Published March 23, 2021
Following months of discussion and research, members of President Satish K. Tripathi’s Advisory Council on Race presented their findings and recommendations to the UB community during a webinar held yesterday.
About 565 people participated in the 90-minute session that featured remarks by members of the council’s four subgroups, along with a Q&A session. Tripathi offered welcoming remarks, while Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence, served as moderator and fielded audience questions. Provost A. Scott Weber concluded the event with a brief outline of steps taken so far in response to the council’s recommendations.
The advisory council on race, whose members are faculty, staff, students and alumni, was formed in June to help guide the university in realizing its ideals of equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice.
Mark Alnutt, director of athletics, presented research from his subgroup that examined faculty and staff recruitment, hiring and retention. He pointed to data indicating that UB is “below par” when compared to AAU peer institutions’ percentages of Asian, African American, Hispanic and Native American faculty. The data is “somewhat better” concerning the percentages of minorities among staff, Alnutt said, “but not quite where we want to be.”
In addition to meeting or exceeding the number of underrepresented faculty and staff at AAU peer institutions, this subgroup advocates establishing a committee to review current hiring processes, and to perhaps “reimagine” tenure, promotion and permanent appointment, said Luis A. Colón, A. Conger Goodyear Professor of Chemistry. “[We want to] examine the advancement and recognition processes that we have in place to make sure that people get recognized as they move forward in our university,” Colón said.
Another subgroup delved into curriculum and teaching. “We conducted a survey of UB faculty, which is still ongoing,” said Ndubueze L. Mbah, associate professor of history. “Faculty identified the diversity requirements of the UB Curriculum as one area that could be expanded or strengthened.” Members of this subgroup recommended a required course on racism and anti-racism, preferably to be taken in the student’s first year. And, too, diversity and inclusion content would be included in the general education curriculum. Furthermore, this group urged UB to develop an underrepresented researchers of color program “that emulates successful examples from peer institutions, but also leverages incipient strides at UB.”
“We also looked at peer institutions, AAU institutions, as well as the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities and the Mid-American Conference institutions,” said Sharon Mitchell, senior director, Student Wellness, and director, UB Counseling Services, of her subgroup’s findings on student recruitment, admissions, retention and graduation. “We collected a lot of student feedback. Especially in the summer and early fall, there were lots of listening sessions going on — with the Black Student Union, the SUNY Graduate Student Employees Union, the Minority Faculty Staff Association. All of which provided us an opportunity to hear from students about their experience at UB and what they felt their needs were with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The research also entailed meeting with administrative offices for student life and support, Mitchell explained. “We were interested in learning more about the representation in those offices in terms of staffing. What were their successes? What were their points of pride? What were the things they felt like they were doing well?”
Other points of inquiry concerned “student utilization and any student feedback about the program and services coming out of those offices and departments,” Mitchell said. “We were interested in the innovations and efforts that were being made to attract students to UB. For example, the Office of Admissions utilizing holistic admissions criteria — going beyond GPA and tests, and looking at things like demonstrated leadership, community service and resilience.”
Recommendations of the subgroup on community, meanwhile, included creating and maintaining a comprehensive reporting structure for community programs that address social justice and racial inequity. UB alumnus Dexter Johnson, who is a NASA technical fellow for loads and dynamics, described his group’s funding recommendation for programs “that address community engagement as it relates to racial equality, as well as for a pipeline program for students of color in the Buffalo Public Schools that would, in turn, feed UB schools and units.”
It’s important, he noted, to create “a culture of trust between the university and communities that have been historically marginalized in the Western New York area.”
The Q&A session addressed motivational issues in combating racism, faculty training and preparation for more inclusive curricula, and to what degree UB’s efforts to foster diversity align with SUNY’s goals in this area.
One questioner wondered if the group’s deliberations reflected a “liberal agenda” or an intention to “indoctrinate.” Raechele L. Pope, associate professor in the Graduate School of Education and a member of the subgroup examining faculty and staff recruitment, hiring and retention, said she hoped there would be universal agreement that “racism is a problem and must be addressed.”
For his part, Lee Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management and a member of the subgroup addressing student recruitment and related issues, said any agenda is one of “human rights” and is not at all approached as a political or partisan issue.
Weber thanked members of the advisory council for their “careful, thoughtful analysis of the issues,” noting that deans have been sharing best practices for recruitment of diverse faculty. He said the university is “formulating a process to reexamine our curriculum through the lens of inclusive pedagogy and anti-racism, all of which address specific council recommendations. This process will engage broadly with campus stakeholders, including faculty, staff and students, and will consider the implications for both graduate and undergraduate education.”
Implementation of measures recommended by the council will differ, Weber said, depending on the nature of the recommendation. “There’s really not going to be one approach for all. For example, where some metrics exist for the recommendations, in other cases the recommendations reflect a desire for cultural change, which will need to be nurtured and developed over time.”
He urged participants to complete the survey that followed the advisory council’s presentation and invited continuous feedback to what is an ongoing process. “Our diversity, equity and inclusion goals are a top priority for the university and for me. …. While my office is leading the implementation of the council’s recommendations, ultimately — and more importantly — the success will depend on the UB faculty, staff and students across our campus community.”