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What It Means to be a Community

December 11, 2014

Faculty, Staff, and Students:

During recent weeks, our country and campus have engaged in an important and sometimes challenging dialogue about race. I want to thank the students, members of the faculty, and staff who have focused this community’s attention to this dialogue.

Yesterday, Chancellor Gray-Little and I met with groups of students for productive discussions on how KU can become a more supportive and welcoming community to all. And last night I had the opportunity to attend and speak at a Student Senate forum on diversity. I was moved by the passion of students who spoke about the importance of mutual respect.

The chancellor joins me in support for all who have given voice to the frustration of those seeking answers to questions regarding race. You challenge us to reflect upon our own efforts toward diversity and mutual respect, which, while commendable in many areas, are also only a beginning. We unconditionally condemn the racist remarks that a cowardly few have made, hidden behind the veil of social media anonymity. Such hate speech has no place in an environment built upon respectful dialogue of the issues.

To our students, I’d like to quote Chancellor Gray-Little from this week’s Monday Message that she sent out to faculty and staff: “Important conversations taking place regarding race, law enforcement, and how our society can better ensure that everyone can be safe and have his or her rights protected are what we hope for from our students and community. We want our students to be active, engaged citizens, and so the fact they are willing to stand up for their beliefs and call for change is itself worthy of recognition. I want to commend everyone who has engaged in these discussions in a civil, productive manner, which is in the proud tradition of community dialogue at our university.”

Our university statement on diversity and inclusion, which I made a priority during my first semester at KU four years ago, concludes: “The promotion of and support for a diverse and inclusive community of mutual respect require the engagement of the entire university.” We have also made diversity a key component of our strategic plan, Bold Aspirations.

Current and future Jayhawks will judge us not only by the values we espouse, but more importantly by the actions we take to build a truly diverse and inclusive community of mutual respect. Vice Provost for Diversity and Equity Nate Thomas has convened the Diversity and Leadership Council Workgroup to develop a campus vision and plan to coordinate diversity efforts. Our vision will build upon current efforts, including developing diversity and micro-aggression training and workshops for faculty, staff, and students in a fashion similar to those for sexual violence and sexual assault.

Increasing faculty diversity is a particularly important goal and one we pledge to continue advancing, especially through full utilization of our successful Hiring for Excellence program. For students, we are significantly enlarging the cohort size in our successful Multicultural Scholars Program to enhance mentoring and networking. Our comprehensive Progression and Graduation Plan includes strategies dedicated to removing barriers to degree for at-risk students and students of all backgrounds, and our membership in the University Innovation Alliance allows us to share data and lessons learned with 10 of our peers nationwide. We will elaborate upon these activities in upcoming issues of Provost eNews, which you can always access on the web or by following @KUprovost.

While much has been accomplished in this country in the last 50 years to improve civil rights and human relations, recent events show us that more remains to be done. And in this domain, KU as a flagship university is committed to being a leader both by voice and by action.

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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