December 16, 2016
Dear faculty colleagues,
The break draws near and December marks the end of my first full semester at UT. I have been humbled by the warm welcome I have received. To those of you whom I have met, thank you. I look forward to meeting more of you going forward.
I would like to share some thoughts on an important topic that I have given much consideration since my arrival — our campus climate and what we can do to advance a culture of inclusion.
Each year, our graduates leave our classrooms to join an increasingly diverse workforce, and a growing body of research indicates that companies and organizations now recognize the advantages of diversity in the global economy. The Department of Education recently published a report examining this very issue, and their findings reinforce many things we already know to be true.
Higher education plays a pivotal role in social mobility. However, gaps in opportunity continue to exist for underrepresented students of color. Having more diversity in our student body alone does not achieve our goals. We must foster a culture of inclusion at every level of the institution to affect meaningful change.
Students expand their understanding and knowledge more effectively when they learn from faculty with a broad range of life experiences and areas of expertise. To maximize the benefit of their educational experience and ensure they are prepared to enter the global workforce, we must do more to increase the diversity of our faculty.
Equally important is making our faculty culture more inclusive. To better understand these issues on our campus, the university commissioned a study to examine climate issues for faculty and staff. The findings show that faculty overall expressed satisfaction in most areas, but these views were different when examined along the lines of race and gender. Faculty of color and women expressed less satisfaction and more negative perceptions of their experiences on our campus.
This must change. We owe this to our colleagues, to ourselves, and to the students we graduate and send to change the world.
There are areas we can improve starting today. I asked each college and school to convene a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and they will deliver proposals to me in April of 2017 to address (among other areas):
- Diversity through recruitment
- Climate issues for faculty and students
- Equity issues
Based on these proposals, I will work with the colleges and schools to provide the support necessary to address issues that exist at the department and college levels.
Cultural change of this nature and on this scale does not happen overnight, and I recognize this process needs to be an ongoing conversation. I need your help to make promoting a culture of inclusion and belonging a priority at UT Austin.
Finally, I want to address concerns we have received from the campus community in recent weeks regarding our students who are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I understand this is an issue many of you care deeply about, as evidenced in the petition and letters we received. Let me be clear, the president and I support our DACA students, and he joined other university leaders from across the country expressing this support. Our DACA and other foreign-born students contribute to the educational environment and our campus in such important ways. Understandably, those students feel vulnerable and are looking for support and reassurance. This multi-layered issue is complex and intersects with federal and state laws. If you have questions or are interested in this issue, I recommend reading this report from the American Council on Education. It answers many questions, and I have found it to be a great resource.
I wish you all the very best going into the holidays. Thank you for the important work you all do in your research and to support our students.
Enjoy the break and best wishes for a happy new year.
Executive Vice President and Provost