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Chancellor Discusses DPS Review, Revised COVID Guidelines and Leadership Searches in Remarks to University Senate
In his remarks to the University Senate today, Chancellor Kent Syverud provided an overview of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) review and upcoming actions on diversity, equity, inclusion and access. He also discussed what New York State COVID guidelines for colleges and universities mean for the University and provided an update on leadership searches.
Thank you, Professor Haddix. I hope you are all well, almost three weeks into the semester. I want to just thank everybody for all of the adjustments that were necessary to delay the spring semester by two weeks, that was a hard call and it imposed a burden on some. In retrospect, it looks like a good call, but of course, as with all COVID decisions, it was made in the face of some uncertainties. So a lot’s changed in the couple of weeks since the semester began and, indeed, since the Senate Open forum two weeks ago.
I will address the review of DPS led by former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and our next steps. I will also share what the revised state guidelines for colleges and universities mean for our COVID response. And I will provide an update on the leadership searches currently underway. John Liu will speak and then we’ll take questions.
On Monday of this week, Loretta Lynch and her team did issue the final report, a very independent review of DPS. The final report includes a review of DPS, its response to events in the 2019-2020 Academic Year; a review of DPS Standard Operating Procedures (SOP); and a series of recommendations. It also includes a framework for a Syracuse University Department of Public Safety Community Review Board, which will provide input to and promote accountability for DPS. The report is available on the Campus Commitments website and through a link at SU News. I urge all of you to review it in its entirety, as it is comprehensive and voluminous. I received the report on Saturday.
I spoke with Ms. Lynch on Sunday and thanked her for the report. The review included DPS documents and data, video footage, Internal Affairs investigation files, use-of-force incident reports and DPS training materials. Ms. Lynch’s team reviewed email records and more than 20,000 documents. They interviewed 77 members of the University community, including students, faculty and staff—including DPS personnel. They also hosted three virtual feedback sessions and reached out to leaders of 243 student groups.
The recommendations, which are detailed in the report, include guidance on responding to calls; training expectations; engagement with the community; creating a customer service mentality; transparent and timely DPS communications; revisions to the disciplinary process; and others. They include 10 recommended changes to DPS standard operating procedures and 23 additional recommendations. I accept the conclusions of the report and have directed the appropriate leaders to implement the recommendations.
In the coming weeks, we will receive recommendations from the Board of Trustees Special Committee on University Climate, Diversity and Inclusion. We will also receive the results of a campus climate survey conducted by Dr. Damon Williams. Together, these reviews and reports will serve as a foundation for a Universitywide strategic plan for diversity, inclusion, equity and access.
So there’s a lot of work to do. As I shared in my message to our community on Monday, we haven’t always gotten things right. And we will make the changes needed to get them right in the future. In these areas, the University as a whole, all of us need to be invested in this important work. Rebuilding trust takes time and commitment from all of us.
Going forward on COVID matters: last Friday, New York State updated its guidance for when colleges and universities must “pause” because of COVID infections on campus. There were several significant changes. Before these changes, and since the start of the fall semester, 100 infections over a fixed two-week period has been our limit before a mandated pause. In general, the new guidance is more reasonable given the size of our campus.
Under the revised guidance:
- The University is no longer subject to the 100-case limit within an arbitrary two-week period. Both the limit and the time period were changed. Instead, the limit is now 5 percent of the total on-campus population, which, at Syracuse, is approximately 880 individuals, and the time period is the last 14 calendar days. So, the time period resets each day. This new metric is now reported on our COVID dashboard. We revised our dashboard this past weekend to reflect this.
- In another change, this new standard applies only if we continue rigorous and extensive surveillance testing. Otherwise, we will be back to the 100-test limit.
This policy change is good for Syracuse, along with other larger universities in the state. It recognizes that 100 cases on a campus of our size is disproportionate to standards for infection rates in the general community.
That said, the state guidance is a floor, not a ceiling. Right now we have around 32 active cases. In my view, we would, on this campus, be taking strong public health steps to further contain activities well before we got to 880 cases. We can’t take New York State’s flexibility as permission to let down our guard. This goes for our entire community. Our expectations for students abiding by the Stay Safe Pledge and public health guidance have not changed. Our disciplinary process has not changed. Our enhanced testing measures have not changed. We will continue to monitor our cases very closely. We will not wait until we get close to the 880 case threshold to take action. In the event that we have emerging clusters of positive cases or community spread, we will take proactive public health measures. This may include actions like pausing in-person activities. We will continue to take precautions until such a time as most people are vaccinated. Things are improving, but we have months to go yet with this virus. For now, we will remain vigilant as ever.
In terms of leadership searches, the search for the senior vice president of the student experience is proceeding well and the first-round interviews are going to happen in a few weeks. We are on track to announce the appointment in the spring.
For the provost search, I met with and charged the full committee yesterday. The committee has begun its work, and we plan to move quickly to appoint a new provost by this summer. A search consultant is in place and hard at work. I have talked to many people about this search and hope to continue those conversations as the search progresses. The vision is that the search committee, as in previous searches, will identify more than one finalist that they believe qualified and capable of the job. They will then share those finalists with me for final consideration.
I want to conclude with two pieces of business. First, I see from the agenda that we will be hearing from the Honorary Degree Committee, and I want to thank them for their timely work. Second, I celebrate that last week, Syracuse University was named a top producer of Fulbright Scholars in the 2020-2021 application cycle. Thirteen of our alumni received awards. This is a wonderful indication that our strategy with the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising is bearing fruit with tremendous success. My thanks and congratulations to all of the dedicated faculty and staff mentors who assisted each successful Fulbright scholar with their application.
Thank you so much.