January 23, 2020
Dear Colleagues and Students:
I write to provide you with an update on the recent events unfolding this week on our campus. Although I have been in California for the last few days attending alumni events, Provost Susana Rivera-Mills and I have been closely monitoring the situation. As I prepare to board a plane this morning, I want to share my thoughts with you regarding what transpired and what we can learn as a community going forward.
The classroom is a special place. It is a place of invigorated learning, and it should always be a welcoming environment for all of our students. In the incident this week, we did not meet that important standard. As you may have learned through media accounts, during a class session, a member of our faculty insisted on a student moving to another seat. When the student did not agree to do so, the professor had the University Police called. This choice was a gross error of judgment, and it was simply an unwarranted overreaction.
Upon learning of the incident, the Dean and Department Chair, at the request of the Provost, met with the professor to express our collective concern that the situation had unnecessarily escalated. The Dean established corrective actions including appropriate training and oversight for the professor going forward. The professor also sent an apology to all the students in the class for the incident and how it was handled. In addition, the Department Chair promptly met with the student to make sure we fully understand the student’s experience and how we can best support him. And this morning, the Department Chair will be meeting with all the students in the class.
This unfortunate incident provides all of us with another opportunity to get better and learn how to fulfill our commitment to providing an inclusive and supportive environment for every member of our University community. To that end, I commit to you that the learning process begins with me and my colleagues.
Here are my immediate plans:
- When I return to campus, I hope that the student will agree to meet with me so that I can hear firsthand what transpired in the classroom on Tuesday.
- I will also work with Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Ro-Anne Royer Engle to arrange a meeting with student leaders to hear their perspectives and suggestions on how we can improve.
- The Provost will work with all the deans to ensure appropriate training for all faculty.
- Next Thursday, I’ll meet with the Black Faculty and Staff Association to seek their guidance on how we can continue to create a more inclusive campus community. I will also reach out to the leadership of the Black Alumni Constituent Society to seek their counsel as well.
- I will also arrange a meeting with some of our local community leaders to obtain their input and support for our efforts to improve.
These are initial steps. As we work together as a campus community to implement our new Inclusive Excellence Plan, this listening and learning process will enable us to use this unfortunate event to build a better and more inclusive university community.