Provost Phillips unveils new diversity plan

October 9, 2020

Dear University of Oregon community,

As we make our way through the beginning of fall term, I want us all to recall where we left off at the end of the spring: with our community—and the nation as a whole—reeling from the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and scores of other Black Americans. This summer, all members of senior leadership, the deans of all UO schools and colleges, and several other campus leaders have been participating in guided conversations about our challenges and priorities for the coming year and beyond. In addition, I spent much of the summer listening to a wide swath of faculty, staff, and students about their concerns, but especially about their hopes for the university that we aspire to become.

Despite all of the other challenges that we face, we will not—we must simply refuse to—shift our focus from demands to create a more fair, equitable, and diverse university. Central to this effort is the core belief that diversity of background, thought, and perspective is an absolute necessity for building academic excellence in the face of a rapidly changing world and an increasingly pluralistic society. Combating systemic racism in society is a moral imperative, one for which universities must be leaders, not observers.

With all that in mind, beginning immediately the UO will embark on four initiatives to create change. These include:

  • Creation of a new research and policy center on racial disparities and resilience that includes hiring new faculty members who will focus their research on addressing racial disparities in the United States.
     
  • Launching two new academic programs as minors—Black Studies and Latinx Studies, along with the creation of a program in the Division of Undergraduate Education and Student Success that will use data analytics to study the opportunity gap faced by students of color.
     
  • Addressing the way the entire university hires, trains, and treats its faculty and staff with an aim at increasing diversity at UO.
     
  • Improving campus climate by directly addressing systematic racism on campus that affects Black faculty, students, and staff.
     

I am happy to share with you below the specific actions that we will take in the coming year to enhance diversity across our academic programs.

The Center and Hiring
With the support of President Michael Schill and the deans of all of the schools and colleges, I am proud to announce a new five-year initiative to establish a research and policy center focused on racial disparities and resilience. The center will be supported by the commitment of 12 new faculty lines that will be added to units across the entire campus; faculty whose research is focused on understanding and addressing racial disparities in the United States in areas such as health, education, housing, employment, and wealth. In addition to these new lines, programmatic activities within the center will be supported by at least $3 million in philanthropic support. The combined investment in the new center over a five-year period will be more than $11 million.

The specific structure and vision for the center will be determined in the coming months by actively seeking the engagement and input of UO faculty and off-campus partners. Formal planning discussions will initiate in the early winter following the completion of the current federal election cycle and some of the campus climate efforts outlined below. Faculty lines will be filled via open searches initiated next fall and via target of opportunity hires of outstanding faculty whose scholarly perspectives uniquely enhance and broaden the academic structure and impact of the UO. As planning and hiring progresses, opportunities will arise for existing faculty to become formally affiliated with the center as well. The focus here will be to not only expand our scope of educational offerings and scholarly contributions, but to also create a center whose members are focused on making a difference in the world at large. I would expect the open search process to be initiated a year from now, following our planning discussions and Institutional Hiring Plan process, with other targeted hires occurring as those opportunities arise.

In addition to the positions directly affiliated with the new center, up to six additional new positions will be allocated for new faculty members into departments with historically underrepresented faculty. Here we will again place an emphasis on recruiting faculty whose unique scholarly perspectives and proven capacity to mentor underrepresented students would make them important additions to our academic community. Departments participating in this part of the initiative will be required to display evidence of a history of supporting and mentoring new faculty and a strong commitment to diversity efforts, including mentoring underrepresented students.

We take on this commitment and make this investment, despite any other institutional challenges that might seem to get in our way, because we are dedicated to transformational change and because this will be the primary focus of resources normally allocated to new faculty hiring for the coming year.

Academic Programs
The Black Studies minor has now been successfully launched this term. I look forward to seeing how this program develops and have been in conversation with the College of Arts and Sciences deans to ensure that the courses underlying this program are fully staffed and available to students. It is anticipated that many of the faculty hired as part of the center on racial disparities initiative described above will teach courses relevant to the Black Studies minor. We should also anticipate additional hiring in other units essential for supporting coursework related to the minor.

We have also just launched a new Latinx Studies minor, which is the result of years of planning and collaboration among faculty drawn from across the entire campus. The new minor also helps to highlight the tremendous strengths that we have already built in Latinx and Latin American scholarship at the UO. These are strengths that we will certainly continue to expand as a critical element of supporting a diverse and inclusive community in an increasingly Latinx state.

While clearly important to them, our new Black Studies and Latinx Studies programs are not just for Black and Latinx students. All students are called to study and understand the complex history and ongoing impacts and contributions of race and cultural heritage within our country. And this work needs to be broadly integrated across the university curriculum.

In addition to specific new programs, as presented at the September UO Board of Trustees meeting, the Division of Undergraduate Education and Student Success has launched a new program sponsored in part by the Office of the Provost to use data analytics and machine-learning approaches to analyze and develop an action plan to address the ongoing opportunity gap for Black students and other students of color. These efforts are likely to lead to new recommendations that span the entire breadth of the curriculum, which should integrate strongly with the work that the University Senate has committed to take on.

Progress and Accountability
In addition to these specific academic initiatives, I plan to continue to work with President Schill and the other vice presidents from across the university to address hiring practices, trainings, and other activities to increase the diversity of our staff as well as our faculty. We are fortunate to be able to build upon the multi-year Diversity Action Plan framework that every unit across the university, both academic and administrative, has put into place. Through the work of Vice President Yvette Alex-Assensoh and the Division of Equity and Inclusion, we have a clear understanding of best practices. We now need to make them integral to everything that we do. An important part of this work will be to begin more regular reporting of disaggregated diversity employment statistics for faculty and staff. I will be tracking these numbers and holding unit heads, myself, and all leaders across the university accountable for their successes and failures in enhancing diversity within their units.

Campus Climate
We know that no new hiring initiatives will be successful without addressing long-standing issues at the university, as well as within the Eugene/Springfield community, that have served as barriers to the success and retention of diverse faculty. The Office of the Provost and the Division of Equity and Inclusion are partnering to launch a new “active retention” initiative led by the Center on Diversity and Community (CoDaC). This effort will begin immediately via the hiring of a third-party consultant to anonymously interview current and former faculty of color so that we can develop a clear and unvarnished view of the challenges that our faculty, particularly our Black faculty members, face every day, and immediately identify strategies to address those challenges. We have heard much from our faculty of color about institutional responses that are needed, and we are acting on those. However, it has been clearly communicated to me that we need to create avenues for faculty to speak directly to sensitive topics, such as racist interactions with fellow faculty members, using venues in which perceived inequities of power and potential consequences are minimized.

Much of the intent of establishing the new center on racial disparities and resilience is to create a shared space for intellectual engagement, support, and recognition of institutional contributions. We anticipate other information from this report will lead to direct action on enhanced mentoring and training for all faculty, expanded training for department heads and other leadership positions, and an examination of appropriate recognition and allocation of service contributions.

Another topic that arose frequently in my conversations with students involves “studenting while Black.” We have repeatedly heard over the years that students of color often feel singled out within the classroom to represent their race, encounter faculty members who have trouble with or simply ignore questions of race within classroom discussions, or just generally do not feel fully welcome within the classroom environment. This issue—classroom climate—gets at the very heart of what we are as an institution. Because of the way faculty members and students interact involves faculty, academic freedom, and general university policy, the proper focal point for this work is the University Senate. I am very happy the Senate passed a “Resolution against racism and systemic oppression” during their last meeting of the spring term, which explicitly calls for them to undertake this work. We have already been meeting with Senate leadership to understand how we can best support them in this endeavor. I am looking for specific recommendations and actionable items from this work by the end of the academic year, if not before.

In the end, a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by itself is not sufficient. The times demand that we find our way forward to become actively anti-racist, to move beyond the comfort of regular institutional processes geared toward addressing diversity issues and, in particular, to no longer tolerate a glacial pace of progress. This is my ongoing commitment and promise to the UO community, and especially to our students.

If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email at provost@uoregon.edu. I look forward to working with you to make our institution a place that is open and inviting to all.

Sincerely,

Patrick Phillips
Provost and Senior Vice President