TO: The Commission on Women and Gender Equity in Academia
FROM: President Richard Feldman
DATE: June 29, 2018
I am writing to respond to the thoughtful and informative Preliminary Report of the Commission on Women and Gender Equity in Academia released in May, 2018. The Commission’s report, along with follow-up discussions with members of the Commission, with the University Diversity and Equity Council (UDEC), and with the President’s Cabinet demonstrate the deep level of shared commitment on our campus to identifying and addressing issues of inequity; to improving our programs, services, and outcomes; and to creating and sustaining a welcoming and supportive community for all. I’m deeply grateful for the Commission’s efforts to date and look forward to continuing to work together to achieve these goals. As the report makes clear, these are necessarily ongoing efforts that require all of us to work intentionally and diligently toward the realization of our goals.
This response will not address all the issues and recommendations contained in the Commission’s report, but will focus on the steps that we are currently taking and those we can take in the coming weeks and months. I hope we can consider this response to be part of an ongoing dialogue about ways in which we can move the University of Rochester forward. We are making progress, but there is still important work we must do together.
Vision and Values
Before widespread meaningful change can be effected—through policies, programs, and people—it is essential that we create an environment where those changes have the best chance of success. This is why one initial focus has been the development of a new statement of the University’s Vision and Values. In addition to being a model of how we conduct ourselves and our institution, the work to create the Vision and Values statement has been a model of collaborative and inclusive action: the Vision and Values statement was developed collaboratively by faculty, students, and staff, and then reviewed (and improved upon) by a wide range of members of the University community before it was finally submitted to the Board of Trustees for their approval. It is significant that their approval was unanimous.
As I see it, policies and administrative practices delineate the ways in which an institution works, but our Vision and Values will be the foundation of the strong and supportive community that we strive to be. I envision a campus built on respect and other shared values that are understood by all members of the community, where these values truly guide our policies, practices, and behaviors.
Working together to make the new Vision and Values statement part of the fabric of our community is an essential step towards greater inclusivity and respect, and to guarding against harassment, incivility, and bigotry. I have asked Vivian Lewis, vice provost for faculty development and diversity, and Joan Saab, vice provost of academic affairs, to co-chair a Vision and Values Implementation Committee, which will be charged with integrating our Vision and Values into the life of the University. They will work closely with the Vision and Values drafting committee, the University Diversity and Equity Council, and the Commission to ensure the broadest possible dissemination and impact.
A companion effort to the implementation of our Vision and Values statement is the introduction of Restorative Practices capability into our culture. I envision that these practices, now being undertaken with some success within Arts, Sciences & Engineering, will be embedded throughout the institution. Working with consultants, Dean Beth Olivares is leading the effort to train University community members who can use these proven practices to help people manage conflict, handle disciplinary action appropriately, hold each other accountable, and possess the skills needed to have difficult conversations.
The Commission report makes clear—and I and the University’s senior staff are in agreement—that our policies must be easy to understand, equitable, and trusted. I am gratified that many efforts are currently underway to evaluate, improve, and clarify University policies and procedures. The Intimate Relationships policy has been revised (updated on p. 11 in the Faculty Handbook, May 2018), and teams are currently working to revise the University’s Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment (Policy 106) and the Email access policy. We expect that work to be completed by the fall.
But perhaps just as important, we are actively examining ways to make information about these and other policies more easily accessible and understandable. The Culture of Respect website can serve as a starting point for finding information about the work that is being done to review and clarify our policies. But we know we have more work to do to streamline and simplify our web content so that helpful information is more easily accessed. As part of that process, we have created guides and info graphics that clearly identify the reporting process for incidents of sexual misconduct for students, faculty, and staff. Updated, more comprehensive guides will be posted later this summer.
Our first priority has been to review and revise the faculty Intimate Relationships policy. The revised policy was approved by the Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees this past spring. Among our research university peers, the University of Rochester now has one of the strongest policies of this kind. I believe that this new policy provides both clear guidelines and important protections for both faculty and students.
We are now in the process of ensuring that faculty are aware of the new policy, and that the details of its application in departments across the University are made clear. I have asked the Provost’s Office to take the lead in assuring that faculty are fully informed, and we will be integrating information about this new policy, along with clear guidelines for seeking guidance and support, to students as part of orientation activities.
It is important to note that this newly implemented policy addresses relationships between faculty and students. The desirability of a policy governing relationships between staff members and students has also been highlighted. I have asked Dean of Students Matt Burns to convene a group to review this issue and to make recommendations to me by the end of the Fall semester. I anticipate that these recommendations will be brought forward to the Commission and to the UDEC for further discussion and consideration.
Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment (Policy 106)
In keeping with the Commission’s recommendations on developing clear and trusted policies, a committee has been working since April, 2018 on revisions to Policy 106, the University’s policy against discrimination and harassment. This committee will submit proposed revisions to the policy by September for comment from the community.
But we intend to move beyond the legal and regulatory requirements addressed by Policy 106, which provides “the basis for the University’s commitment to maintaining a workplace and academic environment free from unlawful discrimination and harassment.” A sub-committee of the group currently reviewing Policy 106 is expected to report soon on a new “respectful workplace policy” which will address behavior that may not be unlawful but is nevertheless incompatible with University standards and expectations. This recognition and codification of the respectful behavior we require of our community members will combine with our new Vision and Values to set clear expectations for the ways in which we, as a community, interact with each other.
A goal of this combined climate and policy work is to create not only a safe and respectful campus environment, but also effective, and well-understood systems by which people can report concerns of all types and understand potential outcomes.
University Wide Office of Equity and Inclusion
In order to ensure that issues of equity and inclusion receive adequate attention and advocacy, I am establishing a new University-wide office to coordinate and oversee diversity, equity, and inclusion activities. A new vice president will lead the office, which will be responsible for coordinating recruiting, training, conferences and other activities aimed at strengthening a respectful climate for the entire University. The new vice president will report directly to the President. The office structure and position description for the new vice president will be finalized in the next few weeks. A national search will be launched in the fall with the goal of filling the position early in 2019. Given the critical working relationship between this new role and the President, this effort will be timed to coordinate with the search for the new University president.
It is expected that this office will house those responsible for a range of compliance issues, including investigating and responding to claims of harassment and misconduct. This will consist of formal and informal options and will address behavior that is not legally prohibited harassment.
In addition to addressing reports of misconduct, the office will play an important role in setting standards and pushing us to be the community that we aspire to be. I anticipate that the new vice president will lead the University Diversity and Equity Council and work closely with the Commission to review and develop implementation plans for many of the recommendations made in the Commission’s Preliminary Report. By coordinating activities across the University, setting standards, providing opportunities for collaboration, sharing best practices, and assessing outcomes, the new vice president and the new office will have the ability to advance the University’s efforts significantly.
One way to address challenging issues, such as harassment or discrimination, is to shine a strong light on them. As the Commission has suggested, the University can be more transparent about its actions in certain areas. The new vice president will oversee this work in the future, but we will increase our reports to the community prior to that. To that end, we will be implementing a system of public reporting in Fall, 2018. We anticipate releasing three such reports: one on Title IX complaints; one on Policy 106 complaints; and one on complaints received through our Bias Incident Report process. To protect the privacy of complainants and respondents, we will not provide specific case or incident information, but rather generalized information about the number and types of incidents reported. This kind of reporting is becoming more and more commonplace in higher education and we believe it is important information to share with our community, not only to understand current issues, but also to hold ourselves accountable.
More broadly, the new vice president will be responsible for receiving reports from all parts of the University about their efforts to establish an inclusive and supportive community. Through this mechanism, all units in the University will be held accountable for their activities.
Faculty Equity and Support Issues
I have asked Provost Rob Clark to work with Commission leadership and others on the issue of faculty pay equity. Arts, Science, and Engineering undertook a faculty salary review several years ago, and we plan to do some peer benchmarking and build upon that information with more current data and analysis. Provost Clark will be working collaboratively with deans and other senior administrators, the Commission and the Faculty Senate to identify a model for reviewing faculty salaries. In addition, Vice Provost Joan Saab will be working on new initiatives for providing training and support to new department chairs and a more robust mentoring support plan for junior faculty.
In addition to the salary efforts currently under way, the University’s Office of Human Resources is currently conducting a comprehensive benefits study. Benchmarking information about benefits should be available early in the fall, which will enable us to better understand important issues, including family leave, childcare, benefits for part-time faculty, and other key issues raised by the Commission’s report. In addition, the Total Rewards group in Benefits and Compensation has developed some preliminary proposals related to work-life balance and support. More information will be available in the coming months.
As outlined above, we are taking concrete action to address many of the recommendations made in the Commission’s Preliminary Report. But there is still more to do and I believe that our work will be ongoing. Some recommendations are more properly left to the new vice president, and many of the Commission’s recommendations must also be considered for staff members, who were not the focus of the Commission’s work, but who nevertheless experience many of the same workplace challenges as faculty and students. I am actively looking for ways to include our staff’s concerns in our efforts to make our campus welcoming and respectful for everyone.
In closing, I would like to thank the Commission once again for taking on this important and challenging topic with commitment and care. It is clear that the Preliminary Report and the Commission’s ongoing work with faculty, students, and staff will help us move the University of Rochester forward together.