COLGATE TO “CROW-GATE”: A REPORT FROM THE DIVERSITY FRONT
Submitted by “Concerned Minority Faculty”
The diversity front on a college campus is arguably where the importance of shared governance is most critical. It is also where the demise of shared governance at Colgate University is most poignant. The fact that individual minority faculty and students at Colgate have shouldered the brunt of the diminution of representative governing processes may come as no surprise to those familiar with the dynamics of race and ethnicity beyond academe. What stands out in regard to what we see as a rapid decline of process at Colgate is that it is yielding the kind of racial-ethnic effects few would believe even possible in 2014, let alone at a place like Colgate University. We do not mean to suggest that these dynamics are new, nor that they are confined to Colgate. Indeed, certain of our administrators are often quick to assert that Colgate is doing no worse than other academic institutions on the diversity front. It is the case, however, that under this administration, we believe the university has not only ceased to move forward; but, worse, it has begun to move backward.
In what follows and based on our own collective experiences and perspectives, we endeavor to detail briefly several ways in which we believe that the assault on shared governance is disproportionally claiming minority casualties and, more generally, advancement on the diversity front at Colgate University.
Ignoring Sound Information. A critical goal of shared governance is ensuring the decision-making process is ordered on the basis of sound information. Faculty and staff are considered to bring enormous experience, expertise and informational insights to the table. They expand the analytical focus beyond the limited vision of a handful of administrators. In our view, the 2009 Campus Climate Survey offered this administration an opportunity to draw upon systematic data and trends on the minority experience here, and to develop diversity reforms that would address the many issues and problems brought to light by the survey. Though not perfectly, the survey represented the voice of faculty, staff and students at large. Instead of acting on the survey, this administration seems to have placed that critical piece of information about differential experience in a file cabinet, where it has since remained. The result is that diversity-related problems and concerns at Colgate University have worsened, in our estimation, thanks in no small part to the disregard for sound information. Some of us were amazed, even stunned by the apparent theatrics of top administrators as they sat at the student protest, listening to the horrendous stories of student-after-student, with pious faces of concern---as if the 2009 Campus Climate Survey had not already made abundantly clear much of the same. The students rightly asked: “can you hear us now?”
Concentration of Power: Under a shared governance scheme, ideally, decisions are made on the basis of broad and variegated participation, in a transparent fashion. On the diversity front at Colgate, we believe, the president has not taken into consideration the views of minority faculty. It can be argued the elimination of the Vice President of Institutional Diversity is a compelling example of this. This position was the culmination of years of community-wide efforts. It was produced most immediately by the leadership efforts of a newly-commissioned Executive Diversity Council, which was chaired by the then-Dean of the Faculty and Dean of the College. The Council spent three years holding forums, gathering information through campus surveys, examining longitudinal data with the help of outside experts in the field, and so much more. At the conclusion of this careful, deliberate, and well-informed process came a proposal to centralize the university’s diversity efforts at the executive level, as part of a larger strategic plan. Some will remember that the journey to creating the position actually goes back to the early 1990s when the university established an Ethics Committee to address diversity issues. The impetus was repeated requests from minority faculty for a high ranking university officer to monitor issues of diversity, requests that were voiced in numerous meetings with presidents. For many of us, creation of the Vice President of Institutional Diversity signalled the university’s commitment to diversity. The position was entrusted with a level of responsibility and autonomy that until then was absent from university administration. As such, its creation was a mark of hope and progress on the diversity front.
To be sure, well-intentioned people can (and did) disagree with whether this particular structural outcome was optimal. However and importantly, it was an outcome that was produced by a process in which literally hundreds of individuals were involved. It was the governance process at work, pulling in all of the pertinent perspectives and information points. One of this president’s first moves upon assuming his post was to eliminate the executive diversity position. It was gone in one fell swoop.
Public Image Trumps Problem-Solving: Shared governance is not without its weaknesses. The sometimes endless debate among faculty members in committee meetings is at least one aspect of shared governance that occasionally evokes criticism. This notwithstanding, what is almost always clear is that these deliberations are motivated by a collective interest in arriving at the best solution. On the diversity front at Colgate, rather than earnest deliberation and introspection, it seems to us that public image trumps problem-solving. Take for example the student protests. If the students had not succeeded in garnering media attention, would this administration have acted at all to address problems the students laid bare? A couple of indications suggest the answer is ‘no.’ One, this administration essentially sat on the 2009 campus climate survey as far as we can tell, a survey that told the same stories aired by the student protesters, though in a more systematic fashion. The problems had been brewing for some time, only in the shadows and not in full view of the general public. Two, we have lost count of the many diversity-centered emails from this administration that have come only since the student protest. Before that event, his only campus-wide email devoted to diversity was that of April 14, 2011, which ironically abolished the position of Vice President of Institutional Diversity.
Disregard for Procedure and Faculty Handbook Policy: The purpose of established policies and procedures in a system of shared governance is to ensure not only that the best and informed decisions and actions are undertaken, but also that fairness and equity are maintained in the process. Under this administration, we believe there is a disturbing pattern of wholesale disregard of procedures. It is one that has been faithfully noted by faculty across the campus, but also one that is proving to be acutely problematic for faculty and students of color. The two loci where we consider the disregard for procedure to be most egregious are the Equity Grievance Process and also the Student Grade Appeal Process.
Equity Grievance Process. A potentially troubling aspect of the Equity Grievance Process is that, at least on the surface, it seems that minority males, especially international males, are disproportionally charged, found guilty, and then expelled through the EGP process. Perhaps equally disturbing is that it is quite hard to get a straight answer from administrators regarding the numbers. At the September 2014 faculty meeting, Associate Provost for Equity and Diversity “noted that two men of color and two white men have been expelled as a result of EGP proceedings.” This means, men of color who comprise just 10% of the Colgate student body constituted half of those who were expelled as a result of the EGP proceedings according to just that report. We are told the process is in place to promote the safety of women, something we very strongly applaud. But, on a campus where the number of white males dwarf the number of minority males and where the chief diversity officer admits being “acutely aware of the problem of under-reporting of incidents of sexual assault” (Sept. Faculty Mtg.), would it not be prudent for the university to undertake a more concerted effort to encourage all alleged victims to come forward and report perpetrators, and not chiefly those who report minority perpetrators? Wouldn’t this be a bolder step toward protecting our female students? And, even where the university claims merely to respond to allegations, what stops it from carefully weighing evidence before proceeding – especially in cases where the university is the official complainant and the victim chooses to not participate? This, after all, is a critical feature of criminal jurisprudence in the real world, that is there are arraignments, preliminary hearings, evidentiary hearings, etc. that are mandated in order to spare defendants a full blown trial when the evidence is insufficient. Nonetheless, as in other areas, in the case of the EGP process too, we observe an administration content to leave important questions of equity and fairness to the attorneys. Finally, since the Obama administration requires the EGP process, Colgate seems to use that as a shield to claim it is complying with the Justice Department’s new guidelines. This is much like the ‘ole blame Obama for everything strategy; fine, but we should all be clear that the university is arguably building its reputation for making the campus safer on the backs of black and international males.
Grade Review Process. The grade review process offers another ripe area for exposing the racialized effects of what we see as this administration’s disregard for process and procedure. The vast majority of minority faculty whom we encounter can share stories of students challenging a grade either at the departmental level or at the divisional level. On the other hand, the vast majority of non-minority faculty probably cannot. In years past, some department chairs and division directors were careful to ensure that the grade appeal process did not reflexively channel the society-driven biases that certain of our students arrive here with. As well, some chairs and directors helped to ensure the appeal process was not used simply to punish faculty for upholding standards of excellence and high expectations. They did so by judiciously actuating the grade review process, such as moving forward only when submission of an assignment was not in question. It is our opinion that, in recent times, almost any and everything goes. Moreover, given the disproportional representation of faculty of color among those subject to grade reviews, by extension, it is faculty of color who primarily suffer from abuse of the grade review process. Critically, we believe the recent mishandling is tied chiefly to the decisions of the associate deans of the faculty, more so than the department chairs and division directors in whom the Faculty Handbook chiefly entrusts the grade review process. Two recent examples of such intervention both involved faculty of color who were pressured to change their grades and/or policies; one of these challenges involved an individual assignment grade in mid-semester. While the details cannot be shared because of the confidentiality surrounding student work, we contend that these two disturbing examples mark not only a departure from clearly delineated Handbook procedure, but they are also without precedent. In both instances, it just so happens that women faculty of color were on the receiving end.
Administrative Excess. We agree with many who would label the just-described incidents as manifestations of administrative excess, which itself is yet another nail in the coffin of shared governance. According to an inset of A Better Colgate in a recent Maroon News issue, the number of non-faculty staff at Colgate has increased 157% in the past decade, compared to an 8% increase for faculty. Of course, these newly-acquired administrators must do something to justify their posts, which too often means more “decision-making” and more intrusiveness. Admittedly, grade review decisions affecting minority faculty seldom result in a reversal. However, what the process itself and the administrative excess manifested therein do produce is a very different kind of reality for faculty of color. It would be impossible to fully convey the devastating effects of repeated grade reviews such as these. Among other things, they undermine faculty judgment, competence, and pedagogical authority (and professional authority). We decline even to try to concretize the lifelong damage rendered by the university’s EGP process to those unfairly charged and expelled through that process. The abuse of grade reviews forces many of us to incessantly document every decision, every grade, and every communication. The racialized effects of the EGP process in turn have a chilling effect on the sense of belonging and security that minority males can claim. In short, given the low regard for process and procedure, faculty of color must “brace ourselves” for regular challenges to our teaching experience and competence. Students of color operate under a cloud unlike that hovering over their non-minority counterparts, as they endeavored to highlight in the recent protest.
Non-Representativeness. Implicit in many campus governance systems is the idea that representativeness is more than just a matter of right in the legalistic sense, but it is a matter of right also in the sense that it helps to ensure that a broad spectrum of voices weigh in on university operations. People from different backgrounds will offer different vantage points. For this reason, governance committees are composed of faculty from across the disciplines and from different ranks. As well, the university has more recently claimed to value diversity in hiring and appointments. Yet, ironically, this is arguably the whitest, least representative administration at Colgate University in recent memory. None of the associate deans of the faculty is from a racial or ethnic minority group, nor are the deans of the faculty and college, nor are any of the appointed members of the dean’s advisory council.
The Diffusion of Administrative Excess. The diffusion of a culture of procedural impropriety and administrative excess is what ultimately dooms the vitality of shared governance. Without the aiding and abetting of other members of the Colgate community, it would have been impossible for this administration to carry out the considerable damage to collegiality that we believe has occurred. It is a one-man show that requires props, stage hands, etc. As a case in point, the grade reviews and the many infractions that we assert have occurred are most immediately the work of those charged with overseeing the grade appeal process. The EGP process that is producing the apparently uneven racial outcomes could not function without the aiding and abetting of longtime faculty and staff who endorse its decisional outcomes. It is this diffusion of a culture of administrative excess that we believe fundamentally undergirds the demise of faculty governance and its disadvantageous effects on minority faculty and students. A book titled The Strange Career of Jim Crow asserts there was more Jim Crow practiced in the South than was ever written in that region’s law books during the segregation era. Jim Crow was deeply embedded and abided within that region’s culture. Hence, we title this piece: From Colgate to Crow-Gate.
In closing, a word about who we are and whom we represent is in order. We do not purport to speak for all faculty of color, nor do we suggest that the foregoing represents the entirety of the minority experience at Colgate University. We could not ask for brighter, more inspiring and more conscientious students than those we have the privilege to teach. We value and lean on our department colleagues and find in many of them a ready place of support and encouragement. Still, what we offer here is a commentary on the state of governance and diversity at Colgate as we see it, and on the basis of our combined experience of 125+ years at Colgate---as associate and full professors, across the disciplines, and with widely varied ideological and political perspectives. We believe that Colgate University has the potential to set a new national standard for faculty diversity in academia, but only if a number of pressing issues for faculty of color are judiciously and expeditiously addressed, including some not discussed here, such as: equity in faculty hiring, promotion and tenure; equity in faculty access to teaching and research funds and support; and, equity in intra-departmental leadership. Given our real fear of retaliation, a fear that many have already realized the hard way, some of us decline to identify ourselves in this public forum. We assure the reader that our identities, as we have described them, have been revealed through our Colgate email addresses to the editor for this blog. Our ultimate goal is to raise public awareness about our experience on the diversity front, as shared governance is whittled away at Colgate University.
The above post does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the AAUP membership or that of its officers, nor does inclusion of the post on this website constitute an endorsement by the Colgate chapter of the AAUP.