The Value of Diversity
A learning-centered University thrives when a strong and active commitment to diversity is shared by all. This is because learning can only take place in a climate where differing positions are welcome, and diversity of all kinds is valued by everyone. One of my favorite illustrations of diversity in action comes from the fine twentieth-century philosopher and rhetorician Kenneth Burke:
Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about . . . you listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.
This is the scene of learning. We are all engaged in a large, open discussion, on eternal questions as well as issues of the day, using knowledge that has long preceded us as well as the scholarship and research of the moment. The discussion begins in our classrooms and spills out across the campus and the community, as we engage others in our questioning, and enrich our own perspectives with theirs. And as with Burke's "parlor," when we leave the University, the discussion continues.
But this great discussion, this scene of learning, only takes place when people air their differences. Our differing backgrounds, cultures, ages, ethnicities, interests and strengths make each of us unique, and each of our contributions to this great discussion makes it that much more exciting, and rich, and representative of the full range of human understanding.
In the service of learning, then, we treasure diversity. We actively promote the value of difference, and actively seek to maintain and build a student body, a faculty, an administration, and a support staff that represents the diversity so central to the University's mission. We are especially fortunate to live in a region where more than fifty different languages are spoken, where a wide range of international and national experiences are shared, and where the debates and discussions that define our academic, intellectual, and social lives are rich with many voices and many solutions.
—Provost William Covino