Some University of Akron students will hold a protest at noon today to complain about the closing of the Office of Multicultural Development.
Senior English major Michael Davis said some students are upset that UA is axing the OMD next fall in favor of a Student Success Center for all students and a Multicultural Center for programming.
The stakes are high to UA: About half of the state subsidy now is tied to graduation rates, not enrollment as it has been in the past. So the university must increase the number of students it graduates to get as much state money as possible.
That’s something that UA hasn’t done a good job at. The six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time African-Americans is just 10 percent compared to 43 percent for whites.
UA also might have done a better job relaying the coming changes to students, suggested Jim Tressel, vice president of strategic engagement, who oversees the two new centers.
“The programs will remain,” he said. “We will try to expand those services and those programs.”
The new Multicultural Center will handle programming about diversity; the Student Success Center, “wrap-around services” to help guide students through college, he said.
“We are opening more doors of opportunity,” said UA Chief Diversity Officer Lee Gill in a campuswide memo last week.
In addition, the number of staff who will be devoted to student success and multiculturalism will grow from the current five at the OMD to four in the Multicultural Center and about 15 in the Student Success Center. All of the additional staff will be deployed from elsewhere on campus.
But Davis, who is head of diversity for the Undergraduate Student Government and president of the Student African American Brotherhood, fears the changes will dilute the focus on underrepresented students.
“You can’t use the same model to help all students,” he said. “The best practices in retention and graduation say the opposite.”
The new concept will “lose the holistic focus on the underrepresented student,” he said.
“OMD deals with students who face discrimination, racism etc.,” he said. “The office offers more than academic support; it provides a safe-haven on campus for underrepresented students.”
When a faculty member asked Davis a series of questions when he walked into a classroom, he brought his concerns to the OMD for help in dealing what he felt was racism. Davis said he was the only black in the class and no whites were questioned the same way.
“We want OMD to stay intact and be expanded,” he said.
The protest will be behind Buchtel Hall and east of the Student Center, he said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.