To University of Rochester students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends,
Much has transpired in our country and our community since we last wrote in solidarity with you about the grief and anger we feel about the murder of George Floyd and the relentless, centuries-long victimization of people of color through bigotry, hatred, and systemic racism. Since we wrote, we have all seen the protests and demand for change. We have seen people of all races and walks of life stand together and we have seen lawless actions to disperse these same people with violence and tear gas. We have seen many of you kneel in silent witness and reflection with White Coats for Black Lives at our own Medical Center.
As our inboxes were filling with petitions and demands from students, faculty, staff, and alumni advocating for immediate and visible change, we also continued to listen to black and brown members of the University of Rochester community tell us about the disturbing realities of their lived experience here. It is clear that you feel that this institution has failed you in the past with empty words and inaction. We can and we will do better.
Here are some steps we are already taking.
It is a fact that the diversity of our faculty and administrative leadership is unacceptably low. We have both been involved in successful efforts to recruit, hire, and retain faculty and administrative staff of color at other universities, and we plan to use that experience to implement strategies here to do the same. We have already discussed this with the University’s senior leaders, and we are in the process of developing multi-pronged efforts that we can implement, even as our institution faces considerable financial challenges from the COVID-19 health crisis and economic downturn.
As a first step, beginning on July 1, we will commence Together for Rochester, a year-long fundraising and engagement campaign with a goal of raising $100 million. Fundraising to support diverse faculty recruiting efforts will be a priority in this campaign. Many of our peer universities have already invested substantially in this area and we must do the same. The campaign will also focus on other key diversity efforts, as well as scholarships, financial aid, and career support; and it will provide a platform to formally launch three new alumni affinity groups: the Black Alumni Network, the Women’s Network, and the First Generation Network. We will be working with our alumni Diversity Advisory Council, chaired by University trustees Lizette Pérez-Deisboeck ’87 and Lance Drummond ’85S (MBA) and the Alumni Board to ensure that alumni are consulted, heard, and engaged.
As another step in a positive direction, Gloria Culver, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, and Donald Hall, dean of the faculty in AS&E are moving forward with the hiring process for a new, permanent director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies. Even during a hiring freeze, we are prioritizing filling this important position that has been vacant for too long.
Against the backdrop of discussions and demands regarding police departments nationally and locally, we have asked our University’s Public Safety Review Board to convene within the next few weeks to determine ways in which our Department of Public Safety can contribute further to our campus discussions and actions around race. The PSRB is chaired by life trustee Francis Price ’74, ‘75S (MBA), and is made up of student, faculty, and staff representatives. We recognize that the Office of Equity and Inclusion needs to be represented on the PSRB, and that Mercedes is the right person to fill that role as an ex officio member of the board.
We also know we must address the University’s longstanding issues around transparency and accountability in the matters of race, diversity, and inclusion. In the past, our University has said that diversity is important. But we understand that many of you feel that those have only been words, that more action is needed. Beginning this fall, we are going to be requesting that every school dean and unit administrative leader work with the Office of Equity and Inclusion to set specific diversity goals and provide a diversity report using a consistent set of metrics that will allow us to measure progress against those goals. Those reports will be made public and will inform our ongoing diversity efforts.
Other issues surfaced in conversations with students, faculty, and staff have made it clear there is frustration and confusion about some University-wide programs and support services, including our platform for reporting bias-related incidents. We have received requests to expand our policies to include consequences for committing damaging acts of bias. We are working with the appropriate University offices to address these concerns. We have also heard concerns from our frontline staff who do not have regular access to work computers and are therefore often overlooked by the University’s official digital and online communications. Improving access to communications is an essential project that will allow our staff colleagues to be informed and feel included.
These are some of the things we are working on now. But we know there are many other issues of importance to you, issues that you have told us directly about and issues that you have sent to us in letters and petitions. We are considering every request that has been presented to us and we intend to look at our communities’ needs through a social justice lens as we respond. We will be convening various stakeholder groups, including trustees, faculty, students, staff, and alumni to engage in reviewing these plans and establishing other steps the University should and can take to move forward in a strategic and urgent manner.
We know we must ensure that we can hold our University to the highest standards. We also know we must continue to engage supportively and constructively with our community neighbors. Systemic change will take time, but we are committed to doing the work. As we pursue the changes we must implement, we will rely on you to hold us accountable and we hope to engage with you as we strive to be a better neighbor, employer, health care provider, and educational resource.
Your thoughts, feedback, and support are necessary and welcome. We look forward to working with you.
Sarah C. Mangelsdorf
President and G. Robert Witmer, Jr. University Professor
Mercedes Ramírez Fernández
Richard Feldman Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
Chief Diversity Officer