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Sims: Diversity Framework does not relate to grading

July 25, 2014

The following is a July 21 statement of Professor Patrick Sims, Chief Diversity Officer and interim vice provost for Diversity and Climate:

The idea that UW–Madison will begin to base student grading or the make-up of programs or majors on race or ethnicity has circulated on the Internet in the wake of a recent opinion column by emeritus UW–Madison Professor Lee Hansen.

Allow me set the record straight: Nothing could be further from the truth.

Photo: Sims

Patrick Sims


Regrettably, Hansen’s assertion that the campus’ most recent strategic diversity framework embraces a quota system for apportioning grades by race, is a gross misrepresentation of our current efforts.

The work of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee has been completed as of May 16, 2014. The committee’s report has been passed through four major shared governance groups and is a product of extensive campus input and discussion.

The report is intended to help members of the campus community contribute to making UW–Madison more equitable, inclusive, and diverse, both on campus and to the broader community. Contrary to Hansen’s claims, our framework absolutely does not extend to how instructors should or could grade students.

The language Hansen cites is part of a different document, the UW System Inclusive Excellence framework, adopted by the Board of Regents in 2009. The language is:

“Representational Equity: Proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

The concept of Inclusive Excellence allows institutions to engage diversity from a vantage point of alignment with campus quality efforts, underscoring the educational benefits of diversity for all students, while emphasizing it as a central value of the institution. These laudable goals serve as the backbone for how institutions like UW–Madison, which have a long and rich tradition of academic rigor and excellence, can make excellence more inclusive, hence the term Inclusive Excellence.

The definition of representational equity is based on the research of Dr. Estela Bensimon, Co-Director of the Center for Urban Education and Professor of Higher Education at USC.

This approach is not reflected by UW–Madison’s plan.

However, Hansen’s interpretation is out of context and reflects a misunderstanding. Bensimon’s point of proportional equity is intended as an outcome of plans like Inclusive Excellence being implemented and valued by institutions.

This proportional and equitable distribution of grades arises (without intervention at the time of grading) by fostering living and learning spaces that are inclusive of historically marginalized students so that they can do their best learning and earn better grades; not through the “redistribution” of artificially-enhanced grades.

Our goal is to engage diversity and inclusion with a spirit of excellence, integrity and transparency, which is exactly what we intend to do as we look to the implementation phase of our diversity framework.

I encourage everyone to read the final document prepared by the Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee to learn about the UW–Madison process and recommendations.