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Response to the Final Report of the Presidential Commission on Race and Diversity

November 29, 2016

To:                  The University Community
From:              Joel Seligman


I am today accepting the principal recommendations of the Final Report of the Presidential Commission on Race and Diversity, issued on October 26, 2016, specifically including its basic recommendations on Leadership, Students, Faculty, Staff, and Climate and Community.

Taking affirmative steps to enhance a welcoming and inclusive campus is consistent with our core values, an objective of the University that has become an enduring part of our campus culture.  At the University of Rochester we are committed to supporting all of our students, faculty, staff, patients, and visitors and making all feel part of our community and respected.

Several significant steps already have been taken by the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering, the Medical Center, and our other schools and programs as detailed in the Final Report of the Commission.

We have much work to do.  Throughout the balance of this calendar year, steps will include initial meetings with the Presidential Diversity Council and the formation of the Presidential Diversity Council Implementation Committee.  I support the recommended membership in these two bodies largely as proposed, but before initial meetings there will need to be full designation of representatives to each body for each to begin to function. I will add to the recommended membership on the Presidential Diversity Council the Chief Advancement Officer, Vice President for Communications, and Vice Provost and University Dean of Graduate Studies.

I anticipate an initial meeting of the Presidential Diversity Council in December with monthly meetings scheduled after the New Year for the balance of this academic year.  This is intended to be a permanent Council and a regular schedule of meetings will continue each year.

Support for the Presidential Diversity Council will be provided by the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity and by my office.

Even before the first meeting of the Presidential Diversity Council, there are specific recommendations of the Commission that can be implemented.

The University will create a $25,000 annual University-wide fund for diversity programming that will be administered by the Provost.

The Frederick Douglass Building going forward will be known as the Frederick Douglass Commons, and, newly connected by the recent renovations to Wilson Commons, will be designated together with Wilson Commons as The Campus Center, signifying the joint role of these facilities in supporting our students and our campus.

The University will explore the possibility of making Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official University holiday beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year.  This will be discussed during the initial meeting of the Presidential Diversity Council

In addition, consistent with an earlier proposal from student leaders, space for the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) will be expanded over the next few months.   The College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering and the Simon School are already working on a plan.

Other issues were raised in the 42 written comments I received and the three town hall meetings I hosted to provide opportunities for community response to the Final Report of the Commission.  The notes from the town hall meetings and these comments will be addressed by the Presidential Diversity Council and, when appropriate, others.  Let me particularly thank the Warner School faculty and staff and the URMC Executive Committee for Diversity and Inclusion for notably detailed comments.

The recommendation to create the Presidential Diversity Council was based on the premise that to be most effective in implementing race and diversity initiatives, it is necessary to have at the table those administrative and academic leaders most directly responsible for running the University and allocating resources.  In adopting the recommendation that a Presidential Diversity Council be created, it is my expectation that the senior leadership of the University fully engage in the process of designing further progress in making our campus welcoming and inclusive.

Let me again thank Commission co-chairs Paul Burgett and Richard Feldman and the entire Commission for their hard work over the past year.  I am deeply grateful for the care and thoughtfulness with which they have addressed these issues that are so critical for our campus.  I am optimistic the Commission’s report will help us make further progress toward being the inclusive and welcoming community that we aspire to be.