Black Lives Matter Response

To: Black Lives Matter Event Organizers

From: Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

Date: Monday, February 08, 2016

RE: Campus Response to Suggestions

I want to congratulate you on holding the Black Lives Matter event. It was powerful and appropriate, provided an outlet for voices that needed to be heard, and reflected the kinds of conversations that should occur at a major university.

The purpose of this letter is to respond to your suggestions as to how the University might take further steps to advance toward a community that fully embraces the value of all of its members. The University is committed to this objective and has worked hard to achieve it. I understand and respect your impatience for more visible signs of progress. While I am committed to continuing our progress, I am under no illusions that change will be rapid or complete. Legacies so deeply rooted in our past are not easily overcome.

First, I want to mention quickly the actions we have taken since the “Not Here, Not Now” campaign of a year ago. At that time I made commitments to enhance our diversity efforts and all of these have either been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. These include:

  1. Adoption of the TIPS reporting system to facilitate the reporting of issues of racial bias or harassment. More important than the system itself, there are identified teams of individuals who are expected to act upon any issue that is reported with sufficient detail to permit follow through.
  2. Creation of diversity officers in Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Human Resources. In Student Affairs, Andre Fortune was immediately appointed to that position. He has since left the University and Jake Kirkland is serving in an interim capacity until the position can be filled. In Academic Affairs, Joy Castro was asked to serve temporarily to review our diversity efforts with respect to faculty and to make recommendations for moving forward. Since then Lance Pérez has been designated temporarily as Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for diversity issues until a search can be conducted. Given that both the Chancellor and Senior Vice Chancellor positions are in transition, it would be difficult to attract quality candidates until these searches are complete. We have identified the funding for the position. The search for a diversity officer in Human Resources to concentrate on enhancing diversity among the staff of the University is currently posted, with initial applicant interviews underway.
  3. Creating an overall Chief Diversity Officer for the campus. We created the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance and hired a director with the thought that this position would coordinate the activities of the diversity officers in AA, SA, and HR. We now see greater opportunity with this individual, once hired, residing in the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor.
  4. Academic Affairs has sponsored a number of workshops and programs for faculty related to diversity and exploring racial issues in the classroom.
  5. The international student body is an important part of our broad community and members can be more effectively engaged to enhance appreciation of the diverse perspectives and voices that make UNL unique. Student Affairs has started several new programs such as “Dine, Dialog and Pass it,” retreats for international students, and the OASIS Leadership Symposium. Housing and Dining Services has also hired a staff member to implement programs for the international students living in the residence halls.
  6. We have significantly enhanced attention to racial and gender issues in our communications with entering students and in their orientation sessions.
  7. We have interacted with a firm that is highly recommended by many of our peer institutions that specializes in diversity mapping for higher education, an audit, if you will, of diversity practices with the hope the firm could do this for UNL in the spring of 2016. Apparently the firm’s schedule now appears to only permit it to do a benchmarking exercise for us this spring which will give us some idea of how our diversity programming lines up with our peers. They will complete the full audit in the spring of 2017.

What follows are our responses to the suggestions you advanced for further steps by the University. Our responses were informed by a subsequent meeting we held with you to discuss these issues. I believe it is now appropriate to make these responses public. The University administration will be pursuing the agenda outlined below but it is, of course, always subject to further discussion.

  1. “Encourage units and programming, departments doing multicultural programming to reach out to multicultural students and their organizations.” This suggestion encourages us to utilize the talent we have at the University and we embrace it. In our subsequent discussion with you we discovered that some of your concerns were already being addressed by the formation of other diverse student advisory committees. One of the real challenges on any issue at a University as complex as ours is to provide good communication on what we are doing. I have asked Student Affairs to try to compile a listing of where we already take advantage of advisory groups to provide a diverse perspective, but also to try to catalog the resources available and contact information for units who want to take advantage of this idea. I will also encourage all of our administrative units to take advantage of this information. It is my understanding that ASUN is creating a mechanism to bring together all student groups focused on diversity.
  2. “A letter fully acknowledging that racism and racist acts—using those exact words—have occurred on the campus of UNL and that something will be done.” I believe that the letter recently sent to the campus by myself, Vice Chancellor Green and Vice Chancellor Franco satisfies this request, but I have no reluctance to reiterate it now. It is impossible to deny that we have experienced racism and racist acts on our campus. In this respect we are no different than the community at large. And we will make every effort to take appropriate and effective measures against them. However, we should also be clear about the limitations on our response. The First Amendment protects the rights of individuals to speak and this includes making racist comments and so called “hate” speech. I appreciate that while some other universities have tried to impose penalties for “hate” speech, these have generally not been upheld in the court. To my knowledge there is no exception to the First Amendment for “hate” speech, absent some clear and immediate threat of violence. While those of us in the administration, as well as the community, can and should speak out against such comments, it is not permissible to impose penalties on those who utter them. And while the most visible signs of racism may be intentional, actions and policies that are perceived as racist are more likely to result from indifference or insensitivity. These are the ones most amenable to cure.
  3. “Further integrating a mandated race relations curriculum within all departments and colleges, beyond ACE 9 requirements.” The curriculum within the disciplines is the responsibility of the faculty. The administration has no authority to dictate curricular change. However, we will bring this suggestion to the attention of the Deans for discussion within their departments. As part of our response to “Not Here, Not Now” Academic Affairs did commit, and is currently providing support to faculty so they might be better positioned to engage in discussions around race in their classrooms. We will continue to provide that support.
    As we discussed, the ACE requirements were adopted, after much discussion and compromise, in order to have a system that could be approved by the faculty of all the Colleges. We understand at least one College and maybe others are considering additional diversity requirements. We will continue to encourage Deans to work with their faculty to evaluate courses satisfying the ACE 9 requirement with your concerns in mind.
    Further, the diversity mapping program to be conducted by an outside consultant will provide a unique opportunity to determine whether our curricular efforts are appropriate or need to be expanded.
  4. “More oversight over search committees to ensure that qualified committee members are advocating for hiring more diverse faculty and staff.” While progress in the hiring of diverse faculty and staff has been made at UNL over the past decade, more can always be done. We believe this should be one of the core functions of the new diversity officers appointed in AA, SA, and HR. Every short list of potential candidates is reviewed by the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance to ensure that diverse candidates who meet required and preferred qualifications are provided the opportunity to interview. Traditionally we have tried to have a person of color on all search committees but have discovered this places an unfair burden, particularly on young minority faculty, who must also focus on building their academic credentials. Attachment A provides a description of our procedures for monitoring search committees. We are open to further suggestions. While we have encouraged departments and faculties to be open to diverse candidates, we are unable to impose such a requirement given the Nebraska constitution that forbids race to be taken into account in making decisions such as this.
  5. “Make it required that incoming freshmen attend a multicultural sensitivity workshop.” We are aware that some universities have developed workshops for incoming students. There is a considerable range of such programs and they report a mixture of success and failure. We are committed to implementing such a workshop and we are exploring the experiences of other Universities. We will engage representatives from the multicultural student organizations to assist us in evaluating these programs.
  6. “Take complete creative ownership of organizing and maintaining the integrity of the Trust Summit.” While I appreciate your request for university involvement in the “Trust Summit”, the university administration is not in the business of organizing conferences. From further conversations with you, however, we did initiate, with your help, some engagement between students of color and local police agencies. A meeting was held with you and both the Chief of the University Police Department and the Chief of the Lincoln Police Department. I understand these were productive conversations and will occur on a regular basis. Further I understand that the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs is working with you and ASUN to form a Student Advisory Council for the University Police Department that will include significant representation from students of color.

During the conversations that occurred after the BLM event, you also asked whether there could be an advisory group of students of color to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. My understanding is that this is in the process of being formed. You also asked us to analyze faculty salaries to assure that those of faculty of color were in line with their white counterparts. We conduct a statistical study every year and have yet to find any statistically significant difference. We do occasionally see “outliers,” a faculty salary that seems either too high or too low that cannot be explained by statistical analyses alone. In those instances we require the Deans or Department Chairs to justify the salary.

Again, my thanks and congratulations for your efforts to elevate these important issues. I believe largely the university community is eager to address these critical issues head-on. The university administration is committed and looks forward to our continued partnership.

ATTACHMENT “A”

University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Institutional Equity and Compliance

Search Process Overview

  1. Requisition
    1. Before posting faculty/administrative positions, the proposed ad is reviewed for discriminatory language, how to apply instructions, existence of Chancellor’s tagline and review of applications date.
    2. Human Resources reviews managerial/professional and office/service positions.
  2. Search Committee
    1. Training
      1. Anyone serving on a search committee is required to attend the Search Process Orientation. This allows them to serve on search committees for three years. At that time, they are required to renew their certification by completing the Search Process Update.
      2. The training includes information about federal and state discrimination laws, veteran’s preference, Americans with Disabilities Act, Equal Employment Opportunity, unbiased screening of application materials, appropriate and inappropriate interview questions and how to document the process.
    2. IEC Review
    3. 1. IEC reviews/approves identified search committees for managerial/professional and faculty/administrative positions to ensure they include racial/ethnic and gender diversity, and that all members employed by UNL have current search committee certification.
  3. Short List
    1. IEC Review
      1. IEC reviews all short lists to ensure a fair and equitable search. The applicant log (a list of all applicants showing who meets the qualifications of the position) is compared to the EEO report (a list of all applicants showing protected class designation information). We check to ensure qualified applicants who identify as being in an under-represented class is being properly considered for a position.
      2. The short list is reviewed by IEC at each progressive step (i.e. initial short list, short list after initial interviews, etc.)