UO to launch a new center focused on racial disparities

From Around the O, Oct. 12, 2020 — Provost and Senior Vice President Patrick Phillips announced the launch of a series of initiatives to combat racism and enhance inclusion on campus, including the creation of a new research and policy center focused on racial disparities and resilience.

A new racial dispariies intiative at the UO will bring in a dozen new faculty members and create a new institute on campus. Above: A peaceful BLM protest in New Jersey in June.

The five-year effort to create the new academic center includes hiring 12 additional faculty members with research expertise in understanding and addressing racial disparities in areas such as health, education, housing, employment and wealth. The center will be funded by at least $3 million from the UO President’s Fund for Excellence. Another $8 million will come from new faculty lines from each of the schools and colleges.

“Central to this effort is the core belief that diversity of background, thought, and perspective is an absolute necessity for building academic excellence in the face of a rapidly changing world and increasingly pluralistic society,” Phillips said in a message sent to the UO community. “Combating systematic racism in society is a moral imperative, one for which universities must be leaders, not observers.”

The other diversity-focused initiatives include a new effort to retain underrepresented faculty, staff and students by seeking to understand and address racial climate issues; the recent creation of new Black and Latinx minors; and a commitment to require and provide more information about efforts that improve employee diversity.

In the wake of the recent killings of Black people at the hands of white police officers and the resulting racial justice activism, Phillips began consulting with faculty members, staff and students about meaningful action the university could take to address systemic racism and improve the campus climate as it pertains to diversity.

Under Phillips’ plan, the new Center on Racial Disparities and Resilience will be a cross-disciplinary effort, and will hire a dozen faculty spread across the schools and colleges. “Focusing on research that addresses real-world issues fits in well with my vision of a university that leans into its critical role in society, as well as providing pathways for students who are hungry to make a difference as they help to build the future they want to see,” Phillips said.

In addition, up to six additional new positions, not affiliated with the center, will be hired in departments with historically underrepresented faculty.

“The University of Oregon has always been committed to diversity and inclusion, but one thing that I have heard very clearly from faculty and students, particularly our Black students and other students of color, is that we need to dramatically diversify our faculty,” Phillips said. “I agree and am very much looking forward to working with stakeholders both on and off campus to get this initiative launched.”

The Office of the Provost will also partner with the UO’s Division of Equity and Inclusion to launch a new “active retention” initiative led by Charlotte Moats-Gallagher, director of the Center on Diversity and Community).

“For the university to increase diversity and inclusion, we need to not only hire faculty and staff of color but be able to retain them, too,” Moats-Gallagher said. “Why do people leave and why do the stay at the UO despite the difficulties they encounter? The active retention initiative will build the university’s collective institutional understanding about retention best practices and create focused priorities that foster organizational commitment, thoughtful learning about culture and climate, and innovative action.”

The provost anticipates many of the faculty members hired as part of the racial disparities initiative will teach courses related to the new Black studies minor. A number of faculty members specializing in Latinx studies will support the Latinx studies minor, and the university intends to continue strengthening that cohort.

The university will hire a third-party consultant as part of the initiatives to anonymously interview current and former faculty members of color, with the goal of more clearly understanding the challenges they face. The independent process aims to minimize perceived inequities of power and potential consequences, inviting faculty members to honestly and fully inform the institutional response.

A new program being launched by the Division of Undergraduate Education and Student Success, sponsored in part by the Office of the Provost, will use data analytic and machine learning approaches to develop an action plan to address the ongoing opportunity gap for Black students and other students of color. Recommendations from this program will be applied to curriculum universitywide.

The University Senate recently undertook a resolution against racism and systemic oppression that will lead to work on the issue of classroom climate. Its work will be guided by examining student-faculty interactions that leave many students of color feeling unwelcome.

Finally, Phillips committed to scrutinizing hiring and training practices, along with tracking faculty and staff diversity metrics at the unit level. He plans to hold himself, unit heads and other academic leaders accountable.

“The times demand that we find our way forward to become actively anti-racist,” Phillips said, “to move beyond the comfort of regular institutional processes geared toward addressing diversity issues and, in particular, to no longer tolerate a glacial pace of progress.”

—By Jennifer Winters and Anna Glavash, University Communications