At the end of February, I proposed a series of five actions in areas to improve AU’s progress in promoting areas of diversity and inclusion. I invited feedback no later than the end of March and received a number of thoughtful and serious replies. Thank you to all who provided ideas, shared concerns, expressed support, and volunteered to be part of the solutions. I’ll summarize the feedback and identify next steps.
Summary of Feedback on Plan
The comments received helped to shape our thinking about the actions we proposed and will help to improve the implementation. Themes included the following ideas:
Seek a definition of diversity that is broadly inclusive.
Select members of our new presidential council who reflect representation and expertise, and ensure that members are grounded in appropriate training.
Include training resources on inclusive classrooms for all faculty.
Extend education and training for cultural competence beyond new undergraduate students.
Reiterate our commitments to academic freedom and freedom of expression, as we introduce requirements for courses or training to improve inclusion.
Concerns were expressed that the new core course requirements must not limit diversity of ideas or create orthodoxy and that reinforcement of faculty hiring procedures must not introduce discrimination. We will bear these concerns in mind as we implement our plans.
We must constantly keep in balance our commitments to academic freedom and free expression and the progress we make on diversity and inclusion. These values are not mutually exclusive. To the contrary, they should reinforce each other and make our community stronger. We will reduce ignorance and create an environment that is intentionally inclusive, encouraging diverse perspectives and cultivating capacities for effective responses to those we find challenging.
Confident that our basic proposals are sound, our plans are more informed as a result of the support, suggestions, and cautions received. We will move forward with next steps on the five elements of our plan.
Next Steps on Five Action Items
1. Provide Oversight, Guidance, Measurement of Progress, Resource Plans through the President’s Council
With feedback from the community, we’ve made progress on the charter for this council and important characteristics of members and leaders. It is evident this body must be both broadly inclusive and expert.
Responsibilities will include overseeing the other elements of this plan and reviewing and reforming relevant policies and practices, including our extensive and growing training programs. The council will develop new ideas for promoting both diversity and inclusion as well as for receiving and evaluating ideas from others. They will assess the institution’s performance in maintaining diversity and promoting inclusion and work with the president to promote accountability for progress and secure the appropriate intervention when improvement is needed.
Given these broad-ranging considerations and critical functions, assembling the council is a task requiring great care. We received several nominations for members on the council. I have already begun the process of securing the leaders for the council, to be drawn from the ranks of our senior faculty and staff, and urge the community to offer further nominations of members and expressions of interest. If you or someone you know has an interest, experience, or expertise in this work, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The council will be fully constituted, with a chair or co-chairs, by midsummer. We will convene the group for an organizing and training retreat as the first order of business. The council will be ready to assume a robust agenda during the 2016–2017 academic year.
2. Work with the Faculty Senate to Introduce Diversity Courses in the AU Core
Since last summer, AU faculty have been working to develop a new academic core curriculum, to replace the current General Education structure. Members of the community have weighed in on successive drafts of the proposal. The Faculty Senate will review a draft of the proposal at its May meeting.
The new proposed core includes two required transitions courses, AU Experience 1 and 2 (AUx2), each for 1.5 credit hours. These will be hybrid courses, in which online content created by a group of AU faculty will stimulate discussion in cohorts of 19 students. AUx2 will delve into social and cultural relations, and issues of diversity, identity, and race. These courses will be piloted in four sections in AY 2016–17, revised and expanded the following year, and fully implemented with the new Core in AY 2018–2019.
Also planned in the revised AU Core is a new Diverse Experience course requirement. Courses in the students’ major, core offerings, or free electives used to meet this requirement will build on the content introduced in AUx2 and will attend to issues of diversity and inclusion in their various forms. Planning for Diverse Experience courses will begin with approval of the new core, for implementation in AY 2018–2019.
3. Revise Policies and Procedures to Improve Diversity and Inclusion
We pledged to review our existing policies related to diversity and inclusion to determine if they properly advance those values. Our current policy is being reviewed and revised to provide sufficient authority and clarity to deal effectively with incidents of bias and discrimination that threaten, harm, or impair the ability to fully enjoy the benefits of this university. A revised draft will be prepared for review by our new council, which also will examine existing and new practices designed to affect diversity and inclusion.
4. Recruit Diverse Candidates to the Faculty
Our process of recruitment must bring greater diversity to the faculty and curriculum. As a result, five tenure-track faculty positions have been submitted by the deans to extend our current faculty areas of depth and specialization. Four of these positions will be filled by faculty with expertise in Race and Public Health Policy(CAS); Race and Global Studies (SIS); Race Media and Communication (SOC) and a position in Race and Justice (SPA). The specialization of the fifth new position has yet to be identified but will be housed in CAS. Expansion of the faculty diversity will continue as a priority well beyond this initial phase of hiring.
In addition, beginning in the fall of 2016, AU will increase training for faculty searches, which follow the university’s affirmative action procedures to ensure equal access to all candidates. In our faculty recruitment efforts, we will emphasize the ability to mentor and support students from diverse backgrounds, cross-cultural communication skills, experience with different teaching strategies and learning styles, or a research agenda that addresses or incorporates issues that involve or affect diverse groups.
5. Develop Programs to Cultivate Inclusive Classrooms and Campus Environments
I will work with the dean of academic affairs, Human Resources, and the Office of Campus Life to articulate a comprehensive training approach to diversity and inclusion, not only for new tenure-line faculty appointments, but also for all faculty, office supervisors, and student leaders in order to create inclusive environments in their classrooms, offices, residence halls, and student organizations. Training efforts will be reviewed by our new council on an ongoing basis.
I look forward to working with you on these action steps, and I will write again in July to provide updates on appointments to our council and additional progress in each of the areas above.
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