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Independent Investigators’ Campus Climate Report

Louis Brandeis statue

Dear Brandeisians,

Last spring, the Board of Trustees appointed independent investigators to look into racial discrimination and misconduct charges against the former men’s basketball head coach, our procedures around complaints related to bias or discrimination, and more general questions about how we treat one another at Brandeis.

In September, we shared the first part of the investigators’ report (pdf), which looked specifically into what happened related to the former coach and which led me to take several personnel actions. 

Today, we are sharing the second part of their report (pdf), which focuses on campus climate. As the report shows, there are many ways in which Brandeis has fallen short of what we aspire to when it comes to upholding standards of equity and fairness. The investigators point out that much of what they observed is not unique to Brandeis. But as Brandeisians, we aim for a higher standard. We can do better, we are working to do so, and we are committed to doing more.

In some cases, the university had begun to address issues long before the situation with the former coach became public, thanks in part to efforts by student leaders as well as committed faculty and staff. In other cases, we are just starting the work we need to do. To address some issues discussed in the report, my administration will be working on additional action plans, which we will communicate to you over the coming months.

As my Framework for Our Future makes clear, strengthening the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives is central to my vision for Brandeis. A task force, which I will chair, will include a working group that will study how we might best honor our founding values; its charge will include articulating how those values guide our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and determining how we ensure historically underserved student populations have full access to the richness of the Brandeis experience. 

This week, the Board of Trustees spent five hours during its two-day retreat discussing the independent investigators’ report with the investigators and examining ways in which board members and university administrators can work together to play a more responsible and effective role in advancing progress on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. At the retreat’s end, the board underscored, by means of a resolution and unanimous vote, that Brandeis should be a community that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, and that the board is committed to holding itself, as well as other segments of the campus community, accountable for making meaningful, continuous progress toward reaching this goal. The board has asked university administrators to develop metrics that will enable it to monitor progress and to regularly report to it regarding performance. In addition, the Board of Trustees is itself committed to achieving more diversity — in every regard — in its membership, including actively recruiting people of color to the board.

The independent investigators’ report (pdf) — which I strongly urge you to read — highlights a number of Brandeis’ strengths. Many of the students, faculty, and staff members with whom investigators talked professed a “wide and deep affection for Brandeis,” even as they expressed frustrations and disappointments.

But the investigators also highlighted a number of issues in Brandeis’ culture that prevent us from being as effective as we can be. These are some of those identified challenges, along with some of the ways we are addressing them: 

The university’s efforts to sustain an inclusive and equitable atmosphere have been more reactive than proactive, leaving our commitment to these ideals open to question, particularly among students of color.

  • The creation of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has enabled Brandeis to begin making overdue strides (pdf) in addressing implicit and structural bias. While our efforts can never be confined to ODEI alone, the existence of the office is a strong statement of our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

  • We are currently working to staff a new Office of Equal Opportunity, which will report to ODEI and will centralize many of the complaint-reporting functions that previously existed in multiple locations across the university. This office will focus on complaints of discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, ancestry, religious creed, gender identity and expression, national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, genetic information, disability, military or veteran status, or any other category protected by law.

  • ODEI has significantly expanded training in equity and inclusion for faculty, staff, and students across our campus, with all incoming first-years undergoing training in the Multicultural Communication and Conflict Framework during Orientation.

  • The new general education curriculum includes a focus on civil discourse as well as understanding the meaning and importance of social justice and inclusion in its many forms.

  • The Social Justice Curriculum Committee is preparing to make recommendations on how the study and practice of social justice should ideally fit within Brandeis’ curriculum and co-curriculum.

Mixed levels of engagement with equity and inclusion initiatives are apparent, particularly among faculty and the Board of Trustees. 

  • The board intends to redouble its efforts to recruit more diverse members. An ad hoc subcommittee of the board’s Nominating and Governance Committee is actively pursuing a number of candidates.

  • We remain committed to the hiring goals articulated in the 2015 Reaffirming and Accelerating Brandeis’ Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Justice document and have made significant gains in the hiring of underrepresented faculty over the past three years. The 25 open faculty searches in departments across the university — including at Heller, IBS, and Arts and Sciences — will help us make further progress toward increasing the diversity of our faculty.

  • ODEI has conducted equity and inclusion training for all incoming faculty and all departmental chairs, and has advised numerous search committees during their search and selection processes.

  • The deans of every academic unit at the university are both engaged in and firmly committed to accelerating diversity, equity, and inclusion within their schools.

  • Carina Ray, associate professor in the Department of African and African-American Studies, is the new director of faculty mentoring in the School of Arts and Sciences. 

The ranks of Brandeis’ administrative leadership lack diversity.

  • All administrators who report directly to me are undergoing diversity, equity, and inclusion training with the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, of the Washington Consulting Group, a highly respected coach and leadership consultant in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The senior team, as well as the larger President’s Management Council, will participate in six 3-hour training sessions through the spring, with each member also undergoing an individual 3-hour session as well.

  • Brandeis is requiring that all search firms involved in our recruitment processes produce a diverse pool of qualified candidates for senior positions.

The investigators noted reports of bullying, particularly as felt by junior faculty, graduate students, and staff. They also identified a fear of retaliation that inhibited individuals from reporting bad behavior.

  • Human Resources can help members of the university community address claims of bullying, hostile environment, retaliation, or any other complaints regarding employee conduct not covered by the Office of Equal Opportunity’s jurisdiction (see above). It also serves as a resource that can help complainants find the venue that can best address their concerns.

  • Our University Ombuds office offers resources in cases where an individual wants help with a problem without initiating a formal procedure or creating an official report.

  • The Brandeis University Staff Advisory Committee (BUSAC), created just this year, is providing a new way for staff to have a voice at Brandeis.

  • The Dignity at Work Task Force, a faculty initiative, is working on a draft policy on workplace bullying and other forms of disrespect and aggression, as well as procedures for adjudicating grievances on behalf of faculty.

  • The university maintains a subscription to the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity to offer all faculty, postdocs, and graduate students access to the mentoring and support that organization provides.

Although Brandeis has a relationship-based culture that is positive in many ways, it can also generate reluctance to confront and handle problems directly.

  • We have consolidated our reporting methods for complaints of discrimination or sexual/physical violence onto our Reporting at Brandeis website so that it is clearer where to take these complaints and what a complainant’s options are.

  • A host of support services for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff members are now accessible through our Support at Brandeis website.

My leadership team and I are committed to an ongoing, meaningful dialogue around these issues. Provost Lisa M. Lynch, Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas, and I will be reaching out to the Faculty Senate, BUSAC, the Student Union, the Intercultural Center, the Alumni Council, and individual departments to continue these discussions over the coming months. I invite you to email me if you would like a senior administrator to meet with your group to discuss these issues. The investigation website, newly renamed Campus Climate, now has a form you can use to provide comments and suggestions on these issues.

There’s no question we have much work to do in making Brandeis the most equitable and inclusive university it can be. That work will never be finished, but we will set goals, pursue them with diligence, evaluate our progress, and reach higher as we achieve. Our community deserves nothing less. 

Sincerely, 

Ron

Categories: Campus News
Date: November 29, 2018