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March 31, 2016

Council discussion focuses on diversity, inclusion

Senate Council wrestled last week with the challenge of how to develop a University-wide statement of values that promotes inclusion yet respects freedom. Council agreed that a diversity and inclusion task force should continue in its work, while endeavoring to broaden input from members of the University community.

The group, comprised of faculty, staff, students and administrators, has been at work since Chancellor Patrick Gallagher challenged Senate Council last fall to help devise a strategy for expanding campus dialogue on diversity and inclusion. (See Nov. 25, 2015, University Times.)

At the task force’s recommendation, Council took a break from its usual business March 23 to focus discussion on diversity and inclusion.

Also among the group’s recommendations was the creation of a statement of values — perhaps based on the Pitt Promise ( in which undergraduate students promise to uphold standards of civility, responsibility and integrity.

University Senate President Frank Wilson, a member of the group, said the value statement would provide “a platform of basic core concepts we can agree on,” including such fundamentals as “academic freedom, freedom of speech, respectful treatment of others, willingness to accept and engage ideas and propositions that are not ours — that we may find personally offensive from time to time. We need to have a platform from which to have these kinds of discussions,” he said.

Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement, chief of staff and Board of Trustees secretary, who also serves on the group, said that having a system in place “puts us in a better position immediately to respond to what we believe as a community is inappropriate behavior.”

Several participants urged against attempting to list qualifiers for diversity and inclusion, citing the risk of excluding some members of the community.

Faculty Assembly member Cindy Tananis said: “I think it’s really important that the tone of whatever we say needs to be positive, proactive and inclusive rather than

deficit-based,” adding that a statement of values can provide an overall feeling of what an institution or community is about. “I would like to see it not get bogged down in a lot of detail but be a very positive, inclusive, proactive kind of statement,” she said.

Pitt-Greensburg President Sharon Smith agreed, suggesting: “We respect and honor differences as a way of increasing understanding and knowledge” as part of a simple statement.

Said Faculty Assembly member Seth Weinberg, “The hardest part will be grappling with free speech issues and issues of things like civility and respect. To some extent there are places where they legitimately conflict with one another.”

He asked that diversity of ideas and perspectives be included in any definition of diversity.

Faculty Assembly member Michael Goodhart said the University “needs to create an environment in which all members of the community feel fully included. That means actually understanding and respecting, at the individual level and institutional level, the multiplicity of identities and ways of being in the world and interpreting the world that are represented on our campus. And it means, crucially, positive measures to enable the success of every member of our community.

“In addition, we need to create an environment in which all members of this community can fearlessly pursue knowledge of all kinds in our research, in our classrooms and other learning environments, in our residence halls and throughout our community. And in which the members of this community can follow their own consciences in their civic lives,” Goodhart said.

He acknowledged that those two points conflict, suggesting forums for discussing exactly what those difficulties are. “We’ve got to figure it out, because that’s the challenge,” he said.

Chancellor Gallagher noted that every organization has values that are manifested in how that organization behaves.

“If you think about what values would we say are important to us … it seems to me it comes down to the thing that brought us all together in the first place: our mission,” he said.

“We’re here to educate and to do scholarship. And the most important values of all are the ones that are essential to being successful at that,” he said.
“It’s vital to our vitality as a University that we be open. We’re creating opportunities, we’re going to educate all; we have to be open to new lines of thought and expression,” he said.

“If we follow those values in a way that represses and makes us less vital as a place of learning and discovery, then we haven’t done the right thing.

“Bringing that out in the open will be the best way to balance” a complicated set of values.

The chancellor addressed the issue of accountability, stressing that while it’s most often thought of in the context of an individual’s responsibility to the institution, accountability is bidirectional.

A value statement also may serve to hold the institution accountable, the chancellor said. “Part of that accountability may be restraint: That the institution be very cautious about certain roles that it takes for fear of violating the values,” he said.

“We’re trying to get at the question of why these things matter,” Gallagher said. “It seems to me it comes back to what we are: a place of learning, a place of discovery.

“If we come back and always touch that, I think we’re going to end up making more right decisions than wrong decisions as we go through the very human process of struggling with these things.”

In the interest of including additional voices in the conversation, Gallagher offered to organize focus groups and other discussions to augment the existing groups’ discussions.

Wilson said the group would report its progress at the final Senate Council meeting of the academic year, May 18.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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