Archive for Saturday, February 2, 2013

Diversity official Rodriguez leaving KU different than he found it 35 years ago

February 2, 2013


Fred Rodriguez, vice provost for diversity and equity at Kansas University, is pictured Thursday in Strong Hall. Rodriguez, who is nearing his retirement this summer, has been with the university for 35 years, in which he became the first to teach on the issues of multicultural education and diversity.

Fred Rodriguez, vice provost for diversity and equity at Kansas University, is pictured Thursday in Strong Hall. Rodriguez, who is nearing his retirement this summer, has been with the university for 35 years, in which he became the first to teach on the issues of multicultural education and diversity.

When Fred Rodriguez came to Kansas University in the late 1970s, the idea of a job devoted to the concept of diversity was a new and controversial one, he says.

After 35 years of change at KU and across the country, though, things are different. One of four vice provost positions at KU is centered on making KU's faculty, students and staff as diverse as possible while treating them equally.

Rodriguez is stepping down from that job, vice provost for diversity and equity, at the end of the academic year.

Those words — diversity and equity — have only been part of his job title for the past four years. But the concepts have been at the heart of his work since he joined the School of Education faculty in 1978, tasked with training future teachers on multiculturalism and inclusion.

That was a new concept in the school at the time, he said, and he helped develop courses that are still required of KU education students today.

"When I first arrived here in the School (of Education), we had nothing," Rodriguez said. "There were no courses. There was no emphasis."

His interest in these issues dates back to his childhood, Rodriguez said.

He grew up in a small, western Nebraska town where about one-quarter of the roughly 1,800 people were Mexican-American, he said. Discrimination and segregation were common in his elementary school and elsewhere, he said.

"It was a place where you would go to church, and Mexicans sit on one side, the whites sit on the other side," Rodriguez said.

When he became an elementary teacher, he continued to see minority students who didn't get a fair shake, he said. He hoped that if he started training future teachers, he could help them learn to be open and inclusive.

Rodriguez was the first leader of the School of Education's Professional Development Schools Alliance, which puts future teachers in classrooms at schools with high numbers of minority or low-income children. He also was the first director of KU's Center for Teaching Excellence, which helps faculty from across the university improve their teaching.

Both programs are still going strong after more than 15 years, he said, a point of pride for him.

He was an associate dean in the education school and also served for a year as interim dean, before returning to the faculty.

In 2009, he was hired to serve as KU's top diversity official on an interim basis. The job had been created in 2005 as a half-time position, he said, and many people still weren't aware it existed when he took over.

"This office was just invisible four years ago," Rodriguez said.

He became a vice provost in 2011 when KU's administration was realigned. He now oversees several offices across campus related to multicultural affairs, gender-related issues, accommodations for students, staff and visitors with disabilities and other topics. He leads the Multicultural Scholars Program, as well.

Shawn Alexander, an associate professor of African and African-American studies, said it will be a sad day for KU when Rodriguez retires. Alexander, who's worked with Rodriguez on KU's Langston Hughes Visiting Professor program, said diversity and KU were both close to his heart.

"He sees the University of Kansas as an elite institution, and he wants to better it in any way that he possibly can," Alexander said.

Rodriguez said he's seen KU grow markedly more diverse since he arrived 35 years ago, though he emphasized it still had a lot of room for improvement on recruiting more diverse faculty and students.

"We're making good progress in that area, but I don't want to give the impression that we've arrived," Rodriguez said.

The proportion of minority students at KU has grown steadily over the past 25 years, to 16.7 percent in fall 2012 from 5.9 percent in fall of 1987. The incoming freshman class this past fall contained 21.3 percent minority students, a record.

The percentage of minority faculty has grown to 15.5 percent in fall 2011 from about 9.5 percent in fall 1995.

Though there's still need for improvement, Rodriguez, 63, said he's retiring because he wants to leave on his own terms.

"I've never wanted to get to the point where somebody says, 'Hey, have you ever thought about retiring?' " Rodriguez said.

There are also his wife, two children and two grandchildren, all of whom live in Lawrence.

KU will still be there, too — just a different place than he found when he arrived 35 years ago.


oakfarm 5 years, 3 months ago

Hopefully someday we'll get past defining diversity in terms of skin color, get back to defining a university in terms of the diversity of ideas, thought and expression, and get back to defining equity or equality in terms of opportunity rather than wealth re-distribution.

fiddleback 5 years, 3 months ago

Sad but unsurprising that the first comment on a great man's career is full of knee-jerk and wrong-headed presumptions...

First, diversity is hardly just skin color; it encompasses myriad differences in identity and background based on class, gender, abilities/challenges, family structure, community culture, etc. They mention minority enrollment towards the end as that's obviously an easily-measured attribute. But the goal is pursuing diversity in all aspects, not just the more quantifiable areas.

Second, "equity" is defined as equality of opportunity at KU; your wealth-redistribution reference is totally off-base and perfectly illustrates your festering partisan grudge.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 3 months ago

What a waste of money. What does this guy really do? In the private sector this would be an additional duty for some poor smuck which could be completed once every 6 months. No wonder higher education is so expensive. Get out of bed and go to work every day and no one would care what color your skin is.

bhallen 5 years, 3 months ago

Obviously this reader has no idea what he/she is talking about. Every major company and/or organization in the private sector has a director of diversity or a chief diversity officer. Maybe this individual needs a little "education" themselves!!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

I knew xenophobia would rear its ugly head sooner or later.

homechanger 5 years, 3 months ago

We knew you would add to your more than 30,000 replies bozo. Do you do anything else but sit on the urial world site and argue? It must take a long time to post 30,000 plus times. Thanks for playing for our amusement though.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

"It must take a long time to post 30,000 plus times."

Yep. Nearly 8 years. But, typically, most posts don't take more than a couple of minutes, even if I think about it (something you apparently didn't do prior to the above post.)

So if I give up posting here, what should I do instead? Maybe play fantasy football?

Linda Kucza 5 years, 3 months ago

Good for you, Fred!
As for the trolls who seem to be the only people out there, I wish for your hearts and minds to find a way to contribute positively to a conversation as Dr. Rodriguez did for many years! That said, I commend Dr. Rodriguez and many others who brought the PDS program to reality at KU. I was lucky enough to have been in the original (experimental) year…anyone remember how we would laugh at being the experiments? Anyhow, it wasn’t, and ISN’T, just about skin color. Never was. It’s about fair and responsible treatment for all students and people. Have a kid with a disability? Want the best for that beloved child? Can you say diversity, equity? Have a female child? Want her to have all the opportunities she deserves? I thought so… That is what the program is about. That is what Dr. Rodriguez and the rest of our professors helped people get better at doing. Probably time to get down off my soapbox. Good luck in all you do, Fred. By the way, other Rodriguez’ have made great, positive contributions to children and education! Your family “walks the walk”. Take good care of each other!!

fiddleback 5 years, 3 months ago

That's rather facile to merit a reply, but sufficed to say human groups always have and will continue to form based on obvious commonalities. That's exactly why larger institutions have an obligation to design processes and monitor functioning in pursuit of greater fairness and opportunity, lest certain groups gain systemic advantages or disadvantages.

bunnyhawk 5 years, 3 months ago

A well deserved tribute to a very hard working and talented professor. Congratulations, Fred, on a career well lived!

Cindy Yulich 5 years, 3 months ago

A good man who has done a tremendous job for te university and thousands of students lucky enough to have crossed his path!

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