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April 14, 2016

Provost declares 2016-17 “Year of Diversity”

Provost Patty Beeson

Provost Patricia Beeson

The upcoming academic year will be the Year of Diversity at Pitt, Provost Patricia E. Beeson announced in her closing remarks at the Senate plenary session.

“It’s going to be a year that we’re going to celebrate difference; a year when we’re going to engage in conversations about difference: about cultural difference, academic difference and political differences,” she said. “I hope we can use that year to renew our commitment not just to academic freedom as an individual right to speak, but also to the importance of engaging in ideas and views that are different from our own.

A Senate Council task force on diversity and inclusion had called upon the University to name 2016-17 the Year of Diversity as part of its recommendations for making Pitt a more inclusive campus. (See Feb. 18 University Times.)

“I’m looking forward to the year in which we can continue discussions like the one we had today,” Beeson said, thanking those who planned the plenary session “for having the foresight to think of academic freedom as something we need to talk about regularly, not just when an issue arises.”

The University is about having conversations, discussions and debate, she said. “We’re about having a group of people engage in ideas and positions that are not necessarily aligned with our own. That’s how we advance knowledge and that’s how we advance our educational mission.”

Beeson acknowledged that in addition to affirming First Amendment rights and individual rights to academic freedom, “we also strive to create a community that engages in conversations that involve difference, conversations where we engage diverse points of view. We should be a place where these positions are aired and discussed, appreciated and brought to the fore.”

She said, “We know that to advance our research, we have to engage with people who think differently than we do about the topic that we’re looking at. When we think about educating our students to become impactful contributors to our society, we need to model civil discourse for them. We need to purposely help them become expert in developing and stating their opinions, even if they’re not popular opinions.

“We have to appreciate the value of listening, not just talking — and listening and learning from and engaging with people whose views are different than their own. We need to help them learn when it’s useful to engage in those discussions, and maybe sometimes it’s not quite so useful to engage in them.”

Beeson lamented the polarization that inhibits discourse in today’s society.

“Part of the problem I think is that it’s become too easy to become insular: to read and listen to news outlets that incorporate the same biases that we have,” she said. “And I think it’s not just the world out there that concerns me. I’m concerned about universities as well, and the extent to which we have not actively pursued ideas that are different from our own.

“Universities need to be leaders in creating that environment … where different opinions are not only tolerated because of academic freedom, but an environment in which those different opinions are actually explored and sought out so that we can advance our mission of teaching and research.

“This isn’t just something that we should do on some occasions. It’s something that we should do all the time because it’s so important to our mission.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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