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Report of the Commission on Race and Diversity

Date:         October 26, 2016

To:             The University Community
From:         Joel Seligman
Re:            Report of the Commission on Race and Diversity      

I am today making available for University-wide review the final report of the Commission on Race and Diversity.  The entire report may be accessed online at www.rochester.edu/president/commission-on-race-and-diversity/. I strongly encourage all in the University community to read this report.

The purpose of this Commission is to provide a comprehensive review of University policies and procedures with respect to race and diversity as they affect all of us – students, faculty and staff.

From my first University message to our community in 2005, I have stressed that diversity is a core value of the University of Rochester.  The Commission report provides comprehensive detail of the many steps to advance diversity at our University since then, such as the creation of the Office for Faculty Development and Diversity ten years ago and quantitative progress in the number of underrepresented faculty, students and most staff categories since 2005.

In the recent past, all of us have been powerfully reminded that numbers alone are not enough.  The intertwined issues of race and diversity are the most difficult and most enduring challenges of our nation.  We at the University of Rochester have begun to address these issues here.  We have far to go.

In the past few years, tragedies involving the killing of unarmed black men and acts of violence against other individuals because of their race, sexual orientation, or other affiliations have scarred our national consciousness.

At the University of Rochester, there have been instances of racial hate speech communicated through Yik Yak and other means.  These are not widespread, but any instance of racist and hateful activity at our University is unacceptable.

Last fall, Dr. Vivian Lewis, Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity, reported to me instances of underrepresented minority faculty and staff who believed they were isolated and not supported.  I approved a University-wide campus climate survey to help all of us understand how widespread these beliefs were and to provide an informed basis for addressing them.

In November of last year a group of University of Rochester students and their supporters held a peaceful march to express their concerns about race and diversity on our campus and presented me with a petition outlining steps that they believed were necessary to address these concerns.  This march contributed to a greater sense that many of us had that it was an appropriate time for a new comprehensive review of race and diversity at our University.    

Against this background, I appointed the Commission on Race and Diversity last November and selected Vice President Paul Burgett and Dean of the College Richard Feldman to be co-chairs.

The Commission held a series of town hall meetings throughout the University, reviewed employment and enrollment data, and analyzed the results of surveys on diversity.  During the time that the Commission was active, the schools and other units within the University undertook several projects to strengthen the campus climate for diversity.  The College notably took the lead in responding to the specific College-related issues raised in the student petition.  In late January 2016, the Commission issued an interim report, which included its recommendation regarding Yik Yak.  That report and my response are available at the Commission’s website, https://www.rochester.edu/president/commission-on-race-and-diversity/

The final report of the Commission on Race and Diversity includes  recommendations on five key topics:

  1. Leadership:  It is recommended that the President establish a Presidential Diversity Council, a centralized committee of senior University leaders from across the University, chaired by the University President, to promote and strengthen the University’s race and diversity commitments.  To coordinate implementation of the Presidential Diversity Council’s decisions, it also is recommended that the President establish an implementation committee of leaders from offices throughout the University with responsibility for helping carry out specific race and diversity initiatives.  Implicitly, the recommendation to establish a Presidential Diversity Council is 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 helping run the University and allocating resources.
  2. Students:  It is recommended that each school clearly articulate its programs for recruiting, retaining, and graduating a diverse student body and for providing a rich and collegial environment supportive of those ends and report to the Presidential Diversity Council on a regular basis how it will assess the quality and effectiveness of its efforts.
  3. Faculty:  It is recommended that the President continue to hold each school responsible for pursuing clearly articulated plans to attract and retain a diverse faculty.  These plans, like all else in these recommendations, must be consistent with law, but it is recommended that these plans include specific strategies for developing diverse applicant pools for faculty searches.  School deans, it is recommended, report regularly on the effectiveness of these efforts to the Presidential Diversity Council.
  4. Staff:  It is recommended that the President ensure that all areas of the University assign responsibility to those who manage, hire, and promote staff to pursue clearly articulated goals and to develop plans to attract and retain diverse staff at all levels.
  5. Climate and Community:  It is recommended that the University continue to create and actively promote a safe and welcoming community that supports learning and understanding of issues of diversity, promotes awareness, and encourages interactions among people and groups from diverse backgrounds. 

The final report of the Commission on Race and Diversity is detailed with 19 appendices and no holds barred with respect to reporting the realities of our University today.  Consistent with our commitment to academic freedom, criticisms of the University are summarized as they were made.  I strongly believe we learn best by honestly looking at the relevant facts.  For those who read all of the report of the Commission on Race and Diversity or read this report and its more than 100 pages of appendices, a comprehensive and nuanced view of the state of race and diversity at our University is presented.

Now it is your turn.  Everyone in our University community has the opportunity to comment on this report electronically by sending an email to me at president@rochester.edu.  I will read each email.  To encourage candor, all submissions will be in confidence. Please forward all communications by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 10.

I also will participate in town hall meetings on the River Campus on Tuesday, November 1 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Hawkins-Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library, the Eastman School of Music on Wednesday, November 2 from noon to 1:00 p.m. in the Dean’s Dining Room of the Student Living Center, and the Medical Center on November 2 from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. in the Lower Adolph Auditorium (Room 1-7619).  If necessary, more town halls will be scheduled. 

Final decisions on the recommendations made in the report of the Commission on Race and Diversity will be made only after all of your comments have been received and reviewed.  No decision has been made to date.  

Let me close with an expression of gratitude to Commission co-chairs Paul Burgett and Richard Feldman and to the entire Commission for the thoughtful and thorough manner in which they addressed these critical issues for our campus.  They have worked long and hard.  I am optimistic that a consequence of their Commission’s report as reviewed by all of us will be further significant progress for our campus in building the inclusive and welcoming campus we all seek.