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Weighing In On Diversity

Few would argue the benefits of multiculturalism on college campuses. But how it's achieved, how it affects social life, its place in the curriculum - all have tied up ad hoc committees, state legislatures, and campuses for several decades. And while those conversations have unquestionably changed the face of the university, recent decisions in Texas and California to reject race as a consideration in university admissions, as well as ongoing struggles at other schools, point to the issue's continuing hot-button status.

Now the Ford Foundation is giving us a closer look at the views of a broad range of Americans with a poll of 2,011 registered voters, released last week.

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Overall support is high: 66 percent think colleges should take explicit steps to ensure a diverse campus. When it comes to the curriculum, 82 percent say that a changing US population necessitates "diversity education" that includes multicultural elements in various disciplines.

Indeed, a strong majority saw higher ed's purpose as teaching basic skills, career training, and preparation to work in a more diverse workplace. Support for diversity education, as it affected these areas, was strong.

But many of those polled raised long-troubling questions: whether an emphasis on diversity drives people apart, whether there is a need for greater emphasis on common American values, whether diversity education has a liberal political agenda.

Three-quarters also highlighted the fact that while many schools have diverse enrollment, students self-segregate.

The poll suggests many want progress in truly bringing people together. While public support for the general goals of diversity clearly has a strong foundation, many people are still looking to educational leaders to help build a society where meaningful connections are possible and sought after, not just a matter of necessity.

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