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Faculty Executive Committee discusses fall semester, racial injustice at UNC

Screen Shot 2020-06-22 at 4.13.10 PM (1).png

Screenshot of the Faculty Executive Meeting on Monday, June 22, 2020, where there was discussion on racial equity in the upcoming school year.

Members of the Faculty Executive Committee met virtually Monday afternoon to discuss a roadmap for racial equity at UNC, and remaining concerns from the community conversation held June 19 regarding the University’s fall reentry. 

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor Bob Blouin were not in attendance, but Terry Rhodes, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was present to represent UNC’s senior leadership. 

Roadmap for racial equity 

Kia Caldwell, a professor in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies and Sharon Holland, a professor in the Department of American Studies, presented a proposed roadmap for racial equity on campus. 

Before they elaborated on the specific details of the roadmap for racial equity, Holland read an open letter she wrote to UNC leadership expressing her concerns about the proposed plan to reopen campus this fall.

“I really want us to think about what that [fall semester] roadmap would look like if people with disabilities, queer people, transgender people, people of color, Indigenous people and Black people were at the table,” Holland said. “I think you would actually find a very different roadmap, but a better one. And I think what the frustration is, is that the door is closed until four weeks in when we get a forum — that is not imagining the community that is coming to our institution.”

An Open Letter to Leadership.pdf

Sharon Holland, a professor in the Department of American Studies, wrote an open letter to UNC leadership expressing her concerns about the proposed plan to reopen campus this fall.

Caldwell said the racial equity roadmap, which is not specific to COVID-19, has been in development for over a year, but crystallized within the past week.

Caldwell said UNC has a deeply rooted history in racially discriminatory practices, including enslavement and racial segregation, that have led to systemic and institutionalized racial privileges for some on campus and inequity for others. 

To achieve racial equity for Black faculty, faculty of color and Indigenous faculty, the roadmap calls for sustained action in several areas over the next three years, with immediate action taking place when possible.

“The things we are really asking and calling for affect our whole campus,” Caldwell said. “I think what we are really looking for is structural and policy changes and action. Honestly, our campus is really good at talking — and we talk in circles — but the action piece is often lacking.”

The roadmap proposes three beginning steps:

  1. Rename campus buildings in an inclusive process that centers the voices of diverse individuals.
  2. Establish faculty advisory groups on racial equity, community and belonging that will meet with UNC’s senior leadership on a monthly basis.
  3. Hold an annual UNC Board of Trustees meeting with Black faculty, faculty of color and Indigenous faculty.

Caldwell stressed the importance of establishing ongoing communication channels between senior leadership and the faculty outlined in the proposed roadmap. She said that these faculty members have consistently had to request meetings with UNC’s administration, but would instead like senior leaders to start reaching out and inviting them to be a part of the conversation.

“I’m committed to doing my part as the senior leader to help us move forward,” Rhodes said during the meeting. “I know we need to. I know the time is now. I’m ready to do my part. I need help though.” 

The roadmap also asks the University to address the lack of leadership diversity in top levels of UNC's administration, which does not reflect the demographics of the University nor the state. Caldwell said approximately 86 percent of UNC’s current leadership is white, while about 64 percent of its students are white. The roadmap requests that the racial and ethnic composition of University leadership change by at least 10 percent over the next three years. 

In addition to increasing diversity of leadership positions, the roadmap calls for steps to be taken to diversify faculty across the University, such as the creation of new tenure-track positions that will bring in Black faculty. 

Caldwell said the roadmap expands upon concerns articulated by 14 faculty members of color and Indigenous faculty in the College of Arts in Sciences in an April 2019 memo that was sent to then-interim Chancellor Guskiewicz. 

Chancellor Memo_April2019.pdf

Several faculty who wrote this memo to then-interim Chancellor Guskiewicz last spring were involved in putting together the roadmap to racial equity. 

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UNC’s senior leadership did not take action on the items mentioned in the memo over the past year, Caldwell said, which prompted several of the faculty who wrote the memo to develop the racial equity roadmap. 

Currently, the roadmap for racial equity has over 60 signatories and over 50 faculty supporters.

Caldwell emphasized at the end of the presentation that COVID-19 should not be used as a reason to not move equity and inclusion forward on UNC’s campus.

Fall concerns

Chairperson of the Faculty Lloyd Kramer also asked committee members to share their main takeaway from the community conversation he and Chairperson-elect Mimi Chapman hosted Friday. A consistent concern expressed by faculty was preparations still remaining for the start of the fall semester in August. 

“I see our plans as a machine that's just been running on a fuel of optimism,” Eric Muller, a professor of law, said. “We're facing a situation in which there are going to be countless points at which the right thing could happen or a wrong thing could happen.”

Muller said he has been particularly focused on the off-ramps and was pleased that UNC administration provided more details at Friday's meeting about what factors could prompt their use, such as the available space for infected people in UNC’s isolation dorms and the capacity of UNC Hospitals.

However, Muller said that he hopes UNC’s administration will continue to provide details about the off-ramps with as much specificity as possible before the semester begins. 

Cary Levine, a professor in the Department of Art and Art History, said since COVID-19 cases are currently rising in North Carolina, he is concerned that there seems to be no planning for an off-ramp prior to Aug. 10.

Deb Aikat, a professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, said that while the off-ramps have been frequently discussed, he has questions about the “on-ramp” too, specifically about the timing and locations of courses.

Rhodes said that she is currently working with the Registrar’s Office to finalize scheduling and classroom assignments, but that College of Arts and Sciences faculty should know the information by the beginning of July. 

What's next?

Monday's meeting was Kramer's last as Faculty Executive Committee chairperson. 

“We’ve had an amazing series of meetings — never more important than over the last six weeks — so thank you,” Kramer said.

Chapman, who will be assuming the role of chairperson, announced that the Committee would take a short break, with its next meeting planned for July 13. 

Muller said that a break is needed, but also expressed concern about taking time off as the start of the semester looms ahead. 

During the meeting, Chapman committed to writing and posting a weekly update with any new information she learns to keep committee members informed while they are on break. She also said that if any big changes occur, the committee will be called back into session.

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