CAS Diversity Committee nears restart

The College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Council got input from former CAS Diversity Committee members about reconstituting the committee before moving toward appointing new members. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

After the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) lost all of the members from its diversity committee, the CAS Faculty Council will vote Friday to fill the vacancies and reinstate the committee.

The new committee will consist of five faculty members representing each CAS school — the School of Humanities, School of Social Sciences and the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics — across campuses. 

The previous diversity committee members resigned from their positions Sept. 9 after the university failed to respond to the committee’s requests for information, which the committee planned to use to create a report that would analyze the status of diversity and inclusion at CAS.

Over the past two months, the CAS Faculty Council worked to reconstitute the CAS Diversity Committee in a way that will have “comprehensive support” from other committees within the college, according to CAS Faculty Council Chair and member of the original diversity committee Michelle Hughes Miller.

“We’re really excited to get the new diversity council on board and then have this kind of wraparound support from the faculty council being more active helping them, the dean’s office helping them and other sources of support,” said Hughes Miller. 

Nominations for the new committee were solicited by the dean’s staff to every department chair across campuses. Each chair had to further research and select faculty from other standing committees and schools within their department who showed interest.

The search for new members didn’t begin until CAS faculty and administration investigated what led to the resignation of the original committee members. 

“We had the members of that committee who resigned give their input on how to reconstitute that committee so [the new members] could be more successful,” said Dean of CAS Eric Eisenberg. 

The former members’ input included a discussion with Eisenberg’s staff regarding the challenges they faced during the time they served on the committee as well as their relationships with various campus offices.

“We had to kind of work through the reasons for the resignation and what might be ways we can strategize to support the next diversity committee so it can be successful so this doesn’t happen again, so we don’t have members who feel the need to resign,” said Hughes Miller.

Restaffing the committee was discussed at almost every meeting between September and now, according to Hughes Miller.

“Once we got to finish with that work, then the dean’s staff solicited nominations and it was slowly trickling in because chairs are a little busy right now,” said Hughes Miller. “So it took a while to get nominations that would reflect the different schools and the different campuses.

“I feel like we did our due diligence to ensure that we can find a way to support the new diversity committee, and now we’re prepared to staff it once the votes come in.”

When the votes are cast and new members chosen, the reconstitution of the committee can be expected as early as next week, according to Hughes Miller. 

A total of 11 CAS faculty were nominated for the new committee. To be considered, a faculty member would typically have a “demonstrated interest” or experience in research or teaching in promoting “issues related to diversity and inclusion,” according to Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, associate professor of sociology and senior adviser to the president and provost for diversity and inclusion. 

Questions regarding to what degree the past committee’s work will be continued by the new one were also discussed at a meeting between faculty Nov. 6, according to Hordge-Freeman. 

“We expect that the new committee will build from and extend upon the invaluable work that the previous committee developed,” said Hordge-Freeman. “The CAS Faculty Council is currently considering to what extent the new charge of the committee will align with the charge of the original committee.”

One of the major points of the past committee’s work is its 10-point plan, consisting of specific actions to actively address racism and encourage inclusion at both the college and university level. Part of the plan included a request for data on University Police practices and statistics regarding diversity throughout Provost Ralph Wilcox and Eisenberg’s tenures. 

“We have received some information from [Eisenberg] about his efforts on diversity and inclusion, we’ve received some promises of additional data, but the provost’s and the president’s office have never provided any data at all to the CAS [Diversity Committee],” said Hughes Miller. 

“In part, they said they didn’t have to because it’s just CAS, so it was the dean’s responsibility. So I understand that difference of opinion, so that data is probably not going to be forthcoming.”

Whether or not the new committee will continue to seek out this information will be up to its new members. 

“I anticipate that the administration will consider and work to accommodate future requests,” said Hordge-Freeman. 

Faculty members also discussed the charge for the reconstituted committee.

The charge outlines what the tasks of the committee will be and develops a set of guidelines on how members can initiate new projects.

“We want to clarify [in the charge] what we think the [committee’s] governance mission statement includes,” said Hughes Miller. “And we also help create some bridges between former diversity committees’ work that have led to, for instance, the diversity liaison positions that are departmental, and the former committees and action plans and kind of show some kind of relationships between prior work of former diversity committees and what they can be doing themselves. 

“So we’re telling them, this is what we set up to help you and to support you and how we’re trying to create this kind of continuity and relationship that hasn’t really been very clear in the past.”

The charge also includes recommendations regarding projects within CAS that the diversity committee should advise on. 

For instance, a charge for the next committee would be to develop metrics that would measure CAS’ diversity and inclusion in terms of representation, inclusion and the climate of the college. These metrics would be for the dean’s plans to create a website that tracks how CAS is or is not making progress in this area.

“We’re not telling them exactly what they must do, but we are suggesting that these are things that would be supporting them and these are other actions they can take that would be beneficial to our college,” said Hughes Miller. 

With the new committee about to be formed, Hughes Miller said collaboration between different committees and councils of CAS will be key for the college’s work on diversity.

“We’re really excited about being able to support the [diversity committee] this year in ways that have not necessarily been the goal in the past, because we assumed that committees just work alone right, they’re standing alone,” said Hughes Miller. “But that’s not the way that diversity and inclusion can be met.”