Presidential Commission on Diversity Report

To:            The St. Lawrence Community
From:        William L. Fox, President
Date:         February 17, 2014
Subject:     Presidential Commission on Diversity Report

Dear Laurentian friends:

The Presidential Commission on Diversity at St. Lawrence University has now fulfilled its charge by submitting to me an extensive and comprehensive report. The purpose and plan of the commission’s assignment was first outlined in November 2012. Members were appointed in January 2013, and given a deadline to complete the task by February 1, 2014. Over many months, the commission not only engaged the wide participation of University community members and leaders, including the larger radius of alumni, but also was inspired by the significant support of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

I now wish to share the full report and its supporting appendices with all Laurentians. While doing so, I must first clarify a distinction known from the beginning of this project, which remains in the framework of how the commission has documented its work. This is a report to the president, it is not the plan; it is a text for discussion and a guideline for mapping our strategic course. It is not prescriptive, definitive, or exhaustive. But I hasten to point out that it is a superb model study of a difficult, complicated, and challenging theme that will serve the University as a touchstone for many years, just as a prior presidential commission on co-education from 40 years ago still speaks to our ambitions. There are unbroken lines of continuity between the two reports, connecting and extending a particular kind of St. Lawrence ideal and mission like a long-distance relay between generations.

A first and lasting word of gratitude must be expressed promptly to Marion Roach Smith ’77 for her wisdom, fairness, and focus as the chair of the commission. Her energy, openness, and curiosity set the tone for the conversation. In the background, her affection for St. Lawrence is unassailable and her journalistic acuity remains impeccable. Thank you, too, to all of the members of the commission, a dynamic vocational and intellectual combination of dedicated teachers and scholars, talented and promising students, and a variety of Laurentians serving as trustees and higher education professionals.

The commission, just as it was intentionally assembled, has surely had its own creative tensions of difference about what is known and what to do. What I wish to celebrate in the transmittal of this report, however, is the spirit, actually “the spirit of liberty,” that abides in the example the commission sets for us all. One of the great, if little remembered, speeches of the 20th century was delivered by Judge Learned Hand in 1944 to a very diverse audience whose members were about to become naturalized American citizens. Judge Hand reflected, “the spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias…”

The report is organized by three sections, each implying the map reader’s skill of understanding place, direction, and destination. Where we are, where we want to be, and how we’re going to get there are sequential tracings that will continue to frame the dialog on campus for several planned forums and even spontaneous, informal discussions, perhaps in the classroom, too. The final section may be recognized by some on campus for its vocabulary drawn from our accreditation and self-assessment studies of the recent past. There are nearly 70 items that are categorized as requirements, recommendations, or suggestions. By giving particular weight or value to the mix of ideas about “getting there,” the commission has helped set the agenda for our ongoing efforts of strategic mapping, the making of our institutional atlas called “The St. Lawrence Promise.”

There are many “getting there” possibilities, however, that don’t have to wait; that, in my judgment, can be started with all dispatch at once, without debate or delay as reasonable goals for the next year. We can get started right away on the following:

Planning/Governance/Policy:
We will appoint and establish a Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force this semester to develop goals, timelines, and measurable objectives to be incorporated within the current strategic map. We will insist on a 5-year set of goals. The charge to the Task Force will include appropriate attention to the University’s Mission Statement. And progress in terms of meeting our mission and goals will be incorporated as a key “dashboard” item for the Board of Trustees.

We will also organize a separate committee of administrative directors to coordinate and “operationalize” the University’s annual goals for diversity and inclusivity.

I am confident, too, that the Board of Trustees and the Alumni Executive Council will also develop routines that measure or audit the culture, climate, and progress of its work and membership to reflect our institutional values.

Facilities:
The current location of academic support services, now housed in the Whitman Annex, is insufficient and will be an issue incorporated into the University’s master facilities planning for the next academic year. Those offices need to move. The goal will be to implement a relocation plan in time for fall 2017 or sooner.

We will conduct an accessibility audit of all our facilities by spring 2015.

We will convert existing bathroom facilities or add to them, wherever possible and however feasible, to increase the number of gender-neutral bathrooms over the next two years.

Student Recruitment and Retention:
Our current goal, reachable within two years, is to have 40 students enrolled from the United World College program.

We will begin immediately, and with necessary financial resources, to reinvigorate and restructure the Presidential Diversity Scholars program.

We will participate as soon as possible in the Campus Pride Index.

We will participate in a climate survey of campus religious and spiritual life.

We will examine the question of allowing service animals on campus.

We will consider fresh approaches to the University’s historic commitment to recruit students from the Akwesasne community.

Our commitment to North Country students and Pell-eligible students has not wavered and will remain essential to our mission.

Faculty/Staff Recruitment and Retention:

In the next year, we will develop a University-wide protocol for HR leaders or other trained community members to meet with every search committee before a search may be authorized to commence.

I will expect from representatives of the academic dean’s staff and the student life staff a proposal for “Diversity Stewards” or something similar to be planned and implemented in the next academic year.

The language of all job postings will be reviewed and revised by July 1, 2014.

St. Lawrence will join the Consortium for Faculty Diversity as soon as possible.

Curriculum and Co-Curriculum:
My hope and expectation is that the faculty will look for ways to build diversity into a broader range of courses, even in unexpected places of the curriculum (e.g., science and mathematics); in turn, the number of courses that meet our diversity requirements ought to expand, and by so doing, ensure that a growing number of students will take more courses that foster thinking about diversity.

I also readily support fresh opportunities to use University ceremonial occasions, particularly for new students and new faculty, as a means of communicating St. Lawrence’s values of inclusivity. The academic dean’s staff, including the Presidential Commission on Diversity Purpose & Plandirector of FYP, will add these thoughts to its discussion of planning goals.

The student life staff is charged to conduct a policy review that affects or improves our efforts to ensure the success of transgender students.

Communications:  

We will broaden the website and other means of “branding” St. Lawrence to make more prominent the information about diversity and inclusivity on campus. These modifications can and will begin in the next 12 months.

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There is, of course, a large measure of unfinished, even unimagined, routes for us to explore and take in the coming years of “getting there.” With this report from the Commission on Diversity, we are now on our way. I look forward to hearing about your own enthusiasm and thoughts about how this important work is to be done.

Sincerely,
WLF

Response Gathering:

In the coming weeks, a number of campus meetings and forums will be held to gather feedback and reactions to the report. In addition, we have a created a Web feedback form for comments by those who either cannot attend or do not wish to attend an event. Your comments will be assembled and shared with members of the commission and senior staff members.

Campus Memo Announcing the Commission's Goals and Purpose