Higher Learning Commission

Strategic Diversity for Drake University: A Three-Pronged Plan

Drake University

Drake University will undertake a Quality Initiative (QI) to alter the university culture to ensure that people of all races and ethnicities find a welcoming and supportive environment at Drake University, and concomitantly to increase racial and ethnic diversity among Drake students, faculty and staff.

Some work on this initiative has already begun, as achieving inclusive excellence has been a goal in several strategic plans over the last decade. The idea of inclusive excellence at Drake means to be “strategically well positioned to meet the needs of a changing world and embrace a culture that views diversity as fundamental to organizational success, effectiveness and excellence” (Williams, 2013). This proposal follows established best practices, for increasing domestic diversity among faculty, staff, and students, while working toward additional long-term goals such as crafting innovative, institution-based approaches to achieving inclusive excellence. For the Quality Initiative, Drake University will simultaneously undertake three projects:

  1. Immediate action to address issues with recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty and student body. Action will include implementation of the Crew Scholars Program and the development of the Drake University Professoriate for the Future Program;
  2. Developmental assessment of the current campus climate around issues of difference using an acknowledged national expert with a proven track record, who will guide the process of campus engagement at all stages of the QI;
  3. Creation of a Plan for Strategic Diversity, built from the findings of the climate assessment, to help create support and capacity for sustainable efforts towards achieving inclusive excellence.

While the work of creating a culture of inclusive excellence will extend beyond the time frame of the QI proposal, these three steps serve as guideposts that will mark progress towards long-term goals.

Relevance and Significance

Drake University is a top-ranked Midwestern comprehensive masters institution that prides itself on educational quality, affordability, and being mission-driven and strategic. Drake has forward thinking leadership and a committed faculty and staff who have successfully made significant improvements to our students’ educational experience, for example recent support for mindful internationalization of the curriculum. This Quality Initiative is important for Drake University for three primary reasons.

First, diversity is exceptionally important in the national higher education context. Students learn more, and differently, when they are able to interact in diverse classrooms and live in diverse environments (Beckham, 2008; Williams, Berger, and McClendon, 2013). Intentional diversity is especially necessary to prepare students for life and work in a globalizing, increasingly heterogeneous world.

Next, Drake University is a mission driven institution, in line with Criterion 1A, 1B, and 1C, as set forth by the Higher Learning Commission. That mission cannot be fulfilled absent a commitment to mindful and intentional diversification. Drake’s Mission ‘is to provide an exceptional learning environment that prepares students for meaningful personal lives, professional accomplishments, and responsible global citizenship. The Drake experience is distinguished by collaborative learning among students, faculty, and staff and by the integration of the liberal arts and sciences with professional preparation’ (Drake University, Mission Statement). This Quality Initiative is also rooted in current University-wide strategic planning. It is closely related to Goal 1 of the 2013-17 University Strategic Plan, which is to “reshape Drake University’s exceptional living, working and learning environment to embrace the challenges and opportunities of the diverse and global 21st Century.” A specific objective under Goal 1 of the Strategic Plan calls for the university to “infuse global and multicultural understanding throughout” the institution and its learning environment.

Though the university is located in an increasingly heterogeneous city, and draws students from a wide range of diverse metropolitan areas in the United States, Drake’s entering first year classes, for the past eight years, have averaged only a 10% population of students of color; Drake enrolls, in the total population of undergraduate and graduate students only 11% students of color. Our retention data for students of color indicates a troubling disparity; three year averages for 2010-2012 show that the retention rate for entering first year students who identify as “White/Non-Hispanic” is 87.4%, while the average retention rates for students who identify as African American is 66.9% in that same period (Drake Data Book, 2012). HLC Criteron 4C insists that the University pay ongoing attention to retention information and make improvements as warranted by the data.

Finally, this initiative is important to Drake University because, though isolated as an important goal in the 2001-2006 University Strategic Plan, Drake has not yet taken strategic action on the issues associated with, and opportunities related to, diversity. Leaders at Drake University have long recognized, and publicly acknowledged, the importance of a diverse student body, faculty, and staff for achieving our mission. However, the University has not put significant time nor financial resources towards crafting a long-term strategic goal for diversity and inclusion. Given that the culture at Drake is strongly oriented towards strategic planning and methodical improvement, a more systematic approach will help this initiative be successful. The QI is an opportunity to promote specific, strategic planning for creating a culture of inclusive excellence at the institution.

Drake’s location in an increasingly racially diverse city, reports of hostility and micro aggression directed at current Drake students of color, the unacceptably low retention numbers for African American students, in particular, and prior inability to strategically plan for diversity, lead to this QI’s focus on achieving a better understanding of barriers to racial diversity on campus, while committing to recruit and retain faculty and students of color.

Intended Impact

The benefits of the QI Project to Drake University, and its academic quality, are manifold, and will be self-reinforcing. It is well established in the professional literature (i.e. Williams, 2013; Beckham, 2008) that a more diverse faculty, staff, and student body will contribute to a better educational experience for all of Drake students and help to prepare them to enter an increasingly diverse workplace. This proposal grows from a commitment to understanding diversity using intersectional analysis (Crenshaw, 1991; Collins, 2001). Such an analysis acknowledges “the relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations” (McCall, 2005); that “social identities are organizing features of social relationships that mutually constitute, reinforce, and naturalize one another” (Shield, 2012); and that intersectional identities hold both oppression and opportunity (ibid.). In an intersectional analysis, achieving meaningful diversity is something far more subtle than achieving “visible representation” of heretofore underrepresented groups on campus; and, achieving domestic racial and ethnic diversity is only a limited part of a larger goal of inclusive excellence. The creation of a strategic plan for inclusive excellence will provide a rich opportunity for the campus community to explore ways to enable racial and gender equality, enthusiastically welcome the presence of multiple viewpoints and religious diversity, provide increased and genuine welcome for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) students and other diverse communities.

It is reasonable to anticipate a measurable change for the better, as evident in changes from the initial campus climate assessment to the follow-up measures. This improvement in campus climate will enable Drake to welcome larger cohorts of diverse faculty, staff, and students and create a culture where diversity is an expected attribute of community.

Purpose and Goals

The purpose of this Quality Initiative is to move Drake University from rather isolated initiatives responsive to calls for diversity, to an internalized understanding of “diversity as a catalyst for educational excellence” (Clayton-Pedersen and Musil, 2013, v). This proposal is designed to rectify the fact that the importance of diversity to the university, and to higher education in general, has not been clearly and consistently articulated at all levels of the institution and has not yet found traction at the University. Using the diversity stage model by Williams (2013) the authors of the QI assessed Drake University in either the start-up or transitional stages of readiness across six dimensions. Williams (2013) suggested institutions in the transitional stage “should be focused on building a more structured campus diversity agenda and looking for ways to enhance their current diversity efforts” and start moving toward commitment of adequate resources (p. 201). This proposal seeks to enable Drake University to achieve “powerful enough organizational learning so that deep transformational change occurs” (Williams, Berger, and McClendon, 2013, 11).

The authors of the 2003 Drake Diversity Audit expressed concern that the university does not provide an environment of support for a major, long-term diversity initiative. Acknowledging that there are significant pockets of faculty, staff, and students committed to a goal of diversity, they identify the need for a structural approach, with coordinating leadership, to conceive, sponsor, promote, monitor, and enforce those daily practices, institutional policies and procedures that are essential underpinnings of inclusive excellence.

Noting that the institution overly depends on student-led initiatives and on the goodwill of self-selecting faculty members, the authors of the Drake Diversity Audit made a final, compellingly important, point: at Drake University, internationalization has been treated with intentionality and focus, while ideas of domestic diversity are more ad hoc, less strategic, and therefore, less likely to succeed. Indeed, Drake takes pride in successful internationalization, via a process of consultation and strategic planning and structural support. That same approach is likely to be successful again, at Drake, in terms of domestic diversity issues.

In short, despite clear recommendations made to a well intentioned and committed leadership team, and pockets of very committed faculty and staff, Drake has not yet crafted a strategic plan for diversity, has made small gains in hiring faculty of color, and has not made significant progress in the retention of domestic students of color. Even when moving towards inclusive excellence, Drake has relied on the efforts of discrete units of the institution, or faculty in various programs, for curricular reform, hiring, and student retention. A strategic planning process, focused on achieving an environment of inclusive excellence, is the next step towards institutionalizing domestic diversity as an important part of the identity and institutions of Drake University.

Through the processes initiated by the QI, Drake will:

  • Achieve an environment and culture that is welcoming of diversity and sees it as integral to excellence in education, and
  • Create a sustainable initiative to increase domestic racial and ethnic diversity among Drake students, faculty and staff.

Activities and Timeline

I. Recruitment and Retention of Domestic Faculty, Staff, and Students of Color

The Quality Initiative includes two discrete programs meant to increase the visible representational diversity of faculty and students on campus: Crew Scholars and the Drake University Professoriate for the Future.

Crew Scholars
An essential part of our recruitment and retention efforts for students of color will be the full implementation of the Crew Scholars Program, endorsed by Faculty Senate and key university leaders in spring 2013. Crew Scholars grew from a grassroots effort of faculty and staff to build a model recruitment and retention program meant to address our shortfalls in recruiting and retaining students of color. The Crew Scholars program aims to improve the retention rate of domestic students of color by recruiting in cohorts and instituting extensive academic support programming along with social integration activities (Hatchet and Klimaszewski, 2013). The QI project supports the complete implementation of the program, which includes funding for faculty sponsors, some scholarship funding for participants, and programmatic dollars to support the social integration and academic support efforts. The program takes a holistic approach to financial aid, academic services, curriculum planning, and student services, with the intention of retaining Crew participants, and eventually all students of color, at a rate comparable to the overall university retention rate (2011 entering first-year cohort retention rate of 88.7%).

Drake University Professoriate for the Future
Drake has articulated a commitment to recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty, and some progress has been made in this regard. The percentage of faculty of color on campus has grown from 6% in 2004 to 12% in 2012. Though growth has occurred, the numbers of faculty remain small. In 2012, 35 of 289 Drake faculty self-identified as members of domestic racial minority groups. This small number is troubling, as recent research indicates that small cohorts of faculty of color can result in individual faculty being perceived as “tokens” or “mascots” (Niemann, 2012). Tokenism is insidious; it allows faculty of color to be viewed stereotypically, and contributes to their loneliness and isolation within an institution. In order to achieve meaningful domestic diversity among faculty, Drake University must strategically recruit, hire, mentor, and retain faculty of color, across the disciplines represented in the university.

The QI commits the University to develop a plan to hire faculty of color into a cohort designated the “Drake University Professoriate for the Future.” These positions will acknowledge the imperative of broad representational diversity for the institutional mission (in part, preparing students to enter the global workforce, where diversity is a given), and encourage forward-thinking departmental hiring. This QI directs the Strategic Diversity Action Team (SDAT) (to be appointed in the first phase of the QI) to develop a protocol for recruiting, hiring, and retaining these faculty of color, recognizing that decisions about how best to recruit, hire, and retain faculty of color must be made collaboratively, and involve conversations about resource allocation, disciplinary trends, admissions data, and teaching needs. Such a process was a large part of the success that Crew Scholars developers had, in gaining support for that program; similar levels of support will be essential for any faculty hiring plan. SDAT is charged, through this QI, with developing an appropriate plan for hiring these faculty; the plan should be developed as a key part of strategic planning, and be ready for implementation by the end of the QI term.

II. Climate and Cultural Assessment

The climate and cultural assessment will include three components; a climate assessment conducted by an external consultant, a diversity spending audit, and the ongoing involvement of consulting firm in the beginning phases of strategic plan development. Though the University contracted with three consultants in Fall 2003 to conduct a diversity audit, conducting a climate assessment in 2013/2014 via an outside consultant is not redundant and is in fact vital for several reasons. First, the initial consultants cited poor attendance at an open forum and other group meetings. The salience of diversity as an issue at Drake University has grown since 2003, as has institutional capacity for motivating participation. Second, recent grassroots efforts indicate that the University is at a critical moment in the development of diversity efforts, with a larger and more representative group of faculty, staff, and students interested in this work. Third, the 2003 consultants recommended the University collect data on “how it feels to be a woman, a person of color, … and analyze them in more specific organizational terms.” This recommendation has not been completed, and will be an important part of strategic planning around issues of diversity on campus.

The second component of the cultural assessment will use internal resources to conduct a financial audit to discover and analyze how the institution is currently spending to support diversity initiatives. This activity will make visible the university’s financial priorities and ensure that the diversity and inclusion effort will be appropriately resourced.

Data gathered through culture and climate assessment, and the financial audit will be used to inform the strategic planning process.

III. Plan for Strategic Diversity

In order to become fully institutionalized inclusive excellence must be planned, and that plan must be endorsed by all levels of the institution – from staff to students, to the Board of Trustees (Williams et. al., 27). Thus, the third prong of the QI proposal is to commence a strategic planning process in Fall 2013 with the appointment of the Strategic Diversity Action Team. The team will begin its work by coordinating with outside consultants for the climate and cultural assessment. Strategic planning, using the data collected through the climate assessment, will begin in the Summer of 2014. The plan will be completed by the end of spring semester 2015 and the University will begin implementation in summer 2015. By engaging a wide range of institutional actors, the process of developing a Plan for Strategic Diversity will help the institution better craft flexible and appropriate programs for and responses to diversity on campus. The strategic plan will develop methods for implementation, accountability, and institutional structure to foster coordination of efforts across the university, instigate best practices, and move Drake University towards the creative development and mature implementation of a Plan for Strategic Diversity.

Proposed Budget Associated with QI

Quality Initiative Proposal development
Description: Financial support for work of two faculty authors during Summer 2013
Funding Source: Provost’s Office

Climate Assessment
Description: Consultant fees to include development and implementation of climate assessment and management of follow-up communication plan with the campus community.

Proposed Funding Source: Strategic Planning Budget (Goal I, Objective D)

Crew Scholars Program
$76,000 for programmatic costs and $173,000 in scholarship assistance in year 2
$116,000 for programmatic costs and $694,000 in scholarship assistance by year 4
Proposed Funding Source: Provost’s Office, Office of Admission, Strategic Planning Budget (Goal I, Objective A)

Total for full implementation of CREW Scholars Program: $810,000

Professoriate for the Future Program
Strategic Planning for faculty diversity will need to consider costs associated with adding these faculty lines, which are estimated to be a $1,000,000 commitment from the University, as well as potential sources (grants, foundations, donors, and reallocation) to fund these positions.

Plan for Strategic Diversity
Continued time from 3 QI authors to guide implementation of the QI plan
Dedicated involvement of 10 faculty and staff members for the strategic plan team
Proposed Funding Source: No funding required, accounting for human resources

Year 1
Summer 2013/Spring 2014
Summer 2013 Quality Initiative Proposal submitted to Higher Learning Commission
Complete RFP process for climate assessment and engage acknowledged national expert to guide assessment and reporting processes
Fall 2013 Quality Initiative Proposal approved by HLC
Present financial resource needs to Provost and Budget
Advisory Committee for FY15
Share Quality Initiative Proposal with campus community

Phase I:

  • Climate Assessment and Strategic Planning
  • Constitute Strategic Diversity Action Team
  • Initial Proposal Meeting with Consultants
  • Plan Focus Groups
  • Develop Assessment Tool
First Crew Scholars arrive on campus
Spring 2014

Phase II:

  • Climate Assessment and Strategic Planning
  • Focus Groups
  • Develop Communication Plan
Year 2
Summer 2014/Spring 2015
Fall 2014 Welcome Second Crew Scholars cohort
Present financial resource needs to Provost and Budget Advisory Committee for FY16

Phase III:

  • Climate Assessment and Strategic Planning
  • Survey Administration
  • Data Analysis
Spring 2015

Phase IV:

  • Climate Assessment and Strategic Planning
  • Presentation of Report Results to community
  • Strategic Planning Retreat
Year 3
Summer 2015/Spring 2016
Summer 2015 Complete Plan for Strategic Diversity
Fall 2015 Welcome Third Crew Scholars Cohort
Launch Drake University Professoriate for the Future
Present Strategic Plan for Diversity resource needs to Provost and Budget Advisory Committee for FY17
Begin Implementation of Strategic Plan
Year 4
Fall 2016/Spring 2017
Fall 2016 Welcome Fourth Crew Scholars Cohort
Assess Impact of QI Activities
Spring 2017 Submit report to HLC

Assessment: Evaluating Progress and Accomplishments

The two overarching goals for the QI are to: 1) create a sustainable initiative to increase domestic racial and ethnic diversity among Drake students, faculty and staff; 2) craft an environment and culture that is welcoming of diversity and sees it as integral to excellence in education. The three major prongs of the proposed project are designed to support the achievement of both of these goals. Assessment measures are built into each of three components that will provide feedback both on progress towards the goal as well as inform our understanding of the impact of the programs.

I. Assessing Representational Diversity among Faculty and Students.

Assessment measures are built into the Crew Scholars program, and include academic achievement as measured by GPA, retention rates, and recruitment rates. There will be immediate feedback on academic performance measures available as soon as the end of the fall semester of the first year of the program, and spring-to-fall retention rates at the beginning of year two. In addition to tracking GPA and retention rates for Crew Scholars participants, there are measures in place to assess the impact of the program on campus climate for this cohort of students. The Crew Scholars program will include critical reflection pieces and assessment of students’ reflective writing will help gauge the impact of the Crew Scholars program and provide a source of formative assessment. Therefore, the Crew Scholars program will be assessed at key points throughout the implementation, allowing for changes in the program to best support the goals of the QI.

The primary focus of the Professoriate of the Future Program is a dedicated effort to increase representational diversity among faculty. The collaborative creation of such a program, via strategic planning processes, is one benchmark towards completion. In addition, as the program gains traction and is implemented, the number of applications submitted, and achievement of targeted number of placements in academic departments will both be important measures of progress towards the goal of creating a sustainable initiative to increase representational diversity among faculty.

II. Assessing Climate.

The campus climate assessment that will take place in Year One of the QI will provide, in many respects, the baseline data for measuring progress on achieving a campus climate that actively welcomes and promotes diversity, particularly related to race/ethnicity. However, there are several other university assessment efforts in place that could triangulate the interpretive data from the climate assessment follow up methods. For example, the results from the 2011 administration of the Drake Student Survey (DSS), an instrument that is distributed to all students every three years, indicated that African American students report a slightly lower level of satisfaction with the overall Drake experience than white or Asian students. In Spring 2012, Drake was one of 82 institutional participants in the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership (MSL) survey. A total of 1,769 Drake students responded to the survey (at a response rate of 51.54%) and a statistically significant higher percentage of African American students versus white students indicated encountering discrimination while attending Drake. When the DSS and MSL are administered again in 2014 and 2015, we can look for gains in overall satisfaction among African American students and a decrease in African American students who indicate encountering discrimination. These surveys represent two examples of current data collection efforts at the university that can help supplement the findings from a second administration of the climate assessment towards the end of the QI project. In addition to the external assessment of the campus climate to be completed in Year 1 and results of the triangulated internal data, it would prove beneficial to include ongoing dialogue with the outside consultants. These discussions should include focused meetings to discuss identified strategies, implementation and program maintenance issues, completion of progress and summary reports, and follow-up conversations with students, faculty, and staff.

III. Assessing Progress Towards Establishing Diversity as Integral to Education.

The completion of a Plan for Strategic Diversity is a crucial step in the process of achieving inclusive excellence and truly institutionalizing diversity at the university. The deadline for a completed Plan for Strategic Diversity is June 1, 2015. Implementation of that plan necessarily creates another set of activities towards the larger goal, with the potential for new responsibilities and tasks to achieve them. In the strategic planning and implementation process, there will be time bound goals for our larger activities, with steps laid out to mark and measure progress. Strategic planning will have tactics with built in measures to assess outcome and impact. As with all formal strategic plans initiated at Drake, this plan will undergo a rigorous vetting process.

Institutional Commitment and Capacity

The Quality Initiative Proposal has been vetted and collaboratively built within all levels of the institution. The QI Whitepaper was endorsed by Faculty Senate and the President’s Senior Advisory Council in Spring 2013. Academic deans facilitated discussions about the QI with faculty leaders via the department chairs. This proposal has been read and discussed by senior administrative leaders, including the University President, the Provost, the Vice Provost for International Programs, and the Director of Institutional Research and Assessment. The QI has President’s Cabinet support and the intention is that its impact will percolate throughout the university through the strategic plan implementation process. The requests for institutional funding of the three main components of the proposal take a pragmatic approach, recognizing the finite amount of resources available at the university. The funding for the Quality Initiative builds over the first four years, reaching full funding capacity in the fifth year of work, after the final Quality Initiative report has been submitted to the Higher Learning Commission.

Collaborative Leadership

The authors of this Quality Initiative remain committed to implementing the three-pronged proposal, including working to facilitate the strategic planning process. These authors are:

Michael A. Couvillon, Associate Professor of Education
Renee Ann Cramer, Associate Professor of Law, Politics, and Society
Melissa Sturm-Smith, Associate Provost for Academic Excellence and Student Success

The Strategic Diversity Action Team will include a wide range of University faculty, staff, and students, as well as members of the Board of Trustees, alumni, and community members. Team members will be invited by the Provost, in consultation with QI authors and the nationally-recognized expert engaged for campus climate/culture assessment.


Adams M.C.., Blake J.H., and Ramirez, A. (2003). Diversity Audit. Unpublished document, Drake University.

Clayton-Pederson, A. and McTighe Musil, C. (2013). “Forward,” to Damon A. Williams, Joseph A. Berger, and Shederick A. McClendon. “Toward a Model of Inclusive Excellence and Change in Post-Secondary Institutions,” Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Collins, P.H. (2001). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.

Crenshaw, K. (1991). “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” 43 Stanford Law Review 6: 1241-1299.

Drake University Data Book website (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.drake.edu/ir/surveyresultsreports/databooks/2012databook/

Hatchet, W. and Klimaszewski, M. (2013). “Crew Scholars Program Proposal,” unpublished document, Drake University.

McCall, L. (2005). The complexity of intersectionality. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 30(3), 1771-1800.

Niemann, Y.F. (2012). “Lessons from the Experiences of Women of Color Working in Academia,” pages 446 - 499 in Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez, and Angela P. Harris (eds). Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Press.

Shields, S. A. (2012). “Waking up to Privilege: Intersectionality and Opportunity,” pages 29 - 39 in Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez, and Angela P. Harris (eds). Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Press.

Williams, D. A. (2013). Strategic Diversity Leadership. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Williams, D.A., Berger, J.A. and McClendon, S.A. (2013). “Toward a Model of Inclusive Excellence and Change in Post-Secondary Institutions,” Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.



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