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Race, Ethnicity & Place Conference Remarks

President Denise Trauth
November 7, 2008

In his book The Rise of the Creative Class, Carnegie Mellon professor Richard Florida paints a picture of the successful cities of the present and future.  These cities will be those that can attract and keep what he calls “the creative class” – people involved in education, the arts, engineering, science, law, business and a wide range of professions that use creativity as a key factor in their work – as opposed to the working class and the service class. This creative “class” of people is not even aware that they are a class, Florida says, but they have “shaped and will continue to shape deep and profound shifts in the ways we work, in our values and desires, and in the very fabric of our everyday lives.” 1

Workers used to follow companies and factories and businesses to where the jobs were. Companies would locate in a city, and then people would move there to work for the company. Richard Florida observes that companies now go to cities where a vibrant creative class has already located, cities that have mastered what he calls the three T’s of economic development – technology, talent and tolerance. Each T is necessary but not sufficient in itself. “To attract creative people, generate innovation and stimulate economic growth,” he says, “a place must have all three.”2 For instance, cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Austin do this well.

According to Florida, this new class values creativity, individuality, difference and merit. They want to live in communities that attract people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, political viewpoints. They opt out of places where tradition is more valued – tightly knit, old style communities. They expect an openness to diversity.

While Richard Florida makes the case for the diverse city, I want to make the same case for the diverse university, and I will use my university – Texas State University – as an example. Texas State is located in San Marcos, in the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area. We benefit immensely from our location near Austin, but we also contribute to Austin’s ability to master the three T’s.

I think we can agree that students are members of this creative class, as are faculty. Students want to come to stimulating, optimistic environments where there is an openness to diversity, environments that are what I like to call “deliberately diverse.” Texas State welcomes diversity, embraces diversity, sees diversity as a good thing, not just a number we need to reach in order to be politically correct.

And a campus cannot be diverse in one area and discriminatory in another. A campus, even if it has a good racial balance, cannot be truly diverse if it is homophobic or too left- or right-wing or has only rich students attending. All students must feel welcome there.

Texas State University is a high-performance university because it seeks diversity.  We have set a goal of becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution, an HSI, by 2012, and we will make it. As you know, to be designated an HSI, 25 percent of a university’s undergraduate students must be Latino. We are now at 24 percent.

And frankly, we did not have to set this goal. Demographics would have taken care of it for us eventually. After all, Texas is already a minority majority state and will be majority Hispanic in a few years. But instead, we are one of the first Anglo universities in Texas to go down the road to HSI strategically. We are what I call a “deliberately diverse” university. We put University recruiters in Hispanic population centers. When Latino retention rates fell behind Anglo and African-American retention rates, we put programs into place that targeted Latino students, and raised that retention rate to a par with the others. We assigned mentors to at-risk students. Our retention rate, which is now 77.6 percent overall, breaks down 77.7 percent for Anglos, 77.2 percent for Hispanics and 81.1 percent for African-Americans. Our graduation rate for Latinos was impressive enough that the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Education Trust recognized us as one of 11 model universities for how to graduate Latinos. Our six-year rate for Hispanics is 10 percent above the national average and 16 percent above the state average.

Knowing that true diversity is not limited to race, Texas State supports a vigorous Allies program that some of you may be familiar with. This is an effort to make the campus friendly to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students. It begun about 15 years ago at Duke and perhaps other universities and has spread under various names. And we have an organization that advocates for faculty and staff of different sexual orientations.

We also welcome – and we support – students from 68 countries. Their numbers are not a large percent, but their presence among us is invaluable. While most of our students come from Texas – and almost every county in Texas – we also have students from 47 of the 50 states. (In case you are wondering, Delaware, Montana and Vermont are the holdouts.)  Our student body spans economic levels as well, with 63 percent receiving financial aid.

We try to balance the speakers who come to campus on the political scale – from Karl Rove to Barack Obama.  Balance has been a special challenge this year as we celebrate the centennial of the birth of our most famous graduate, Lyndon Johnson, and invite back to campus people who knew him – they all tend to be Democrats! But we have found balance.  As tensions rose with the presidential campaign, it seemed to me that the Young Republicans and the Young Democrats were equally active. Their booths faced each other every day on opposite sides of the Quad as they solicited voters. And the university police were never called to break up a fight, so I suppose the interaction was civil!

As with the cities Richard Florida describes, the diverse university is amazingly productive. Our graduation rates are among the five highest for the 35 public universities in the state. Our retention rate is also among the highest. And when I say our diverse university is amazingly productive, I mean amazing in light of our budget. As far as budgets go, ours is about in the middle of the 35 public universities, yet our graduate rate is near the top.

Please forgive me for sounding as if I am testifying before the Legislature – the tendency comes with the chair I occupy. My point is that we have done very well in spite of our level of funding. And I believe that we are a high-performing university because we are a university characterized by our intense focus on our core enterprises – teaching and research. The creative class that we attract as faculty and staff upholds this focus, and the creative class of students who enroll knows this.

Richard Florida calls it tolerance.  We call it diversity, and diversity is a necessary ingredient for success. It’s as simple as that, whether we are talking about a university, a corporation or a city. Corporations have figured this out. They know that attracting that creative class they need for success will affect their bottom line. And they eagerly seek a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index3 compiled by the Human Rights Campaign in order to make themselves attractive. Two hundred and sixty corporations now have a perfect score, compared to 13 in 2002. Hiring for diversity in corporations may have been a matter of compliance with affirmative action in the past, but it’s a matter of economic survival today.

So it seems to me if you presented all we now know about the benefits of diversity to even the most racist, sexist, homophobic, isolationist, pessimistic CEO you can imagine – if anyone matching that description could possibly get to the position of CEO these days – she would have to change her prejudices, or at least hide them, for economic reasons. All moral and ethical reasons aside, she would have to embrace diversity for the sake of the company.

Similarly, if you presented all we now know about the benefits of diversity to city planners, they would have to examine their city’s traditional culture and see if it measures up to new standards. They should know, if they do not, that economic growth of a city is “powered by creative people who prefer places that are diverse, tolerant and open to new ideas.”4 All moral and ethical reasons aside, they would have to embrace diversity for the sake of the city.

And similarly with universities, if you presented all we now know about the benefits of diversity to even the most jaded governing board, they would realize that the success of their school depends on their ability to attract the creative class. All moral and ethical reasons aside, they would have to embrace diversity for the sake of the university.

But we should not put all moral and ethical reasons aside. Those reasons are very much a part of why we should seek diversity. Because it’s the right thing to do. At Texas State, we seek diversity because we believe it is the best thing that could possibly happen to us. It is something that grows out of who we are.

Deliberately seeking diversity, as successful cities and companies and universities have done, is different from “allowing” diversity or “legally accepting” diversity. It is like the difference between leaving a door open at your house for a guest and actively welcoming that guest at the front door as you express your joy in seeing her.

That’s the welcome I’m talking about. That’s the welcome diversity deserves.

1 Florida, Richard, The Rise of the Creative Class: How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, Basic Books, New York, 2002, p. ix.
2 Florida, p. 249.
3 http://www.hrc.org/issues/workplace/cei.htm
4Florida, p. 249.