Cornell is creating three high-level positions both to provide greater coordination of minority programs and to raise the priority given to concerns of underrepresented and minority students.
In addition, the Office of Minority Educational Affairs (OMEA) will be refocused and renamed the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI), and five student life organizations will move to the former Alumni House at 626 Thurston Ave.
Barbara Knuth, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, Laura Brown, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Kent Hubbell '69, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students, outlined the changes to nearly 40 students at a forum March 4 in Goldwin Smith Hall.
The administration expects to announce the appointment of an assistant vice provost for academic diversity initiatives to lead the newly named office. Currently housed within OMEA, the New York State Opportunity Programs Office, the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program, the Cornell Professional Opportunities Program, and student worker co-funding will all be under the umbrella of the new OADI.
Major renovation of Alumni House planned
The university is spending $1.2 million to renovate the former Alumni House at 626 Thurston Ave. to provide space for five student-related groups and for the yet-to-be-named associate dean of students for intercultural programs.
"This is an endorsement by the university, showing how important minority affairs are to senior administration," said Dean of Students Kent Hubbell.
The Asian and Asian American Center will occupy the ground floor of the 8,000-square-foot building. The main floor will serve as a gathering place for all students and will include a multipurpose conference room, bathrooms, kitchenette, library and open area for events; student organization support functions currently in the Office of Minority Educational Affairs; and the African Latino Asian Native American program, the Cornell Alumni-Student Mentoring program and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center office will occupy the third floor. The last two of these are currently in Caldwell Hall.
Renovations will begin this spring and be completed by the fall semester. "The Thurston Avenue house provides more space in a good location," Hubbell said. "Here we have 8,000 square feet we didn't have before. Let's use it to our advantage."
Following the meeting, Knuth emphasized that OMEA "is neither being closed nor being dissolved." Rather, she said, it is being renamed and "its mission will be honed to focus on academic support and success for a diverse undergraduate student body, increasing collaboration with college advising offices, and establishing a partnership with the Office of Undergraduate Research."
The second new position, associate dean of students for intercultural programs, will report to the dean of students and provide overall leadership for the Asian and Asian American Center (A3 Center), African Latino Asian Native American (ALANA) student programming board, and the Cornell Alumni-Student Mentoring Program. These programs, as well as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, under Matt Carcella's leadership, will be located at 626 Thurston Ave. Assistant Dean of Students Patricia Nguyen, who directs the A3 Center, and Assistant Dean Kiranjit Longaker, adviser to ALANA, will also continue to have offices in Willard Straight Hall. As with the search for the assistant vice provost, students are serving on the search committee for the associate dean position.
The third position, associate dean for inclusion and professional development in the Graduate School, will work to recruit and support graduate and professional students from groups historically underrepresented in graduate and professional studies. The focus will be on developing skills to enable students to succeed academically at Cornell and to help them choose careers. Three graduate students are on the search committee.
"We are building a structure with these positions that is supportive of the needs of the whole person," said Knuth. This, she said, reflects feedback from her earlier meetings with student groups that called for better coordination with college advising offices and closer collaboration and coordination among the different programs supporting students from underrepresented and minority populations. Hubbell said the restructuring was also guided by the need to close an "achievement gap" and increase the number of underrepresented students who make dean's list and receive awards for academic achievement.
Many of the questions students raised at the March 4 meeting, and answered by administrators, revolved around the moves: whether the special funding programs available to students through OMEA will continue to be available through the new offices (they will), whether the moves are being made for austerity reasons (they aren't, as is evidenced, said the administrators, by the funding for renovations and new leadership positions), where the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives will be housed (the identification of a single location is under way). Plans are under way to bring all the staff of OADI (currently split between Barnes Hall and Comstock Hall) together in one location, to increase their effectiveness and accessibility for students.
When asked about the academic diversity initiatives, Brown said that once the new assistant vice provost is in place, "we will come back to you with a list of goals. We will focus on a few areas at the outset, goals visible to campus, goals that we can use to assess our success."