Chancellor Syverud Addresses Dec. 6 University Senate Meeting
Chancellor Kent Syverud discussed several issues at Wednesday’s meeting of the University Senate. He addressed pending changes to federal tax policy, issues related to disabilities and workplace sexual harassment, the Ombuds Office and the Faculty Salary Survey.
Also in his remarks, Chancellor Syverud recognized graduate student Cameron McPherson on his selection as Syracuse University’s first George Mitchell Scholar. He also reflected on the passing of Chief Irving Powless, Jr., a leader of the Onondaga Nation and a friend to the University.
Below are the Chancellor’s remarks as prepared for the University Senate meeting:
Good afternoon. I’ll be brief. I know you all have worked hard for our students and university this year and are looking forward to a well-earned holiday break. There are still some important matters for us all to address in December. I want to speak about a few of them, including disabilities issues, sexual harassment and workplace environment, and the federal tax bills.
Remembering Chief Irving Powless, Jr.
First, I hope you have noted that at Syracuse University we have been working hard, in multiple ways, to show respect for the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee. This is appropriate and long overdue, and I thank all who are helping. On Thursday, we lost a leader of the Onondaga Nation, Chief Irving Powless, Jr., who died at the age of 88.
Chief Powless was the chief of the Beaver Clan of the Onondaga Nation. He was a leader within and beyond the Onondaga Nation as a lecturer, author, teacher, lacrosse player and protector of the environment. He was a friend to this university and to this community. He served as secretary of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs for more than 30 years, and was a historian of his people. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2009 from Syracuse University.
I ask that the minutes of the Senate show our University’s collective respect for Chief Irving Powless, Jr., one who embodied the wisdom of the land, a historian, ambassador, actor, musician, veteran, defender of the environment and champion of justice.
Changing Tax Policy
Like so many of you, I have been closely monitoring and closely involved in advocacy on the tax reform legislative process. As a citizen of this country, I have grave policy concerns about the tax bills that go well beyond the provisions that directly impact universities. As steward of this university, I have grave concerns about how portions of the bills unfairly impact our students, alumni, faculty and staff.
My biggest concerns during this process have been the threat to the deduction for interest on student loans, the taxation of tuition benefits for our faculty and staff and their dependents, and the very serious tax implications for graduate students. I know there is much uncertainty and anxiety, particularly among our graduate students and faculty and staff. I am meeting right after the Senate meeting with our Graduate Student Organization.
This legislation has serious financial implications for our students and employees, and also serious budgetary impact for the University. Sixty percent of our students receive some sort of student loan. As a result, those students will no longer be able to deduct interest on those loans. Faculty and staff who use our remitted tuition programs will be impacted by proposed cuts. And our graduate students are seriously threatened by the treatment of remitted tuition as taxable income.
A large team of folks, including me, have been working almost full time on these issues for the past weeks. Our government relations team has been in close and constant contact with the New York State delegation and committee staff. We have repeatedly shared our concerns about provisions in the House bill that would negatively impact our students, faculty, staff and the University.
We continue to monitor this situation and will keep you updated as the legislative process moves forward.
I now want to say something about the University’s work related to disabilities.
I have been troubled this semester by what I have experienced as a disconnect between two narratives about our University and disabilities. One narrative celebrates the successes and accomplishments various parts of the University have achieved in moving forward for true inclusion of all our students, faculty and staff, including those with disabilities. The other narrative notes the often misunderstood or unacknowledged issues that still remain and the great progress we still need to achieve, including in the daily lived experience of our students. I have personally appreciated the good faith and good will of folks with each of these narratives, but I worry that we are not perceiving each other enough, and that therefore further progress is endangered.
To address this, I think as Chancellor I need to ask our community to focus on two things in particular in the rest of this academic year.
First, the University announced on Dec. 1 that we have approved the new Information and Communication Technology Accessibility Policy. After months of discussion and community input, the adopted recommendation of the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion recognizes the need for the University’s information and communication technologies to be accessible, including to individuals with disabilities. I approve of this new policy. I think it has a lot of implications in many areas, including for the work of the Senate. I think the new policy will require allocation of significant resources through our budget process, including for IT accessibility specialists and for ensuring that our classroom materials, library resources and many other areas of digital content are accessible to disabled people. Implementing this policy is going to take work from many of us, and it is work that has to include at every step our people with disabilities. I ask your help and support with this.
Second, I have gotten a lot of feedback from folks about where the University currently is poised related to disabilities, including feedback from disabled student leaders and other constituents. I think we are at a time where it is reasonable to expect our University to conduct an evaluation of our disability services and related policies, including for example related to medical leaves, service animals, academic accommodations, student housing and other areas. I would like to get this evaluation started this coming semester—to evaluate whether we are in compliance, where and when we are going beyond compliance, and whether we are creating a more positive and welcoming campus for people with disabilities. I’d like us to ask some foundational questions as part of this work, including where should our office of disability services be located, what should our organization and reporting structure be for our many folks working in the disabilities area, and what level of resources are necessary to budget for our disability service providers.
This has to be a transparent process. It should not deliver its conclusions at the end to our faculty, staff and students with disabilities. It should involve our disabled people all along the way, including in the process of forming the questions and identifying the answers. The message I have repeatedly gotten this semester is “nothing about us without us.” It is a powerful one I think we should act on.
Those are some immediate actions we should take to improve our campus climate for those of us with disabilities, and thus for our whole community. I think we need to embrace in this process a cross-disabilities perspective in which two things happen: we consider, expect and embrace both observed and hidden disabilities, and that we make the actual lived experience of our disabled community members inform our decisions and ultimately strengthen our strong academic reputation as an international leader in disabilities related research, teaching and service.
I think these are the right first actions to address the disconnect I described, and to get us all together on same page as a university we are proud of in this area.
Faculty Manual Request
Now on harassment: In recent weeks, all of us have been confronted with new evidence of work-related sexual harassment and misconduct, and the long-term harm caused when individuals misuse their power and titles with those less powerful. I think we are required, at this moment, to re-examine all of our programs and policies to make sure we are doing the best we can to prevent and respond to this. The University is now doing so.
One aspect of this work particularly requires Senate attention. I have heard from faculty members, including in the humanities and the professions, who believe it is time to re-examine the faculty manual, specifically how we govern faculty relationships with undergraduate students. Currently, our faculty manual does not forbid these types of relationships unless the faculty member is pursuing sexual relationships with undergraduate students the faculty teaches, advises or supervises. It is time to re-evaluate that section of the faculty manual. I have asked the Provost’s office to work with the deans and the appropriate Senate committee to conduct a re-evaluation this coming semester.
It is critically important that our policies support this goal as defined by the faculty manual: Syracuse University is committed to maintaining a healthy, safe, respectful and productive working, learning and teaching environment.
Provost Wheatly is out of town in New York today. She asked me to share a brief report on the Ombuds Office and the Faculty Salary Survey.
We are establishing the University’s Ombuds Office sometime this coming semester. An Ombuds Office, of course, would provide a confidential place for students, faculty and staff to address concerns, issues or conflicts. I expect Provost Wheatly to brief the Senate on this effort when we reconvene in January.
In terms of the Faculty Salary Survey, Provost Wheatly asked me to share that this will be released next week, for your review and engagement.
Finally, I join all of you in congratulating our student Cameron McPherson on his selection as Syracuse University’s first George Mitchell Scholar. We wish him well in his graduate studies at Trinity College Dublin and we are proud of him.
And I invite you all to join me at 10 a.m. on Jan. 13 in Setnor Auditorium for our Winter Convocation, welcoming new, first-year, transfer, discovery and exchange students.