Chancellor’s Corner: Campus Culture & Moving Forward

I want to thank so many of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who have reached out to me over the past several weeks as we work to address racial justice and diversity issues. I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts and feelings with me and other members of the university community.

Some of the discussions have been painful. Other conversations have been hopeful, but all of these exchanges have been beneficial. As we approach the fall semester, opportunities will be offered to participate in multiple conversations, external training and programming centered on the cultural climate across UT Martin.

Words are important but have little meaning without action. The following initiatives are among those in process and will drive our work for the 2020-21 academic year.

  • Hire a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer:  This new position is a recommendation made earlier this year by the Strategic Plan Goal 3 Implementation Task Force. This leadership position will serve as an adviser for our university in the areas of inclusion and cultural awareness. This is a cabinet-level position that will report directly to me and will assist our senior leadership with all matters related to our diversity initiatives. This role is that of a full-time culture champion for our university, and I’m extremely excited to see what develops.
  • Create a Diversity Statement and Develop a Diversity Strategic Plan: The Strategic Plan Goal 3 Implementation Task Force has been busy this spring working on UT Martin’s first diversity statement, which has been submitted to our cabinet for vetting. The task force’s current work is focused on the establishment of a comprehensive and clearly articulated university-wide diversity plan. This process will involve faculty, staff and students across the university and provide measurables for accountability.
  • Academic Affairs
    • Review Proposals for New Courses on Race and Diversity through the Faculty Senate: In June, former Faculty Senate President Dr. Philip Smartt sent out a call to the faculty for course proposals that would address race and diversity across the curriculum. The new Faculty Senate president, Dr. Sean Walker, has already initiated many fruitful conversations with faculty, staff, students and alumni and solicited proposals.
    • Increase Faculty Diversity: The university welcomes three new Black faculty members in August for the 2020-21 academic year: one each in criminal justice, teacher education and the Paul Meek Library. Austin Ferrell, lecturer and coordinator of the Call Me MiSTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) program, joined the faculty in mid-2019.
  • Student Affairs
    • Continue Captain’s Courageous Conversations: These opportunities will engage students in meaningful and challenging conversations around racial justice and other diversity issues.
    • Create a Bias Reporting Process: This process will allow students to notify the university of incidents of bias they witness on campus.
  • Recruit and Retain Diverse Faculty and Staff: The university currently engages in various employee recruitment efforts to attract diverse faculty and staff. Advertisements in publications, websites and distribution lists appeal to diverse populations. Recruitment through professional organizations and conference attendance provides additional opportunities. The Office of Human Resources will collaborate with the Diversity and Inclusion Goal Strategic Planning Implementation Team to develop a comprehensive recruitment and retention plan to augment the campus diversity plan.
  • Enhance University Safety: The safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors is of paramount importance to all of us at UT Martin. We’re in the final stages of selecting a new Director of Public Safety, a position critical to leading the safe operation of our university. I’m encouraged by the depth and breadth of experience in the candidate pool. Additionally, we plan to complete installation of new security cameras all across campus by the end of July, adding an additional 210 cameras to provide increased monitoring of our university grounds.
  • Engage Our Community: We will involve our City of Martin Town and Gown Association to strengthen our relationships with partners and allies across Martin and Weakley County.

We have much work to do over the next few weeks and months, but I am excited about the road ahead. We have faced challenges, and it’s up to us to turn them into opportunities. However, I cannot make these changes alone, and it will take all of us working together to confront racism head on. Please keep the lines of communication open with me. The lives of our Black students, faculty, staff and alumni matter, and we are doing everything we can to remain engaged in the fight against racism and hatred.

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