Shortly after Robert “Robbie” Robinson became the University’s chief of public safety in October 1993, he had a “chance encounter” with James K. Duah-Agyeman, who was then the director of the Center for Academic Achievement in the Division of Student…
Chancellor Syverud Addresses University Senate
The Chancellor delivered the following remarks to the University Senate on Dec. 11, 2019, in Maxwell Auditorium:
Thank you, Professor Haddix. I just want to thank Professor Schell for what I think is an accurate tribute to Professor Bruce Carter. He was a mentor to me in that he mentored me on the complex and idiosyncratic entity that the Senate is, and he was willing to tell me what I didn’t want to hear. That is rare. I am grateful and join the Senate in thanking him for his service.
I have a brief update on the racist and anti-Semitic hate speech and actions we have experienced at the University. This experience has been painful, divisive and abhorrent for our students and many others. I believe that we are dealing with racist and hostile people who have spewed threats, some from a cowardly cloak of anonymity, and I think it’s been with the express purpose of damaging our students’ ability to learn and the inclusiveness of our University. As a lot of us have said, our University cannot and will not stand for this. I am grateful for the many individuals who have stood up against hate and who have provided constructive and thoughtful feedback about what we—as a community and as an institution—can do going forward. I am also grateful to the many faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members who have shown support, kindness and grace to our students in this tough time and accommodated them in many ways.
I have spent most of the last few weeks meeting with and listening to people in our community, including student groups, faculty individually and in groups, staff, community and faith leaders, and law enforcement personnel. I spent the night at Day Hall last Monday and met individually with about 200 students there. I also spent an evening at Haven Hall listening to students. I have met with our indigenous students, faculty and staff, who also have serious concerns that have received little press attention in recent weeks. These students presented a thoughtful, collaborative and well-researched set of recommendations. I am grateful for their work and for their willingness to partner with our University going forward.
Before I discuss what we have accomplished since Nov. 20, I want to give credit to the Council on Diversity and Inclusion and many others in this room and beyond. They have worked very hard to accomplish some key diversity and inclusion milestones since the Spring of 2018, including:
- helping to appoint leadership for diversity, equity and inclusion for the University as a whole and in the schools and colleges;
- helping to invest $1.67 million in research and scholarship focused on diversity, accessibility and inclusion;
- helping to enhance counseling resources and increase the diversity and language abilities of our counselors;
- helping to train faculty and staff on unconscious bias and discrimination and on inclusive teaching, such as the Advanced Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Institute held in August; and
- helping to enhance diversity efforts in faculty and staff hiring.
And yet, acknowledging—and I feel it is worth acknowledging—that this is just some of the work we have done since 2018. We must do more.
Since the last meeting of the University Senate, we have agreed to address a large number of specific concerns brought forward by different student groups. In my view, the concerns are all issues that we are addressing now or must be addressing promptly because they are the right thing to do.
They are the right thing to do even while we simultaneously continue to aggressively pursue the investigation and appropriate prosecution of those responsible for racist and anti-Semitic hate speech and conduct.
We have been moving quickly into implementation of action on the student concerns. We have agreed to act on each of the concerns that have been brought forward. There were three areas where, initially, we were not sure that we could fulfill a commitment that the students had asked of us.
The first of those areas was the request to implement a housing portal that would allow future residents to choose a roommate based on mutual interests and identities. While a solution that allows race, ethnicity or religion to be the basis of roommate selection is problematic, I believe we have found a way to address the students’ underlying concern. We can implement a new roommate-matching software package that allows students to connect based on matching criteria such as mutual interests and schedule compatibility. We believe that we will be able to get this in place for the Fall 2020 selection process that begins in March.
The second area was the students’ request that we make diversity training progress of tenured professors available through a public website, up to the extent permitted by law, and make the completion of the required diversity and inclusion training part of the requirements for tenure. Posting training status on a public website by name would be a violation of privacy. We have, instead, committed to publishing aggregate data by school and college each academic year, requiring annual training of all faculty and staff in discrimination and unconscious bias, and holding deans accountable for the performance of their faculty in completing the training. We have also committed to enhancing that training.
The third area that the students brought forward is engagement by the Board of Trustees: Would the Board of Trustees be willing to commit to engagement with the campus community and others? This was not something that I could commit to on the Board’s behalf back in November, because I can’t speak for the whole Board unless they authorize it. Also, the full board only meets twice per year. That said, I am happy to report that the Board has been working intensively on this student request over the last three weeks. The work has been fruitful and it is clear that they are committed to engagement. I understand from the Board leadership that you will be hearing more about these opportunities very soon.
Additionally, we have accomplished the following since Nov. 20:
- We have guaranteed—and it’s important that we repeat it in the contexts of respecting peaceful protest—that there will be no sanctions or consequences for students who participated in the sit-in.
- We have implemented a policy for timely notification of hate speech and hate crimes in instances where such notification will not compromise an investigation.
- We have added security cameras to public spaces in select residence halls and are aggressively working on how to install additional cameras and how they should be installed to balance the interests of security and resident privacy.
- We have deployed 20 of 90 planned new residential community safety officers in our residence halls. The remaining 70 will be deployed by the beginning of the spring semester in January.
- We have notified the community about the “Silent Witness” tool on the DPS website. This allows campus community members to provide anonymous reports about hate speech, hate crimes and other safety concerns, so they will be properly investigated.
- People have been concerned about transparency and accountability and how the University is going to show progress on the things we have promised to do. We have established a web page at syracuse.edu/response to track concerns and responses.
- We have reached out to more than 200 students who self-identified as being willing to participate in various working groups working on the implementation of these recommendations and many have already agreed to participate. We are also reaching out to the Jewish students, international and indigenous student groups, the Student Association and Graduate Student Organization, the Residence Hall Association, Greek Life and all other registered student organizations to seek input.
As all of these things have been happening, I’ve been listening to so many people. The overwhelming message I have heard, including from students in Day and Haven Halls, is that people are concerned and worried. There is almost a universal sense of anxiety, and that is an opportunity. People do not agree on every detail, but almost everyone wants this University to model a world-class inclusive and supportive environment for all people. And they think that’s not just what this University needs, but that is what this country desperately needs.
We are finalizing plans for how we will demonstrate and communicate accountability on these actions. We will also be seeking the counsel of experts—national and international experts. You can expect to hear more on these topics very soon.
There are dozens of actions that this University has taken over the last few years to enhance diversity and inclusion and to uphold the dignity and worth of every human being. There are dozens more we need to take. We are taking these actions in a way that respects the role of the faculty in the curriculum, the faculty in faculty training and development, and the faculty in faculty hiring. We are taking these actions with broad student input and support. We are taking these actions for the simple reason that they are the right thing to do. We are taking these actions because they are in the best interest of our students.
Thank you. I will take questions after the Provost’s remarks.