To: Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek
From: Michael Porter
Date: September 14, 2016
Subject: Review of the 2006-2007 Cultural Competency Plan by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Division of Student Life
In 2005, the University created a working group to research and come up with specific cultural competencies that all campus departments of the University should abide by. After a year of research, the Council for Diversity laid out six specific cultural competencies across the University. These competencies were then turned into individual cultural competencies for each department on campus; 74 total plans were created. This memo specifically examines the Division of Student Life, comprised of 19 departments, within the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The Division of Student Life’s goal of enhancing cultural competency is wholly consistent with its commitment to academic excellence. Furthermore, attaining diverse faculty and staff is essential to the mission of the division which is to “[F]oster the intellectual, cultural, social, and emotional development of students by provided a climate conducive to learning and personal growth, enabling them to become fully productive members of a global community” (Mission and Vision). Embracing diversity in higher education is essential to success, and as the Flagship University of the University of Tennessee system and is the largest degree-granting institution in the state of Tennessee, the University of Tennessee is seen as a leader in higher education. Through the Division of Student Life’s cultural competency plan, the Division is deepening the understanding of culture.
I have analyzed the Cultural Competency and Diversity Plan for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Division of Student Life for the period August 2006 through May 2007. This plan may be found at the following link: http://oed.utk.edu/reports. I have created a checklist of criteria for a strong culture competency plan and evaluated this plan using the checklist below:
- Refers to an intentional process, rather than a specific goal
- Empowers employees to work effectively in cross-cultural environments
- Contains measurable benchmarks
- Helps to recruit diverse employees
1. A cultural competency plan refers to an intentional process, rather than a specific goal
The plan emphasizes the need for employees to sustain a welcoming work environment, the Division of Student Life emphasizes professional development — specifying that at least two professional development opportunities be provided for Division employees. This cultural competency training is meant to promote dialogue among people of different cultures in an effective way that confronts discrimination in the workplace and hiring process, helping employees of diverse backgrounds fully understand each other as individuals. Providing these types of dialogues is crucial in providing spaces to discuss and understand topics, such as racism, that most people are resilient to discuss.
Although professional development opportunities are provided, it does not appear from this plan that these opportunities are mandated or enforced. Therefore, even though these could be great opportunities, there could be staff within the division does not take advantage of this opportunity and will not enhance their skills to be more culturally competent.
Finally, to foster employees as well as a student body who have a genuine respect for difference and welcomes diverse talent takes a serious commitment from the administration, and upper-level public administrators’ tenure has historically been very limited. Chancellors of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville hold their posts an average of five years. Therefore it is possible that one Chancellor may very much support a commitment to diversity and cultural competency while the next Chancellor does not support the initiative as actively.
2. A cultural competency plan empowers employees to work effectively in cross-cultural environments
Through this plan, cultural competency and diversity efforts are discussed in every person’s yearly performance evaluation – this tactic is to ensure individual staff members recognize the importance of cultural awareness and diversity. Since performance evaluation is tied to raises and promotion, there is a strong incentive to enhance diversity and cultural understanding as an employee. Although a strong motivator, linking cultural competency to raises and promotion could lead to employees feeling coerced into embracing diversity which could lead to resentment. Also, if the supervisor who is conducting the annual review is not properly trained the outcomes of the performance evaluation could be skewed between different divisions within each department.
Another objective of the plan focuses on equipping graduate assistants with information and experiences that will help them work with diverse populations, requiring graduate student employees who work in the Division of Student Life to attend one diversity training a year. This is a significant step toward being intentional with the education of graduate students. However, it is only offered once an academic year so the training may not be as effective as it would be if it were offered as a series of multiple trainings that these student employees could attend.
3. A cultural competency plan contains measurable benchmarks
Although cultural competency is a process and not a goal, it is important for an organization to have specific benchmarks and tangible markers that the agency should attain to be considered on track. Per this plan, annual reports for each department must state diversity initiatives that their department completed within that year. This is a change from previous years, where reports may or may not have had diversity initiatives written into it. Highlighting diversity initiatives in each department’s annual report will report diversity as a measurable accomplishment of each office. However, since each office only had about a years’ time to implement such reporting, the diversity initiatives their staff implements could be mediocre programs, especially if the office did not have guidance when implementing such a program. Departments like Disability Services, where being culturally sensitive is a part of the work, would have no problem filling out a section of the report geared toward diversity, whereas an office of Judicial Affairs may have trouble with a specific measure, whether it be training, programs, or events, that create a more culturally sensitive environment. Having specific measures also may create a tendency to treat cultural competency as an end in itself instead of a process.
4. A cultural competency plan helps to recruit and retain diverse employees
The United States is becoming increasingly multicultural, American businesses are now participants in global markets, and the University needs to reflect the diversity that exists in the nation. Another metric proposed by the plan is to provide incentives to Student Life departments to hire new employees that are from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, programs to recruit and retain staff and faculty from underrepresented populations may be seen as affirmative action, an action that suffers public perception problems. If the media ever became privy to what those incentives are the Division of Student Life could receive backlash from political leaders. Since an outside entity developed the standards, there is no regard to what resources it would take to implement such a plan. For example, one of the plans directives is for the Division of Student Life is to implement cultural competency training for hiring managers and search committees who review candidates for hire, however it is unclear where the resources to create such a training program will come from, who will implement and oversee such training, or even what standard would be put in place for the training.
Overall the policies presented in the Cultural Competency and Diversity plan are cumbersome: there are six primary goals, 27 tactics and strategies, and 36 benchmarks to report on every year. Unless there is one key person (e.g., a diversity officer) who examines this every year, it would be impossible to actually assess whether or not the plan is working effectively.
The Cultural Competency and Diversity Plan was launched in 2006 with goals that stretched until 2008 for the Division of Student Life. Since 2008 there has been no change or updates to the plans, in addition, although the plan is still located on the University of Tennessee’s website, there has been no update or university-wide reporting on the plan.
Without an entity that is tasked with not only setting cultural competency standards but also enforcing them, cultural competency only serves as lofty goals that are great to look forward to but will never fully be implemented. In conclusion, unless the Division of Student life has a commitment from administration and continually assesses, reinforces, and reevaluates their cultural competency plan the Division will never be able to fully implement an effective plan.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville. (2016, September 14). Mission and Vision. Retrieved from Journey to the Top 25: http://top25.utk.edu
University of Tennessee, Knoxville. (2016, September 14). Performance Evaluation. Retrieved from Human Resouces: http://hr.utk.edu
University of Tennessee. (2016, September 14). Office of Equity and Diversity. Retrieved from Unit Diversity Plans: http://oed.utk.edu/reports/diversityplans/