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Board of Visitors to address diversity initiatives with Supreme Court affirmative action ruling pending

Friday’s full Board meeting will feature remarks from University leaders supporting the role of DEI programs

Speakers will then discuss DEI efforts in both the University Police Department and Athletics.
Speakers will then discuss DEI efforts in both the University Police Department and Athletics.

Support of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives will be at the forefront of the Board of Visitors full Board meeting Friday. University leaders will present on the purpose of DEI programs and facilitate discussion over the University’s commitment to such initiatives in the face of two upcoming Supreme Court cases that may limit race-conscious university admissions.

The Board of Visitors — a group of 17 members that meets four times a year to manage the University’s long-term planning — will convene for its full Board meeting 1:45 p.m. Friday at the Rotunda. An agenda published prior to the meeting outlines plans for a discussion on the current state of DEI with Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion and community partnerships, University Chief of Police Timothy Longo and Athletic Director Carla Williams.

Currently, the University strives to create a “diverse student body” through the admissions process through consideration of students’ backgrounds, experiences and talents, according to the admissions website.

But two ongoing Supreme Court cases — Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina — challenge the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions. A ruling in the plaintiff’s favor could transform today’s admissions landscape. 

University President Jim Ryan and Ian Baucom, executive vice president and provost, said the University will remain committed to facilitating diversity despite the outcome of the pending Supreme Court rulings, per a recent email statement to the community. 

The Board’s presentation focuses on the integrity of DEI initiatives to the University’s mission statement to build “a collaborative, diverse community” and strengthen the Great and Good strategic plan to make the University the top public institution by 2030.

According to the presentation, the University has engaged in formal DEI work for the last 18 years and currently reports 55 DEI-dedicated positions with a total annual budget of $5.8 million. 

These efforts have coincided with increases in racial minority enrollment among students and in faculty and staff composition. Figures within the presentation show that undergraduate student enrollment has increased by 74 percent from 2009, with minority students now making up 38 percent of the student body. This statistic compares to about 31 percent of Virginians who identify as races other than “white alone”.

Speakers will then discuss DEI efforts in both the University Police Department and Athletics.

Ryan will pass out printed copies of “DEI: The Case for Common Ground” — an article he recently authored in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In a letter introducing the article to the Board, Ryan writes that he hopes the essay offers a look into the importance of DEI work and bridges connections between those with differing opinions on the topic. 

“The essay also makes the point that colleges and universities should not shy away from honest critiques of how we approach DEI, but rather listen thoughtfully and be open to changes that may better meet the needs of our institutions,” Ryan said in the introductory letter.

Board member and alumnus Bert Ellis is the president emeritus of the Jefferson Council — a conservative group that attacked the University’s DEI work during its April meeting. Council members alleged that DEI efforts have a “sinister nature” and play into “victim narratives.”

Ryan said he will share more information following the court’s decision, but reaffirmed that every member of the University community “belongs and deserves to be here” in the community email.

The full Board’s agenda also includes a summary of the 2023 fiscal year with $447, 761, 515 billion of fundraising progress. Members will discuss the University’s recent ranking as No. 2 best value institution through the Princeton Review’s annual report along with handling of requests for information.

The Academic and Student Life committee will vote on two new degree programs — Education Specialist in School Psychology and School Psychology in the School of Education and Human Development and hear a written report on student wellness.

The Finance Committee will vote on the 2023-24 operating budget of $5.4 billion across the Academic Division, Medical Center and College at Wise — each with $2.3 billion, $3 billion and $71.7 million, respectively.    

The Board’s meetings run Thursday through Friday in both closed and open sessions and will be available to the public through a live stream. 

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