyond Carolina’s annual Etiquette Dinner is funded by the state and has featured speakers, head shots and networking training. In the study’s detailed cost analysis, the dinner alone was listed as having received $2,200 of state funding out of its total cost of almost $19,000.

"If you stop funding our programs, you stop letting us be able to reach out to these other students in high school who don’t know about college, who don’t know about Carolina, who don’t know about diversity programs at Carolina," Hall said. "So it’s kind of taking away diversity from the school."

Next steps

Instead of centralizing the system, the study presented seven recommendations for  improvement including: creating a system-wide webpage of EO and D&I resources, implementing better data-collection, sharing services among institutions and creating system-level standards on policies and programs. 

The findings caused debate among the BOG, who brought up questions of agendas, lack of metrics and cohesiveness among institutions.

Kotis said many BOG members, coming from private sector backgrounds, are accustomed to measurable metrics. As a system, he said, they want to look at efficiencies and economies of scale.

“I would assume if we’re going to spend a few million dollars that we’d have an idea of what success looks like versus failure,” Kotis said.

Kotis said the report was only a first step in explaining what’s going on.

“It was more of, ‘Yes these are all things that we need to learn more about,’ and the next step is to study them and set up some metrics and look at opportunities for economies of scale,” Kotis said.

He said the board intends to pursue the study's recommendations. The report was approved by the committee and will move to full-board discussion March 23.

@emilykdavis1

state@dailytarheel.com

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