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Higher Education and Diversity: Ethical and Practical Responsibility in the Academy

Higher Education and Diversity: Ethical and Practical Responsibility in the Academy

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The nation’s current economic difficulties and politically contentious atmosphere have raised doubts, and even fears, among many members of the American population. Polls show that the concern that Americans feel about the country’s future direction is at the highest level since the Great Depression, while the measure of confidence in elected political representatives is plummeting towards an all time low. Social institutions too have suffered an erosion in the public trust: the financial sector has been the recipient of public enmity as the gap between the wealthy and the rest of the population has widened; the religious establishment has experienced a declining membership base as a number of spiritual leaders have become mired in controversy and social mores have become less rigid and absolute; organized labor has been portrayed as an entity that is antagonistic to the public interest because of its stance on retaining previously negotiated benefits for its members; and even the higher education community has come under attack for its rising costs, mediocre graduation rates, grade inflation, sparse accountability, and athletic scandals, among other shortcomings.

Despite the criticisms however, the American system of higher education is still considered by many observers to be the best such operation of its kind in the world. (Bowen, 2005) (Harvey, 1998) This loosely connected network of two‐year, four‐year, graduate and professional education institutions continues to maintain its coveted position as the primary mechanism that the richest country in the history of the world uses to identify and prepare its future leaders. Further, in an environment of extraordinarily rapid change, where technical complexity and international connectivity become more apparent and intrusive every day, the necessity for well‐prepared, knowledgeable leaders is more compelling than ever. As a result, American colleges and universities face an interesting set of external and internal forces that foment change at various levels. The institutions are attempting to establish adaptive institutional climates that are responsive to changing circumstances while they also proclaim their commitment to a set of historic and traditional principles and values that reflect the national ideals of fairness and equity.