More than Diversity— A Call to Action from University of Chicago Faculty

This abridged document has been edited for brevity.  The full letter can be read here.

To pledge your support for the strike and boycott please sign on to the letter here.

On June 19th, 2020, University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee sent an email to the University community on the occasion of Juneteenth inviting the University and its members to use the day to “learn and listen, to examine history, to challenge assumptions, and to explore bold ideas to address racism and inequality.” The President and Provost asked readers to “take a fresh look at concrete actions we all can take to build a more just community, and to strengthen our culture of diversity and inclusion so that all members of our campus community are welcomed and valued.” Following up on this invitation, we insist on a set of specific and immediate actions the University of Chicago must take to begin to repair and redress its long history of willingly enabling and directly contributing to structural racism.

It is not just individual members of the university community, but the University of Chicago as an institution that needs to engage in critical reflection and concrete action. Over its history, the University has consistently reproduced racist structures and social systems. Professed commitments to diversity and inclusion ring hollow in a context where the University does not support the study of race, falls short of its commitments to build a diverse faculty, maintains one of the largest private police force in the country, and refuses to engage the South Side of Chicago as an equal partner in decisions about campus expansion. Pledges of good intentions, claims to racial innocence, and protestations of having done good works do little to blunt the systemic racism the University often capitulates to.

Living up to the commitments of diversity, equity and inclusion, and transforming the University’s history of white supremacy and racial hierarchy will require more than platitudes. It will be necessary to redistribute material resources and decision-making power on this campus from the Board of Trustees all the way to the structure of the departments. This will be a years-long project requiring reckoning with the University’s past and rethinking its future orientation, but immediate action is possible and necessary. Our action is a refusal to participate in laundering the University of Chicago’s reputation given how its actions continue to reinforce, rather than reduce or resolve conditions of systemic and institutional racism.

As educators we are committed to our students and will continue to teach, mentor, and support them. Nonetheless, as faculty affiliates of CSRPC, bearing in mind the recent history of the Center, we see no choice but to make the following immediate demands and will cease to collaborate on diversity and inclusion initiatives.

I. Increased Support for and Autonomy of the CSRPC

For us to do our work and support the CSRPC’s potential, we demand the following:

  1. The CSRPC must be fully independent in all its decision-making processes but especially vis-à-vis the hiring of staff.
  2. It is crucial for the effective functioning of the CSRPC that colleagues who hold staff rather than faculty positions have the full freedom of speech and engagement that is afforded the faculty.
  3. The budget should be increased to a minimum annual budget of $2 million.

II. Process towards the formation of Department of Critical Race Studies 

Alongside an adequately funded and autonomous Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, effective teaching and research on race at the University of Chicago requires a Department of Critical Race Studies. It is, in fact, extraordinary that we should have to articulate this as a demand in 2020. The University of Chicago stands alone among our peer institutions in lacking a Department through which scholars working centrally on race may be hired and students systematically trained.

  1. Funding an External Advisory Council composed of faculty at peer institutions that will provide advice on best practices as faculty affiliates put together a proposal.
  2. A commitment to four full lines in the new Department, including at least two full professors…[w]e also call for 2 staff positions and a space allocation for the new department. 

III. Faculty Governance of Diversity and Inclusion

No individual should be appointed as the mouthpiece of the Provostial Office of Diversity and Inclusion or be empowered to make unilateral decisions on its behalf.

[W]e demand the following:

  1. The incorporation of “equity” as an explicitly stated objective alongside Diversity and Inclusion. Diversity, on its own, has become an empty slogan, one that emphasizes cosmetic changes, leaving uninterrogated the unequal structures of power that persist well after there are “black [and brown] faces in the mirror.”
  2. The formation of a permanent Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council composed of faculty, staff and students that is empowered to develop, fund, and implement university policies and initiatives on issues of equity, inclusion, and racial justice.
  3. The position of Vice Provost for Academic Leadership, Advancement and Diversity will be restructured such that the role of VP for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is distinct from the role of VP for Academic Leadership and Advancement

IV. University Policing

The University of Chicago, like most universities across the country and the nation as a whole, has expanded the scope and resources for policing over the last five decades. But for students of color and black residents on the South Side, the expansive jurisdiction and policing powers of the UCPD do not enhance their safety. This was made painfully clear when the UCPD shot Charles Soji Thomas, a senior student of color in Spring 2018.

Advocating for the safety and livelihoods of students, staff, faculty, and community members, we stand with UChicago United, the #CareNotCops campaign, Reparations at UChicago Working Group (RAUC), and the Library Activist Network at UChicago.

  1.  As a first step toward rethinking safety beyond policing, we call on the University to honor the demand of #CareNotCops for a public meeting between student representatives and the Provost.
  2. We call for an immediate release of the UCPD and all other safety and security budgets from the past 20 years and every year in perpetuity.
  3. Release a plan for disarming and gradual defunding of UCPD in conversation with #CareNotCops and on the model of divesting from police to invest in grassroots community-driven projects in the southside.

V. Reparations at UChicago

“Like so many other venerable American institutions, the University of Chicago is built on slavery.” So opens “A Case for Reparations at the University of Chicago” a working paper authored by Caine Jordan, Guy Emerson Mount, and Kai Parker of the Reparations at UChicago Working Group (RAUC). As the authors document empirically and convincingly, the founding of the University of Chicago is indelibly linked to the fortune of slaveholder Stephen A. Douglas as its earliest benefactor.

We demand:

  1. An immediate acknowledgement of the University of Chicago’s debt to the enslaved people who toiled on the Douglas plantations in Lawrence County and Washington County, Mississippi.
  2. The establishment of a truth and justice committee to further investigate and determine appropriate reparations for the University’s connections to slavery, Jim Crow, and other ongoing forms of racial exploitation, exclusion, and discrimination. Said committee should be directed by community organizations from the South Side of Chicago.

Labor & Publicity Withdrawal 

Until these demands are met, faculty associates of the Center for Race, Politics, and Culture and allies will refuse to:

  • Participate in any new faculty searches approved beginning AY 2020-2021.
  • Participate in any Departmental, Divisional, or University committee whose nominal mission is related to Diversity and Inclusion.
  • Allow the University to use our accomplishments to promote the University; these “celebrations” of individual recognition provide camouflage for a long-standing practice, if not policy, of neglect and derision of people of color and scholarship and teaching on race. We will not cooperate with the University’s Press office, nor be highlighted on the University’s web-page.

Without movement on our demands, we will discourage colleagues elsewhere from accepting invitations to participate in talks, conferences, or symposia hosted by the University of Chicago until the University takes meaningful action to address its inequitable structures, and request that those committing to this action sign this letter in solidarity.

We recognize that hierarchies and material privileges make it such that colleagues at the University and around the country vary in their ability to make a public pledge of this kind.

Signed by:

Former Directors of the CSRPC

Michael Dawson, John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science

Waldo E. Johnson, Jr., Associate Professor, School of Social Service Administration

Cathy J. Cohen, David and Mary Winton Green Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science

Salikoko S. Mufwene, The Frank J. McLoraine Distinguished Service Professor of Linguistics

Ramón A. Gutiérrez, Preston & Sterling Distinguished Service Professor of History

Current Faculty affiliates 

Adrienne Brown, Associate Professor of English

Jacqueline Stewart, Professor, Department of Cinema and Media Studies

Adom Getachew, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Political Science

Darby English, Carl Darling Buck Professor of Art History

Robert Vargas, Associate Professor of Sociology

Leora Auslander, Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor of Western Civilization in the College and Professor of History

Ryan Cecil Jobson, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Allyson Nadia Field, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies

Chris Taylor, Associate Professor of English

Riley Snorton, Professor of English & Gender and Sexuality Studies

Danielle Roper, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures

Micere Keels, Associate Professor of Comparative Human Development

Kaneesha Parsard, Assistant Professor of English

Eve L. Ewing, Assistant Professor, School of Social Service Administration


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