The occasion of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday serves as an ideal time to provide an update on our actions as we reflect on the life, legacy and impact of Dr. King.
These are difficult and extremely challenging times. We are dealing with the deadliest pandemic of our lifetimes as well as unprecedented levels of social unrest and political discord that has had few parallels in our nation’s history. A famous quote from Dr. King provides wisdom: “The ultimate measure of a [person] is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” The core values of our institution compel us to step up and address racism even as we face other challenges.
Dr. King also said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” In a similar vein, another Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel said that he “swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Last week, in the aftermath of a social media controversy that gained national attention, former Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams suggested to me that “the clarity of UTC’s response speaks to the character and quality of your institution.” I took some comfort in her gracious comment, but I also take it as a timely affirmation of how vital it is that we all remain vigilant: our values must be reflected in our deeds and actions.
As we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and consider what each of us can do to combat racism, I want to update you on the commitments made in my June 15, 2020, communication, “UTC Stands Against Racism.”
At that time, I called on the entire UTC community to join the Executive Leadership Team and me to focus our intensity, integrity, passion and compassion on combatting racism. I pledged that we would identify the examples, causes and consequences of systemic racism within this institution, the community and our broader society and insisted that we take intentional, transparent and decisive action to dismantle it. Being “not racist” is not enough; we should be anti-racists and play our part—as individuals and as an institution— to create the future that our students, our community, and our nation deserve.
The work will never be done, but it is appropriate to monitor progress along the way. Here is an update on specific commitments we made this past summer:
- Our new strategic plan will identify measurable and actionable steps, so it is clear our actions meet the meaning of our words. This is not a one-time statement but a commitment to drive significant change. As a campus, we will hold ourselves accountable.
Our Strategic Planning Committee, under the leadership of Provost Jerry Hale, is fully activated in the process of updating the University’s strategic plan. One of four subcommittees is focused specifically on “diversity and inclusion,” and all subcommittees have been charged with incorporating this fundamental value in their work product.
- We will immediately begin a search for a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Engagement with a goal of having someone in place before the end of the fall semester. This member of our Executive Leadership Team (ELT) will ensure our actions reflect our words.
The search is in progress and we have an outstanding pool of qualified candidates. Semi-finalists will participate in Zoom interviews in early February. We hope to announce an appointment this semester.
- A thorough review of the policies and procedures of our University police department will be conducted to ensure that we continue to be at the forefront of best practices. This review will be completed before July 1, 2020, and shared with our campus community.
The review was completed and posted on the Police Department website on June 30, 2020, and can be found here.
- Our Diversity Advisory Council (DAC) will identify “signature events” for the campus community. Some may happen once, while others may become recurring ones. We will come together as a UTC family committed to making a difference.
Our DAC has partnered with OEI and HR to develop and launch a series of MOC Forward events during the fall and spring semesters. Visit utc.ed/moc-forward for more information on this series.
- The Chancellor will hold a series of five open forum meetings during the fall semester to hear stories and experiences from our campus community. We will discuss progress on current campus initiatives and consider suggestions for new initiatives.
Vice Chancellor Freeman and I held five meetings with a variety of student affinity groups during the fall semester. These “listening sessions” provided valuable insights into the challenges, triumphs, and aspirations of our students – and they have generated ideas and action items for the University.
- Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Brown will review our physical space to consider opportunities to better reflect our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Our Student Government Association (SGA) will have an active role in this process. Our students are the reason we exist, and their opinions and advice must be heard and included in our campus conversations.
Dr. Brown completed his review and submitted recommendations. A task force, composed of UTC faculty, staff, student and community representatives, has been charged to produce a set of recommendations for review in the second quarter of 2021.
- Chief of Staff Terry Denniston and our Office of Civic Engagement will facilitate collaboration between our institution and our community to identify the role we do and should play in the broader context of our region. We need to understand our community’s “equity ecosystem” and maximize our impact, working with our business and community partners.
Former Chief Denniston, current Chief Steele, and their team analyzed engagement at peer institutions and engaged with key community stakeholders in the community to formulate a model of Chattanooga’s “equity ecosystem.” The new Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement will be charged with convening a forum of community partners to review and revise the model and identify opportunities for enhancing the University’s impact.
- Vice Chancellor for Information Technology Victoria Farnsworth will review student access to devices, technology, and the internet to ensure fair and equitable opportunities for success for every student.
Vice Chancellor Farnsworth reviewed all student requests made to the UTC Technology program since April 2020. Over the six months, 27% of the 288 fulfilled requestors are non-white, and 60% are female. The new Vice Chancellor of D&E will work with Vice Chancellor Farnsworth to consider the data and its implications.
- Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Dr. Yancy Freeman will work across campus units to develop a Bias Incident Response Team and associated policies and procedures, as well as an education campaign to ensure that our entire UTC community understands our values, expectations, and accountability.
The Bias Education and Support Team (BEST) has been established. Tara Mathis, associate dean of students, and Rosite Delgado, director of equity and inclusion, will co-chair this group. The team has representation from faculty, staff and students. The primary roles of BEST are to educate the campus community about civility and inclusion, provide the University community an avenue to report bias and bias incidents, review reported bias and bias incidents, and provide appropriate responses based on the nature of the incidents.
- Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Jerold Hale will lead a review of our academic programs and curriculum so that our instruction reflects the mission and vision of UTC. This review will be completed and shared before the end of the fall semester.
Reviews of curricula have been completed, and Dr. Hale will be providing me with an assessment and recommendations this semester. These findings will also inform our ongoing strategic planning process.
- Vice Chancellor for Communications and Marketing George Heddleston will examine all advertising, communications, and materials from every unit across campus that will project our stand for diversity and inclusion.
This review has been completed, and the unit is committed to best practice in depicting diversity in publications, videos, social media and websites. They strive to strike an ethical balance between reflecting the existing demographics of our campus and depicting our aspirations for a dynamic, diverse, and inclusive community.
- Vice Chancellor for Research Dr. Joanne Romagni will review research activities that relate to equality and social justice and identify areas of opportunities for expanded impact.
Dr. Romagni and her team continue to review grants and proposals that specifically relate to equality and social justice. Earlier this semester, numerous programs were identified in the areas of postsecondary education and workforce development, PreK–12 education and community outreach, and health sciences.
- Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Mark Wharton will lead the ELT in a comprehensive inventory, an “equity scan,” of UTC’s existing campus culture. This equity scan, to be completed and made public by October 1, 2020, will review our institutional history and current actions.
Vice Chancellor Wharton convened a work team to gather and analyze a wide variety of existing quantitative and qualitative data from across the campus, including prior equity analyses, task force reports, focus group inputs and survey data. He presented a preview of his team’s work to the Chancellor’s Multicultural Advisory Council last semester and submitted a final version to my office shortly thereafter.
- Vice Chancellor of Development and Alumni Affairs and Executive Director of the UC Foundation Lofton Stuart will consult with development and alumni affairs staff about initiatives that would provide campus-wide impact.
Vice Chancellor Stuart has committed to creating a new internship program for minority students to become actively involved in the advancement profession. The UC Foundation offices will coordinate the internship program.
As you all know, diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the heart of who we are as an institution and are critical components of the UTC mission. The progress outlined above is promising, but it is only a start. The work continues, and it depends on the active engagement of every member of our faculty, staff, and student body to ensure progress and momentum.
The UTC Executive Leadership Team and I remain committed to the success of every student on this campus. Together, we will make a difference.