Faculty of Color, Administration Seek Common Ground on Racial Equity

South Building

More than 1,200 people across the campus have signed the Roadmap for Racial Equity calls for action on a list of items intended to increase the presence of people of color in the faculty; rename buildings that bear the names of people associated with white supremacy; and have a heightened level of dialogue with the University’s top leaders. (File photo)

In spring 2019, 14 faculty members went to University administrators with concerns that the University wasn’t moving fast enough to improve the representation of people of color and Indigenous people in the faculty and in administrative positions, including department chairs and deanships.

It was a nonpublic ad hoc group that worked without additional compensation, meeting regularly for several months with the University’s chief academic officer. It disbanded at the initiation of the faculty members amid their dismay over the forced settlement between the University and a Confederate advocacy group in the disposition of UNC’s Confederate monument late that year.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Robert Blouin said the committee helped build the first initiative of UNC’s strategic plan, Carolina Next, called “Build Our Community Together.” Shortly after the group disbanded, Guskiewicz announced the commitment of $5 million to the initiative’s objectives of strengthening diversity and inclusion.

With that experience as background, work was begun on a Roadmap for Racial Equity that calls for action within three years on a list of items intended to increase the presence of people of color in the faculty; rename buildings that bear the names of people associated with white supremacy; and have a heightened level of dialogue with the University’s top leaders. The lead author was African, African American and diaspora studies Professor Kia Caldwell, and the roadmap had input from others.

Malinda Lowery ’02 (’05 PhD), a history professor and director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, shared the Roadmap for Racial Equity on June 22 with people across campus, inviting others to join as signatories. An initial 35 signatures grew to more than 1,200 — along with a request for a meeting with senior leadership that was held in late July — and Caldwell and American studies Professor Sharon Holland presented it to the Faculty Executive Committee, which represents the faculty to the administration on University issues.

UNC, the document says, “has a deeply rooted history of participation in racially discriminatory practices, including the occupation of native lands, enslavement and racial segregation, that have led to systemic and institutionalized racial privileges for some and inequities for others. We believe now is the time for decisive and swift action to change the culture and policies of the University.”

Caldwell told the faculty committee, “I don’t personally believe we can stay on the path we’ve been on on this campus and achieve racial equity.” Rumay Alexander, nursing professor and former associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, said faculty governance has a diversity committee, “but we don’t have the right people at the table.”

Among 13 points, the document called on UNC to:

• Create 30 tenure-track faculty appointments across campus, with at least 10 in the College of Arts and Sciences that focus on racial equity and social justice that hopefully will bring in new Black faculty;

• Create cluster hiring programs — bringing faculty into multiple departments around interdisciplinary research topics, a technique believed to increase diversity — that focus on Black families and communities; health, wellness and health equity in Black, Indigenous and other communities of color; and civil and human rights;

• Address the lack of diverse top-level administrators;

• “Take bold and sustained steps” to diversify the faculty;

• Hire two faculty who focus on slavery in the U.S. South;

• Provide accessible data on the number of faculty of color and Indigenous faculty;

• Establish faculty advisory groups on racial equity to meet monthly with senior leadership and hold an annual Board of Trustees meeting with Black faculty, faculty of color and Indigenous faculty; and

• Take decisive action to rename campus buildings.

Seven days after its release, Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote to the group that they “stand in solidarity with our faculty, students, staff and alumni in denouncing systemic racism, hate speech and white supremacy” and that they would “continue to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, and invest in policies, systems and infrastructure that promote belonging, accountability and transparency throughout the University community.”

They cited the creation of a Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward to explore, engage and teach the University’s history with race and to provide recommendations to the chancellor on how the UNC community should reckon with the past.

The racial roadmap authors were not completely comfortable with that response, saying it raised doubts about how fast the administration was moving.

On July 1, Lowery responded: “Despite the good intentions of the strategic plan, racism is defined by impact, not intent. Given the concerns about equity issues in the plan for our return to campus, clear action was necessary. The Commission on Race, History and A Way Forward, and the $5 million fund, have very different purposes. They are not charged to do the work we have outlined in the Roadmap.” Her message pointed out that the work done in 2019 was in the absence of a chief diversity officer and was without compensation.

The roadmap authors also have stated they need to meet regularly with top leadership, specifically the chancellor and provost. Lowery’s message expressed frustration that Guskiewicz had suggested they meet with interim Chief Diversity Office Sibby Anderson-Thompkins ’87 (’90 MA); his chief of staff Amy Hertel ’97; and the co-chairs of the race commission, Jim Leloudis ’77 (’89 PhD) and Patricia Parker.

Most recently, Anderson-Thompkins invited some of the roadmap authors to a meeting with the campus Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.

She said that meeting produced a list of the group’s top priorities:

• Restoration of personnel hiring budget lines and funding for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion;

• Accountability mechanisms to ensure that schools and divisions are actively working to promote racial equity and welcoming racial climates for all students, faculty and staff;

• Promotion of racial equity and a welcoming racial climate as criteria for the appointment and reappointment of chairs, senior associate deans and deans;

• A campuswide compensation study of faculty and staff disaggregated by race and gender; and

• Published data on the number of faculty and staff at UNC, disaggregated to show numbers from historically underrepresented groups.

In an Aug. 5 message to about 30 stakeholders in the issue, Anderson-Thompkins listed some of the roadmap’s objectives that already are being fulfilled:

• UNC has created two faculty positions specializing in U.S. slavery. The money is in place to fund the positions, and the goal is to have the scholars added by July 2021;

• The College of Arts and Sciences will make six cluster hires in the areas the roadmap identified, to start in July 2021. The new hires are in English and comparative literature, psychology and neuroscience, economics, sociology, biology, and exercise and sport science. The college predicts that these “will attract new faculty of color”;

• Four people of color have been appointed to department chair positions, raising the diversity percentage from 7 percent to 30 percent in the college’s fine arts and humanities division. They are David Garcia, music; Holland, American studies; Ariana Vigil, women’s and gender studies; and Wei You, chemistry.

• Two African Americans in the Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity have been appointed in STEM disciplines for the current semester.

One of the roadmap items, that UNC reinstate the search for a permanent chief diversity officer, is held up by a COVID-19-related suspension on hiring set by the UNC System.

Terry Rhodes ’78, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said that in early July Guskiewicz had asked all deans to identify structural racism in their schools by addressing three questions:

• What are the strengths and weaknesses of Carolina’s scholarly, co-curricular, administrative and service efforts to identify and eliminate structural racism on our campus and beyond?

• What should we be doing/what can you do to stand against structural racism and stand for equity within our/your school/unit?

• How can we learn from and partner with other schools/units, institutions, organizations or communities in the region to be agents of change against structural racism?


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