I am purposely writing this blog on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020,because in Illinois this day was designated a state holiday in support of voting and civic engagement. This blog is my way of having not a day off but a day on.
I have been asked to write about one of the most important matters challenging our society today—racism and social injustice. As an educator and a civically engaged citizen, I believe we will never fully realize “this great experiment of democracy” until we fully realize the common cause for justice. We cannot have justice until we reduce racism to such a level that the civic life of our society can conduct itself in a forward and consistent fashion to ensure that all people, no matter their race, can expect and receive the fruits and benefits of our society.
You may fault me for not committing to eradicating racism from our society. It’s just, at this moment in time, with all that our world and country have experienced, I will take it as a win to reduce racism to a point where those who hold racist views are so pressured to keep those views to themselves and not inflict them upon the rest of us.
So, what does this mean for a public university like UIS?
It means that a public university must be a place that, to the greatest extent possible, does not in its policies, practices or programs instill any racial disparate treatment and/or impact.
We are here by and for the entire public. All citizens. It is incumbent upon the university itself to become aware and remove any racist structures within the university.
As such, I issued as one of my top priorities this year to work with university and system leaders, faculty, staff, students, alumni and community leaders to build upon UIS’ efforts that advance our values of integrity, civic engagement, diversity, strategic thinking and accountability through our teaching, learning, research and service.
To advance this priority, an Anti-Racism and Social Justice Taskforce was formed with good and thoughtful faculty, staff and students. The Taskforce is first reviewing university policies and procedures and will recommend the further review/changes to any policies and procedures that would remove systemic racism from within the university. The Taskforce will provide updates to the Chancellor’s Cabinet with suggestions for action, followed by a final report of recommendations.
Many may find even this effort underwhelming. It’s not terribly flashy in that it does not in itself offer bright and shiny programs or things that initially make people feel good. It does, however, go to the core of how institutions like universities operate. We are guided by our policies and procedures. It is from examining and, where warranted, changing those core operations that I believe ensures and institutionalizes a just university for all stakeholders.
I am hopeful that the Taskforce will either confirm that the university has a good solid “just core” or that there will be policies and procedures that must be reviewed and addressed in order for UIS to continue to live its commitments to provide a student-centered educational experience both in and out of the classroom through active learning, meaningful research and impactful civic engagement that prepares graduates to contribute fully to society.
Now is the time for all leaders and particularly leaders of public colleges and universities to courageously examine their universities with the commitment to proactively root out any vestiges of structural racism. I am committed to working with the Taskforce and the leadership of the university to these most noble and important purposes.