Letter from the Chancellor: August 28, 2020

Dear U of A Community:

For the last several weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time detailing our preparations for the fall semester in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the semester now underway, I wanted to take a moment to discuss a similarly significant issue: our campus racial climate. I want to assure you that this has not been relegated to the back burner as we prepared for the fall semester, but rather has been very much front of mind. As chancellor, it’s always been important to me, but as I’ve been meeting more regularly with our Black Student Advisory Group and recently with the Black Alumni Society to address their concerns, I’ve had to think much, much harder about my own role in combating racism at the university. That is to say, what can I realistically do and what can’t I realistically do?

I can’t solve racism alone. This is an issue that exists to some degree in every university, community, state and country. In my heart, I believe education is the greatest antidote to racism, but only if there is a sincere desire to grow, learn and change. A closed mind can be nearly impossible to pry open. Ultimately, I can’t control the environment in which people are raised, the friends they associate with, the subreddits they frequent, the books they read or the objectionable statements they make as private citizens on social media (hate speech and threats are another matter).

But what I can and will do as chancellor is keep pushing for change through education and action. I will keep this on the front burner. It won’t be forgotten or shunted aside. More importantly, I can’t assume that because people aren’t protesting things must be okay. That is why I am committed to tangible change. How will I do that? By holding leadership responsible for implementing changes and by incentivizing activity and rewarding progress. I will do it by making sure we have the right people in the right places to affect change. I will ensure that we identify and duplicate what works and discontinue what doesn’t. These are the things I can and will do as chancellor.

In practical terms this means we establish a permanent advisory group, which would necessarily include the two groups mentioned above, as well as faculty and staff, to meet with me and other campus leaders. This group will help keep things on the front burner and enable us to be more intentional in what we do – because we can’t do everything. But we can do several things and maximize their impact. This group can help shape a consensus and prioritize the steps we need to take as a campus. This week we posted the position of liaison to coordinate this effort. This person will be a valuable resource in keeping things on track.

A subset of this is ensuring that diverse voices are included in all existing groups and committees to ensure we have a wide perspective. I think we do this well to some extent, but taking that for granted is the surest way to go backwards. And, we can and will do more.

Once we’ve identified our priorities, we will establish a timeline as well as clear benchmarks for change. This is the only way we can determine what’s working and what isn’t. It also provides a framework for communicating progress to you, our campus community, who needs to be informed and involved in these efforts.

We also need to conduct an audit of what exists currently to support students, faculty and staff. In areas such as recruitment, retention and student success programming, we will quantify what we have so we can better understand what we need. We will establish goals relative to where we are and a realistic timeline for reaching our goals. As this takes shape, we will look for ways to get students involved – students of all backgrounds – so that they can be heard and a part of the effort, too. Finally, we will work to build a more diverse faculty and staff.

At this point, we’ve consolidated a number of recommendations from campus partners into the following categories:

  • Enhancing our campus climate (i.e. Is our campus inclusive? Welcoming?)
  • Strengthening recruitment and retention (i.e. How can we better recruit underrepresented students and ensure we retain them? Diversity without inclusion is the enemy of retention.)
  • Improving human resources (i.e. What can we do to ensure diverse pools of candidates, wrapping new employees with training, resources, inclusive best practices and retention strategies?)
  • Cultivating and fostering student success (i.e. What can we do to ensure all students stay on track to graduation, adjusting support based on a student’s unique situations and needs?)

As we make progress on these efforts, we can then begin to organize and prioritize by short, medium and long-term goals, which we will then share with campus. In the end, I am accountable to you and I take the responsibility seriously.

As chancellor, I can’t fix racism alone. But I can do my part to ensure it doesn’t find safe harbor on our campus through silence, inaction, or inattention.

That’s my commitment to you.


Joe Steinmetz, Ph.D.