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CMU president reflects on pandemic education and university’s diversity shortcomings

Brett Dahlberg

Central Michigan University President Bob Davies sat for an interview with WCMU News reporter Brett Dahlberg on Friday.

Bob, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. The first thing that I want to ask you about is the way that the university has responded to the pandemic. I wonder if you could lay out for me how you feel like the university’s done, and maybe a few pieces of evidence or data points for why you feel that way.

Well, I think the biggest data point I would point to right away is that we are one of the few universities, and the largest university, to have an in-person learning environment for the whole entire fall semester and all the way through this semester we’re in right now.
You know, as I walk around our campus and see individuals walking outside with masks on, walking inside, people wearing the mask – you know, every once in a while, someone forgets, and they’re like, "Oh, my God, I’ve got to put it on real quick." You know, they fully understand and embrace that they are protecting themselves, they’re protecting their fellow colleagues and friends, and to me, that is an amazing achievement that we need to celebrate. Was it difficult? Was it hard? Absolutely.

Talk to me a bit about the community around you. How do you allow students to come to campus, knowing that they’re going to get together off campus, and you don’t have a lot of control over those get-togethers, and still mitigate the risk to the city and community around you?

Our goal, from day one, was to put safety and health of the overall community at the forefront, and to keep the university operational and functioning at all times. Also, at the same time, how do you do that? Six hundred-plus plexiglass screens later, the masks that we provided out, the intensive communication, the commitment of our faculty, staff and students in really emphasizing those efforts, has always been at the forefront, because it’s the safety and health of our area.

One of the things we did is work with the health department, and we were able to put forward some restrictions on gatherings outside of the campus environment. Did they occur? Absolutely, they occurred. And we were able to respond usually very quickly and disperse those out.

I want to ask you about equity and inclusion at CMU. Where are you feeling like the university is falling short right now?

We have a gap of graduation rates and retention rates based on individuals’ color, and we want to erase those. We also want to have a robust discussion about how we can continue to serve underserved populations in a more meaningful way. One of the things the pandemic has brought forward is a drop in African American males, who are not going to colleges and universities. I think Central Michigan University should have a role in changing those points.

Another key area for us is, our diversity plan is outdated, and it needs to have very clear and specific goals and objectives and timelines and measurements. Just as importantly is the evaluation and promotion – not promotion in terms of, "Rah, rah, we’re doing great," but promotion of the results of those efforts.

I think people need to understand, right now, our difference in graduation rates between African Americans and Caucasians is about 16 percentage points. We need to put that out there. We’ve launched a moonshot goal to have all of our graduation rates continue to increase, but to equalize.

Bob Davies is the president of Central Michigan University. Bob, thanks for talking with us.

Thank you.

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