About Our Office
I am writing to share with you the Office of Diversity and Community - Highlights Report. It describes the initial efforts to address, enhance and invigorate Teachers College's (TC) engagement of diversity, community and civility issues. The report describes the following: 1. The Office of Diversity and Community; 2. The activities of the past year; 3. The challenges that TC faces regarding diversity, community and civility. Lastly, the report identifies five broad themes for 2002-2003.
THE OFFICE OF DIVERSITY AND COMMUNITY
After a yearlong search by a committee representing all campus constituents, I began my duties as Assistant and Special Counsel, Office of Diversity and Community in January 2001. As many of you may recall, this position and office were created in response to the recommendations of the President's 1999 Diversity Task Force Report. As a TC alumna (M.A.; Ed.M), and an educator with sixteen years in professional school and undergraduate education, as well as an attorney with trial and appellate experience, I was enthusiastic about returning to Teachers College.
The first year was spent developing and structuring the new position, all while meeting, listening, learning, advising and implementing initiatives. The Office of Diversity and Community is focusing on enhancing the diversity, community and civility climate of TC by addressing concerns from students, staff, faculty and alumni. These concerns often overlap with potential legal issues (i.e. discrimination, due process, retaliation, equity). All of which are interwoven into fundamental diversity and community concerns. The philosophy is to focus on systemic issues by addressing policy and procedural weaknesses throughout the college with TC's policymakers. Ultimately, change will occur at the institution's core and simultaneously, the plethora of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, class, and personnel issues will begin to dissipate. The institution will function more effectively and in a more trusting fashion.
Late fall 2001, on the advice of outside counsel, President Levine shortened the position's title to Special Counsel to the President, Office of Diversity and Community to reflect the broader responsibilities and approach taken to addressing the issues of community and diversity at the College. Given the range of issues and concerns that surface in my work, as TC's special counsel, the attorney-client privilege attaches to my work product and conversations with TC community members in my role as an attorney affording the institution greater confidentiality and protection. The role, for which I was hired, to lead the institution's diversity, community and civility initiatives, remains the same.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE OFFICE OF DIVERSITY AND COMMUNITY
- Develop a vision and lead institutional initiatives in diversity, community and civility building in collaboration with all TC community members.
- Chair, The Committee for Community and Diversity.
- Provide legal counsel, guidance and strategies. Liaison with outside counsel. Assist in the development and coordination of legal responses. Ensure institutional compliance with nondiscrimination policies.
- Interim Ombudsperson - mediate and satisfactorily resolve academic and administrative conflicts between students and faculty; staff and management where appropriate.
- Engage in decision-making with senior staff regarding college policy, procedures and administrative matters.
- Serve on college committees including Access and Barrier Removal (Disabilities), Affirmative Action, Faculty Executive Committee's (FEC) Subcommittee on Race, Culture and Diversity, Safety.
- Serve on Minority Post-doctoral Fellows Selection Committee.
- Facilitate senior staff meetings and develop agendas with president.
ACTIVITIES: OFFICE OF DIVERSITY AND COMMUNITY
The following activities were performed in collaboration with the Committee for Community and Diversity:
- Developed and implemented presidential college-wide grant program for diversity and community projects/activities. Five proposals funded.
- Developed and implemented research grant program for students engaged in diversity issues. Two $3,000 grants awarded spring 2002.
- Sponsored fall 2001 programming: "A Series of College Conversations," presented:
- Strengthening Our Community: Communicating Across Differences;
- Conversations with President Levine - opportunity for college community to address issues with president in a large seminar setting;
- Civil Liberties and Terrorism: The Balance - Lawyers from the ACLU and the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy addressed issues post September 11th.
- Reviewed Boy Scouts of America - addressed conflict with TC non-discrimination policy and hosting TC chartered troop.
- Designed and conducted a governance tutorial for CCD members. Invited Board of Trustees co-chair, senior faculty member (FEC) and Interim VP and Dean (former department chair). Developed governance tutorial materials.
- Sponsored luncheon for thirty (30) TC community members at CU Faculty House (groups of five).
- Sponsored community breakfasts and lunch for TC faculty and staff with easy activities to enhance conversations across work boundaries (faculty-professional-union staffs).
- Spearheaded creation of more inclusive monthly telephone directory (October/November) with free distribution to faculty and staff.
Purpose - address weak college-wide communication issues; provide everyone with ability to locate colleagues with inclusive, updated information; encourage feelings of belonging to whole community. Encouraged Human Resources to publish and distribute free in spring 2002.
- Developed Student Face Book (for entering spring, summer and fall 2001 students) published and distributed in March 2002.
Purpose - to publish regularly; develop sense of belonging, identification and communication; last face book published in 1999.
- Develop Faculty/Staff Face Book -2002-2003
- Develop Annual Speaker Series -2002-2003
- Develop Communication Action Planning Meeting - fall 2002. Identify issues and weaknesses; develop college-wide actions to improve.
The office also supported the following activities (not inclusive):
- Native American Educators Conference at TC
- Thanksgiving Dinner for International Students and TC Community
- Union Holiday Party
- Africa in an Age of Globalization Conference
- Faculty Diversity Fellows
- Professor Konowitz's Music & Kids at TC with Spirit, Growing up Free: The Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (for Harlem and Washington Heights public school students)
- Two Receptions for Union Members
- Three Receptions for Professional Staff Members
- Research for Academic Grievance Policy Review
- Computers and Training for Facilities/Security staff
Purpose - to provide equitable opportunity for computer use. TC had failed to provide computer access to the facilities/security personnel while all other community members had some regular access. The facilities/security staff is primarily minority and unionized. College-wide communications occurred on the TC community email. A committee of union members and management worked productively to develop a computer use policy during work hours; bought and placed several computers for union members' use around the campus; provided email addresses and training during work hours and agreed upon a breach of use policy. Although the computer use has slowed, the opportunity to have full access to TC's central communication vehicle addresses inequitable work issues, and festering race and class issues.
- Spring 2002 Thursday Luncheon Series to address post 9/11 stress
- Winter Roundtable - spring 2002
The purpose of the ombudsperson is to attempt an informal resolution of a student's dissatisfaction of an academic or administrative nature as requested by the student. As a result of the interim ombudsperson assignment to the Office of Diversity and Community, assistance was provided not only to students but to faculty, staff and alumni as well. The responsibilities of the ombudsperson, the diversity and community office and potential legal issues often intersected. Issues were handled in a confidential manner and satisfactory results were often obtained for all parties through good will and mediation. From February 2001 through August 2002, 141 cases were brought to the ombudsperson. Through August 2002, there were 82 remaining open cases including a total of 54 student cases. The remaining cases involved staff, alumni, faculty and other (non-TC affiliated).
As of fall 2002 the ombudsperson responsibilities for students were assigned to a part-time ombudsperson, Dr. Erwin Flaxman. He is, currently, the Associate Director of IUME. I will continue to provide informal assistance to staff, faculty and alumni for concerns they wish to bring to my attention.
Challenges to the Improvement of Diversity-Community-Civility Raised by the Community
As TC works toward improving diversity, community and civility and making it fully interwoven into the fabric of the college, the following issues and desires were raised by different segments of our community:
- The need to value students more
- The need to value pre-tenured faculty more
- The need to have more even implementation of decisions
- The need to have the College operate less in silos and thus have more effective and efficient collaborations
- The need to enhance College-wide communications - provide more consistent, connected, error free systems and share information readily
- The need to be civil to all community members regularly-speak to colleagues, respond to emails, provide feedback, be direct
- The need to have due process regularly applied and prevent shifting standards after procedure commences
- The need to eliminate the conditions that make people afraid to speak and the perceived culture of fear
- The need to recognize and reduce unwarranted privileges given to some at the college.
Diversity-Community-Civility Concentrations for 2002-2003
The Office of Diversity and Community with the assistance of faculty, staff, students, alumni and administration will focus its efforts on activities, projects and funding to support the work on the following five themes:
- Enhance academic and working environment and culture (includes hiring, personnel, student affairs, and professional development)
- Improve TC-wide communications at multiple levels
- Continue positive TC community interactions and activities
- Continue review of Diversity Task Force Report recommendations
- Improve links between TC and surrounding external community
Since the issuance of the Diversity Taskforce Report in 1999, the College community has engaged in numerous diversity and community activities. While a sense of stirring is under way, deep and significant change is a slow process. Our central challenge remains. That primary challenge is not solely the matter of policy but one of trust. Building trust among members of this community involves civility and begins with the ability to talk directly and truthfully with one another. It is the daily wear and tear of life at the College that most undermines community and civility. It is when we neglect to share information with one another; it is when we look past one another in the hallway; and it is when we treat each other as less than ourselves. Functioning in a more collaborative, caring and equitable fashion is necessary to enhance the dignity of our colleagues and students.
We must remember that issues of diversity, community and civility are not limited to conversations or programs about "cultural diversity" or addressing exclusions only. The real diversity, community and civility work is engaging the systemic problems that we each face at TC. Change in our conduct with each other will assist in improving our community. Such engagement is the responsibility of the entire College community, individually as well as collectively.