Next Steps: Arts & Sciences Race, Justice, Equity Initiatives
August 14, 2020
I am writing to follow up on my June open letter.
Black lives matter.
It is vital to continue to say—in all times, and in this moment of global reckoning. Now—this week, three years after the racist attack on the city where we live—it is ever more important to say. Black lives matter. Speaking that indisputable truth matters.
Our actions matter too.
Our actions matter if we are to advance our mission as a public university, dedicated to the call of democratic life, holding ourselves accountable to our expressed convictions.
Our actions matter if we are to meet our particular responsibility—as a community of scholars, teachers, and students—to the histories of race, legacies of racism, and unfinished struggles for democracy, freedom, and justice with which UVA is so deeply entangled.
Over the past two months, the Dean’s Office has met with a range of you to seek counsel and insight. We have also returned to the reports, media, and scholarship produced over recent years by faculty, students, and staff calling for change, exploring our past, and envisioning our future. I’m grateful for all those conversations, for the thought you have put into that work, and for the commitment to questions of race, justice, and equality so many of you have dedicated for so long. I am struck, also, by a consistent call in those conversations and work: the call for systemic action, the call to address conditions rather than symptoms, the call to engage our deep history and the desire to craft a more just future—even as we act in the urgency of the moment.
With that in mind, I am writing to share a series of steps Arts & Sciences will take this coming academic year as we engage our past, look to our future, and seek to act in concert with many of the recommendations of the Audacious Future report released by President Ryan’s Racial Equity task Force and in support of the leadership he will be providing the University on these profound issues over the years ahead.
These are, to be sure, steps. In themselves they will not complete our work or bring us to where we must arrive. But they are, I believe, steps we must take if we are to become both that good and great university President Ryan has called us to be and that “better university” envisioned in the words of the report submitted by the Black Student Alliance five years ago, echoing the demands of activists made decades before.
We will launch 15 faculty searches (to be completed over the next two to three years):
- A cluster of six searches on race and inequality across all departments;
- Three additional searches on race and democracy in the arts and humanities (in co-ordination with the Democracy Initiative and with support from the Mellon Foundation);
- A renewal of the joint search between the Carter Woodson Institute and the English Department;
- Five additional target-of-opportunity searches dedicated to expanding the diversity of our faculty across all departments (with particular but not exclusive focus on the sciences)
We will launch searches for 10 visiting positions for early career scholars, public intellectuals, and artists balanced (5) between scholars, artists, and activists working on questions of race and justice, and (5) appointments for underrepresented scholars across all fields (including, crucially again, the sciences). A key goal in creating this program is to explore longer-term positions for these colleagues after their initial visiting appointments conclude.
Over the last year, the Graduate School has launched a number of initiatives focused on diversifying our graduate programs across all departments. These include the Deans Doctoral Fellowships for underrepresented students and the Bridge to the Doctorate program for similarly under-served and underrepresented students. Those programs are currently funded through one-time sources from the University’s Strategic Investment Fund (SIF). In concert with the recommendations of the Audacious Future report, we will sustain those programs beyond the current period of SIF-funding as defining programs of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
Together, these programs represent a fundamental commitment to become—in our core mission—a graduate school dedicated to expanding the diversity pipeline of higher education, civic life, research, arts, and the professions, not only at UVA but for the worlds our graduate students will enter and change.
In addition, we will:
- Commit at least 10 Ph.D. lines for faculty to propose and recruit a multi-departmental cohort (or cohorts) of graduate students working on race and inequality through our Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship Program over the next two years.
- Recommit to expanding the pipeline for graduate study by strengthening our partnerships with the Leadership Alliance and other programs that prepare diverse students for college and graduate school.
- Ask all Departments still using the GRE in their admissions process to evaluate whether they should continue to do so as they consider the best ways to diversify their graduate programs and the role of standardized tests in that commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We will establish a dedicated research fund for undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty to support individual or collective research projects on race, inequality, and justice.
We will provide funding to the Departments of Art, Music, Drama, and the Program in Creative Writing to co-support their work in establishing an initiative on “Race, Social Justice, and the Arts at UVA.” The core goal of the initiative will be to critically examine the history of the arts at the university and to facilitate enduring change in the future curricula and mission of the arts at UVA.
With support from the Mellon Foundation and Arts & Sciences, the Democracy Initiative will sponsor a Memory Project supporting the work of faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students working with community members and cultural institutions to study the politics of race and memory at UVA, in Charlottesville, and across Virginia. The Memory Project will also sponsor a series of events that explore broader questions of race and historical memory in order to situate our local projects within a larger national and global frame.
Race & Democracy Project
The Democracy Initiative will also launch a Race & Democracy project. With support from the Mellon Foundation and Arts & Sciences, the project will enable the recruitment of three of the faculty positions mentioned above. This will be combined with the creation of a fellowship program for practitioners (artists, journalists, activists, curators, public historians, and others) to come to UVA for research and teaching, and a set of linked programming and pedagogical initiatives
We will conduct a comprehensive salary equity review for all faculty and staff.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policy Review
Over recent years we have conducted diversity, equity, and inclusion reviews and reforms of many of our core policies—including processes for faculty hiring and for the appointment of Department and Center Chairs and Directors. We commit now to comprehensively expanding those reviews and reforms across the full range of our activities, from staff hiring, to the appointment of endowed chairs, to our tenure-and-promotion process for tenure track faculty, to our promotion and review policy for general faculty, to our review and promotion process for staff, and beyond. The work of the departmental Directors of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in concert with Chairs, Directors, Department Managers and faculty bodies (significantly, but not exclusively, the faculty-elected A&S Steering Committee) will be crucial in this process.
Fund-raising and Endowment
In concert with the recommendations of the Audacious Future report I am committing to help raise endowment funding for the Carter Woodson Institute (and Department) of African-American and African Studies, and to raising expanded philanthropic support for a cross Arts & Sciences Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fund.
Each of these actions will require careful and thoughtful follow up, guidance, and oversight. Over the coming weeks we will be working actively with the A&S Steering Committee, Department and Program Chairs and Directors, Directors of Graduate Programs, Directors of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Democracy Initiative leadership, Department Managers, and other members of the A&S community to establish advisory bodies for all these initiatives.
Costs and Values
A word on costs and values. These actions will require investment. As you know, our financial outlook for the coming years is very challenged. We will not be able to do everything we wish to do. Collectively, we are going to need to make some very hard decisions. Over the coming months I will be updating you on what those numbers look like, outlining some of the choices they will ask us to make, and asking for your guidance on how to make those choices well. But our core values simply exceed financial numbers in their importance. Committing ourselves to this work is a commitment to one of those core and incalculable values. We are fortunate that, for many years, we have stewarded our resources and built reserves for times of urgency. This is such a time, and we will be able to launch many of the steps outlined above by drawing on those reserves. Choosing to do so does, however, mean that we will not do other things. I believe that is the right, urgent, and clear choice before us. Moments come when we need to define who we are, what we truly value, and what we must do. I believe this is one of those moments and ask for your support as, together, we take this work one vital set of steps ahead.
One last note. As I mentioned above, these are only steps. More actions will—always—be needed. To enter the future that we must enter will require every part of the University working together. Ours is but one part.
And, yet, it is a crucial part. I cannot thank you enough for recommitting yourself to it.
Buckner W. Clay Dean of Arts & Sciences
University of Virginia