Dear Interim President Moffitt and Interim Provost Woodruff-Borden,
We, the United Academics Faculty of Color, Working Families, and Pride Caucuses, are writing to address the IDEAL climate survey and the steps taken in response to it. We are concerned with the approach taken to date, particularly with the messaging that the bulk of the work will fall to the faculty themselves, who, as noted in the survey, already feel overburdened. We believe some issues are crucial enough that they can’t wait.
As you know, on June 4, 2022, faculty received our first communication addressing the results of the survey, which were poor: “…it is clear that while employees report some positive experiences, the overall initial results are humbling and affirm that we have more work to do.” Faculty were told that the administration was committed to “redoubling” its efforts and to “ensur[ing] that the UO climate is the best that it can be.” Additionally, an Analysis Committee and an Action Committee were “already hard at work.”
Five months later, November 16, 2022, we received our second communication and update from then interim president Phillips, assuring us that “the work to improve our campus culture is well underway.” Thus far, this work has resulted in the creation of four more groups to address several identified key areas in need of improvement:
- Employee engagement and onboarding
- Response, reporting, and antidiscrimination
- Faculty service, promotion, and tenure
We were told we would hear from each group in the “coming days and weeks” about their work to identify strategies, resources, tools, and activities to address the climate survey findings. We have yet to hear anything from these groups. Likewise, Phillips was happy to share that the Deans of the Colleges now have the Gallup survey data, and would start doing the work for each college.
The November update was a foreshadowing that the bulk of the work to improve our campus climate would actually fall on faculty the employees themselves. A third update, sent February 22, 2023, reiterated November’s message and provided a Presidential website with even less information about what has been accomplished, yet Phillips informed us that we were now ready to move on to the next phase. But from our vantage point, the first phase amounted to only two brief data presentations and the establishment of the four working groups.
Where we are today is that we should: “…expect to hear from the vice president or dean of your division, school, or college about their plans to share the results and conduct unit-level action planning. …. Everyone will be asked to participate in action planning. … This will be a continual process of work, improvement, assessment, and more work. We are providing support for leaders and their teams to assist with unit-based discussions and action planning.”
Some units have received communications from their deans, and some departments have begun to examine their unit’s climate survey data and develop action plans. But unit-by-unit strategic action plans will require painful and strained discussions, in which those who are marginal in those units will have to endure the very conversations that contributed to the poor results of the climate survey in the first place. Such an approach will work in units where collegial, full participation and strategizing is beneficial to all of its employees, but those units appear to be in the minority. Strategic action plans must be treated with caution; seldom are they truly authentic in actually capturing all of the dynamics and issues within a unit.
Additionally, employees were promised complete confidentiality: “It is also important to reassure employees that the survey is strictly confidential. Survey responses will not be shared with anyone at the university in any way that might identify survey respondents.” As units receive their unit-level survey data, however, the few employees who have been vocal concerning issues in their department are finding their identities exposed. Some units are so small it is virtually impossible for findings to remain confidential.
As we await the arrival of our new president, it is an opportune moment to address the cultural climate of the University of Oregon in meaningful ways. We have some suggestions for meaningful ways to move forward, beginning with upper administration accountability and transparency. We realize some of these suggestions are not new, but they bear repeating.
- We need an established formal office to deal with intersectional inequities and discrimination. The Office of Investigation and Civil Rights Compliance (OICRC) is, in effect, a Title IX office that does not deal with the ubiquitous and multilayered forms of inequities employees face. The former Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity and the Bias Response Team attempted to support employees and students concerning issues specifically related to minoritized communities, such as investigations of bias and implicit bias, abuse of power, and patterns of hostility and/or cultural incompetence by unit supervisors. It offered a broader capacity for employees to seek institutional support and recourse.
- ADA compliance is unclear: Approval and enactment of accommodations often is lengthy or does not happen in a timely manner for employees seeking accommodations. A position in HR specializing in ADA compliance and accommodation as its core responsibility would do much to create a welcoming and accommodating culture for employees with disabilities, rather than merely applying the “letter of the law.” Supervisors need training on understanding ADA compliance and how to help employees who seek accommodations.
- We have recognized the lack of a critical mass of minoritized faculty for decades. Our record demonstrates that we can’t solve this issue by only taking half measures. We need to prioritize hiring through cluster hires and reward programs with strong retention records. We need to establish remediation measures for “problem departments” who cannot retain minoritized faculty. When faculty experience repeated patterns of conflict, they should be allowed to move out of hostile working situations. Expecting the affected faculty member to endure untenable situations while you “work with the department head to address problematic dynamics” is not a viable solution and only leads to their departure. In the past decade, several minority faculty members have written open letters to administrators explaining their painful decision to leave the UO, outlining the incompetence of leadership to address departments with problematic patterns. Giving the Division of Equity and Inclusion the responsibility to work directly with “problem units” to establish “improvement plans” with benchmarks and means of assessment for improvement could help address these areas.
- Commit to the retention of faculty. There is a commonly stated, and false, narrative that “faculty of color just don’t want to live in Eugene, Oregon.” While it is true that Eugene and the UO are demographically challenging and the University of Oregon is a predominantly white institution, faculty of color want and need jobs just like everyone else. The UO possesses a fairly collegial faculty body with a practice of cross department collaboration that is an attractive factor to many. Yet some faculty of color with extended family in Oregon have felt compelled to leave, even taking a pay cut, because of work conditions. Too often faculty see their colleagues devalued, disrespected, and disregarded when their department heads and deans make little effort to retain them or to demonstrate their value to the UO. We need committed retention efforts that demonstrate that we value the faculty of color we hire. For full transparency, the administration should provide the number of departures by race and gender and the retention efforts that were offered. Providing leave-without-pay for faculty with protected status who leave for other universities, a minimum of two quarters, with the possibility for a third quarter if the faculty chooses to return is essential.
For more information on the experiences of Faculty of Color, please see CODAC’s 2022 “Voices of University of Oregon Faculty of Color: External Consultant’s Active Retention Report,” and for additional strategies for active retention, please see the numerous reports provided by the CODAC Active Retention Initiative. Faculty of color exposed and displayed their trauma for the creation of these reports and we have yet to the see the administration acknowledge and implement substantial changes. Retention efforts need to take a holistic approach where efforts to provide better on-boarding and mentorship is fortified by actual changes in structural and cultural climate with accountability by unit leaders, college deans, and upper administrators.
- Establish a transparent, programmatic plan for partner hires that is fair and equitable and does not interfere with other department hiring decisions or plans. Departments should receive permission to hire in particular fields when the partner does not fulfill the department’s needs. Decisions about partner hires should not be made on the basis of a department’s independent funds or ability to raise money in grants so as not to penalize smaller departments without much funding from the university or outside grants.
- The administration must challenge heteronormative cultures and structures that impact employee’s experiences within their units in the day-to-day. This can range from homophobic or misgendering microaggressions to problematic assumptions about caregiving responsibilities. Caregiving needs to be seen as essential aspects in the lives of employees and the pandemic has exacerbated existing shortages and availability of affordable quality care. Care systems need to be understood in broader understandings of “family” and kinship. Caregiving challenges and support needs to be included in all surveys and strategies regarding campus climate.
- We need to accept and acknowledge that not all administrators and supervisors should be in the positions they occupy. At times people are pulled into administration with little training or knowledge of their leadership style, which has led to poor climate and mass departures. Do not underestimate the damage and harm a culturally incompetent dean can inflict on the morale of a college’s faculty. The university’s respectful workplace policies are too narrowly applied to faculty concerns about deans who behave in demeaning and dismissive patterns. A fundamental issue with the Gallup Climate Survey of the University Employees was the confusion and blurring of the employees’ individual unit with the larger administration (e.g., deans and provosts). Few questions addressed employees’ relations, experiences, and perspectives with the larger administration. If a dean is inaccessible or culturally incompetent, it impacts the culture and climate of a college or school immediately. A good first step would be an audit of every administrative unit; for example, the CAS dean’s office, for its entirety, has been 100% white leadership.
- Most of the diversity efforts celebrated by our administration have been created and generated through the hard work and collaborative efforts of invested BIPOC faculty. Faculty of color engage in mentorship, consultation, and program development through years of experience and research in higher education. Recognizing research-informed service and this often invisible labor through structured incentivization and compensation would do much for campus climate and retention efforts.
As we embark on this “next phase” of the Climate survey, it is the ideal time to rethink any added labor imposed on the employees who often are experiencing a poor institutional climate. We understand 55% of employees completed the survey, despite our efforts to encourage our colleagues to have their voices heard. But many expressed a great deal of skepticism concerning what would come of the results, and to date their skepticism is justified. We have provided suggestions to address the issues that do not place additional burdens on employees who are already exhausted trying to fix deep-seated problems in their departments and colleges. We can’t afford to delay taking action to demonstrate a real commitment to improving the campus climate, especially for those in minoritized groups.
The United Academics Faculty of Color, Pride, and Working Families Caucuses