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Presidential leadership and diversity and inclusion at selected college and university campuses in New England

Jason B Pina, Johnson & Wales University


For over 30 years, the courts have repeatedly dealt with issues surrounding the use of affirmative action and student admission policies to drive the diversification of higher education (Altbach, Lomotey, & Rivers, 2002; Gurin, 1999). Research prompted by these cases has identified the benefits and importance of diversity engagement in higher education (Chang, 2002; Hurtado, 1999; Kim, 2005; Umbach & Kuh, 2006). Committed institutional leadership has been identified as a necessity to creating diversity rich, inclusive campuses (Kezar, & Eckel, 2005). Predominantly white institutions of higher education, such as many in New England, have largely enjoyed increased demand for admission; however, by 2010, the number of white high school graduates will begin to decline. To maintain enrollments, New England institutions increasingly must compete for students from diverse backgrounds. This study examined, what Evans (2007) referred to as the artifacts of sensemaking, as used by college and university presidents: words, actions, non-actions, behaviors, and decisions to promote diversity and inclusion. A purposeful group of institutions was selected (N = 4), using several criteria: located in New England, suburban campus, private and secular in mission, predominantly white undergraduate population, full-time equivalency enrollment < 5,000 undergraduates, incumbent president served 5+ years, administered the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) in 2005-2008, and willingness to participate. Three data collection methods were used: semi-structured interviews with institutional presidents (N = 4), NSSE senior results (n = 801), and archived student recruitment materials (n = 19). ANOVAs and t-tests were performed on the NSSE results. Data were triangulated to determine the extent to which presidential statements with regard to diversity and inclusion were related to perceptions of seniors and to student recruitment documents. Study findings highlighted the relationship between presidential sensemaking and presidents' statements and actions concerning diversity and inclusion. In contrast to some research, underrepresented minority seniors and white seniors held different perceptions regarding enriching educational campus environments. A lack of relationship emerged between recruitment materials and either presidential statements or the perceptions of seniors. Recommendations about actions leaders may undertake to improve campus diversity and inclusion and about future research are made.

Subject Area

School administration|Ethnic studies|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Pina, Jason B, "Presidential leadership and diversity and inclusion at selected college and university campuses in New England" (2009). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3352495.