Submitted by Anonymous on August 25, 2016 - 3:00am
A recent survey by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup of college and university presidents reveals that while 84 percent of university leaders believe race relations on their own campuses are either “excellent” or “good,” less than 25 percent thought so about race relations on other campuses in 2015-16. The percentage of presidents who assessed their own campus racial climate as “good” or “excellent” and elsewhere as not, increased from the previous 2014-15 survey.
How is it possible that in a period increasingly defined by the resurgence of nationwide protests across campuses, college and university leaders can deny or minimize racism at their own institutions?
In late December 2015, we asked colleagues across the country to send us their institution’s responses to nationwide student protests against racism and discrimination. We sought publicly available messages posted to university websites, shared through campuswide email distributions or statements to local, state and national press. We were interested in what we have coined the post-Mizzou effect, believing that the high-profile case at the University of Missouri would provide an opportunity for college and university leaders to confirm what the aforementioned survey found: that while other campuses are embroiled in racial conflict, their own communities were safe. All told, we collected nearly 70 responses from leaders of institutions that ranged from small liberal arts colleges to large research institutions.
An analysis of those responses reveals that while college and university campuses may each be distinct spaces, they rely upon familiar tropes, or frames, to communicate beliefs about their own campus racial climate as it compares to others. For example, nearly every person who responded declared that race relations on their campus are good, much improved compared to previous years, or that the institution is taking significant steps to make things better. No response made mention of failed efforts or existing racial conflict.
On the one hand, that is not surprising. University leaders are often asked to help fund-raise and need to be adept at convincing private citizens, public officials and certainly alumni that their campus is a good investment. On the other, given the sheer number of campus protests nationwide, as well as the enormous news media coverage that followed them, we find it hard to believe that every institution we sampled is a utopia for race relations.
The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has a crowdsourced list of more than 100 campus racial incidents dating back to 2011, and FBI data shows that more than 780 hate crimes took place on college and university campuses in 2013. Meanwhile, by the end of 2015, student protesters had issued written or verbal demands at nearly 80 colleges and universities.
Nevertheless, nearly half of our sample contained explicit commitments from college and university leaders to “diversity,” “inclusion” or “equity.” Some marked their efforts as enduring, woven into the fabric of their institution. Brandeis University, for example, claimed its commitment is “lasting,” while Virginia Commonwealth University declared its commitment is “unrelenting.” Other institutional leaders promised their communities that the events across the nation would produce new commitments. At Duke University, for example, leadership declared that “continued campus dialogue” would occur in 2016, sparked by the “national debate about issues around race, diversity and inclusion.” Still other college and university leaders chose to downplay or minimize any potential racial conflict at their institutions. At Georgia State University, for example, leadership touted its national recognition in “The Washington Post for our commitment to diversity.”
Yet a deeper analysis of the various responses reveals that, in many cases, commitment functioned as a way for institutions to distance themselves from the racial conflict taking place elsewhere and/or deny racial tension on their own campus. For example, the same day that hundreds of students gathered to raise awareness about experiences of racism at Columbia University, its president declared in an email to the campus community that the university's commitment to addressing racial inclusion there and elsewhere was “deep.” Likewise, four days after students rallied against a “climate of antiblackness” at the University of California, Irvine, the institution's leadership proclaimed that that the continuing diversity activities and dialogues on that campus reinforced its “commitment to sustaining and supporting a diverse community.” Moreover, the Black Student Union had filed a letter with a number of demands for improving the campus racial climate earlier in the year.
As scholars who study race and racism, we are concerned that the public messaging of campus racial climates by college and university leaders is deeply entrenched within the larger ideologies of colorblindness and diversity. In the 21st century, racism has been caricatured as extreme bigotry, often directed at an individual or group of individuals, by another. Yet a significant body of sociological research shows that contemporary racism is much less overt and often comes in the form of downplaying or minimizing existing racial disparities. Colleges and universities, for example, will often tout their creation of an Office for Diversity and Inclusion as evidence of their deep commitment to promoting racial inclusion, while their leadership and senior faculty ranks remain overwhelmingly white (and male).
On college campuses, as in every corner of our society, pretending that race, racial inequality and racism do not exist is not the same thing as working actively to effect social change in these spaces. As faculty members at three different universities, when we embarked on this project, we did so because the race-related communications and responses coming from our own institutions were, given our experience, quite out of the ordinary from administrations -- rare indeed are communiqués that even come close to discussing race and racism.
Colleges and universities, the vast majority which are historically white, are spaces that are rife with racial conflict, but not typically discussed -- whether in the dorm, the classroom, the department or the halls of administration. We believe the events at institutions like the University of Missouri represent the tip of an iceberg and reveal only a small part of the racial animosity that has pervaded campuses for generations of students, faculty members, staff members and administrators. What encouraged this collective administrative response across dozens of colleges and universities to the tip of that iceberg is unclear. What is clear from our initial research is that this response, in its institutional inertia, appears to quickly wish to push the tip back underwater.
David L. Brunsma is a professor of sociology at Virginia Tech University. His Twitter handle is @brunsma. David G. Embrick is an associate professor of sociology at the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut. His Twitter handle is @dgembrick. James M. Thomas is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi. His Twitter handle is @Insurgent_Prof.
In addition to its major decision in favor of graduate student unions, the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday ruled that instructors of religious studies may be excluded from part-time faculty unions at two Roman Catholic institutions. The two decisions, concerning St. Xavier University and Seattle University, respectively, reverse earlier regional board rulings that adjunct instructors in all disciplines at those institutions may form unions because they don’t perform specific religious functions. The regional board decisions were made in light of an earlier NLRB decision concerning Pacific Lutheran University, which paved the way for adjunct faculty unions at religious institutions.
William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said Tuesday’s decisions were notable because the exclusion of some faculty members but not others from collective bargaining had never previously been argued in relation to NLRB vs. Catholic Bishops of Chicago. That 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision asserts that faculty members at religious institutions aren’t entitled to collective bargaining under the labor relations act. “Nobody’s ever articulated that before,” Herbert said of the distinction.
“We find that the university holds [adjunct faculty in the department of religious studies] out ‘as performing a specific role in creating and maintaining the school’s religious educational environment,’” reads the NLRB’s decision on St. Xavier, quoting the board’s 2014 decision in favor of adjunct unions at religious colleges concerning Pacific Lutheran. Tuesday’s decision concerning Seattle used similar language and logic, but it applies to adjuncts in the institution's Department of Theology and Religious Studies, as well as the School of Theology and Ministry.
St. Xavier adjuncts are affiliated with the National Education Association, while those at Pacific Lutheran and Seattle University are affiliated with Service Employees International Union. A spokesperson for Seattle said the university was reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment. A spokesperson for St. Xavier was not immediately available for comment.
The faculty at the American Film Institute Conservatory voted 35 to 8 to express no confidence in Jan Schuette, dean, and requested that he resign, the institution’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors announced Tuesday. Aggrieved faculty members say the vote follows a year of tensions over matters of shared governance, academic freedom and instruction. They allege that Schuette has canceled faculty meetings, unilaterally imposed changes to the curriculum and admissions process, and fired several instructors without due process.
The conservatory said in a statement that it “embraces change to ensure its peerless educational experience evolves with the art form,” according toVariety. “This march to the future is often driven by passionate disagreement, and we have received conflicting opinions from within the faculty and are currently ensuring that all voices are heard in this process.”
Following a series of troubling incidents at fraternities and sororities, Indiana U adopts rules that allow officials to enter Greek houses when they believe rules are being broken -- even when houses are privately owned.
Over the past few years, Wesleyan University, like many across the country, has provided incoming students (and sometimes staff and faculty members) with classes in bystander intervention. The idea is simple, really. We want to give members of the campus community the tools to act in situations where somebody is at risk: when you see something amiss, do something so as to protect others from harm and make the campus a safer place.
I’ve been thinking about bystander intervention lately in the context of the presidential race. As the president of a nonprofit university, I am advised by legal counsel that I should not take public positions in elections. I know this makes a lot of sense, and over the 15 years or so that I’ve been a college president, I have encouraged electoral participation without being overt about where I stand in regard to any particular candidate.
This year is different. Donald Trump has been using the tools characteristic of demagogues and fascists to do the only thing that really matters to him: gaining power. He will say anything that he thinks will help him win, and there is no telling what he will do if he is successful.
Does he really believe that the “Mexican heritage” of a judge disqualifies him from a case? Does he genuinely condone “Second Amendment people” using violence to stop a newly elected president from making court appointments? Does he actually feel nostalgia for the days when you could beat up protesters?
He does affirm his intention to build a wall and ban Muslims from entering the United States, and he repeats a contention that Barack Obama is the founder of ISIS. You don’t need a fascistic theory of government to use the inflammatory tactics of fascism. It is clear enough: given his rhetoric and behavior, Donald Trump’s election would undermine the foundations of the republic and cause fundamental harm to the country.
Now, I can imagine that some readers will be rolling their eyes and thinking, “What a surprise … another liberal academic trying to use the university to push his own ideological agenda!” And I know that some people would prefer I not opine on politics at all lest I give the impression of speaking for the university and compromise institutional neutrality. Finally, in political matters, university presidents may have a megaphone but not necessarily, so the criticism goes, the relevant expertise.
I agree that my academic position gives me no special skills when it comes to electoral politics. Even though I am a historian, I don’t have much confidence in my profession’s capacity to offer sage counsel in contemporary political matters. But when we ask bystanders to intervene in an unfolding medical emergency, we are not calling on their knowledge of biology. We are asking them to call for help, to sound an alarm. When we ask a student to dissuade friends from binge drinking or other risky behavior that makes them vulnerable, we don’t expect them to be experts in a field. When we encourage people to stop a sexual predator from acting, we don’t need them to have law enforcement experience. We want them to be aware and feel responsible.
I also agree that many colleges and universities suffer from political biases that distort the educational experience of our students. At my left-leaning Wesleyan University, I have found it important to support Republican groups and faith-based clubs. Although I identify as a person on the left, I am developing programs to bring more conservative intellectuals to the campus to teach classes in a variety of fields and to present points of view not heard often enough in the liberal campus bubble. Intellectual and political diversity is a pressing problem in undergraduate education, and teachers have to be much more aware of the dangers of using their classrooms as a platform for ideology.
I do not believe that presidents or other university leaders should normally throw their institutional weight behind a specific public policy or a candidate. But despite my worries about institutional biases, this year I feel strongly that I need to intervene more directly, to join others in sounding an alarm about the grave danger to our political culture. I’ve done this in speeches and in the press, but I don’t think I am intervening enough, given the gravity of the situation. That’s why I am publishing this piece, and why I will continue to call out the dangers that the Trump campaign poses to our political ecosystem. I urge other higher education leaders to do the same. Some of the damage has already been done, as the bar for racist, hate-filled public discourse has been lowered in ways that would have shocked us just a few years ago. Even many who support candidate Trump are revolted by his intemperate, cruel and dangerous remarks.
When we teach students the skills for bystander intervention, we want them to feel empowered to make our campuses safer, more humane places. If faculty, staff or students see a dangerous situation unfolding, we expect them to act. After all, if someone on campus sees sewage spilling into a classroom, detects a noxious odor in a residence hall or simply sees a hallway filling with smoke, we don’t want them just to hope that someone with expertise and responsibility will arrive. We want them to feel responsible for bringing attention to the developing calamity. At the very least, we expect them to sound an alarm when danger threatens.
Donald Trump is a developing calamity for our polity. Whether from conservative, libertarian, religious or leftist positions, we should protect our culture from further Trumpian pollution. Even university presidents, as citizens, must use the tools available to us to sound the alarm as long as the danger threatens. And threaten it does.
Michael S. Roth is president of Wesleyan University. His most recent books are Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters and Memory, Trauma and History: Essays on Living With the Past.
An inspiring story from the University of Mississippi: colleagues Charlotte Pegues and Leslie Banahan share a special bond because Banahan donated a kidney to Pegues, whose kidneys were failing. The successful operation was performed June 9 at the university's medical center. Pegues (on the right in the photograph of the two women) is assistant provost for academic affairs and registrar. Banahan is assistant vice chancellor for student affairs. “I feel like Leslie is my sister,” said Pegues. “I want to repay her in some way, but she said this was a gift. It’s a God thing!”
Banahan said, “I wouldn’t have done this for just anyone, but Charlotte is an amazing woman, someone I wanted to help so she could live a full, long, happy life with her husband, family and friends. We have a special connection now -- sisters, really -- as we have shared this journey together.”
Ken Starr (at right) has resigned from his faculty position at the law school of Baylor University. Starr left the presidency in May amid widespread criticism (including from a report commissioned by the university) of Baylor's handling of sexual assault allegations, particularly those involving athletes. He was originally to stay on as chancellor and law professor. In June, he resigned as chancellor. On Friday, Baylor and Starr issued a joint statement that said in part, “Effective today, Judge Ken Starr will be leaving his faculty status and tenure at Baylor University’s Law School. The mutually agreed separation comes with the greatest respect and love Judge Starr has for Baylor and with Baylor’s recognition and appreciation for Judge Starr’s many contributions to Baylor.”
In an interview with The Waco Tribune, Starr said that the university wanted him to leave. “Frankly, the university determined that it wanted a break in the employment relationship, so I’ve accepted that decision and will, of course, honor the decision,” he said.
Much of the conversation about career exploration focuses on the importance of identifying our skills, but we often don’t take the time to think about our core values and how they connect to our skills, argues Laura N. Schram.