Provost’s Response to 10/3/16 DEI Advisory Group Statement
The DEI Advisory Group was constituted with the express mission to examine instances of discrimination, intolerance, and insensitivity on KU’s campus and to recommend specific actions that can be taken to create an environment where everyone is valued and safe. I want to express my sincere thanks to the DEI Advisory Group for their October 3rd statement that brought forward specific action steps the university can take to be more inclusive.
When I reconvened this advisory group, I told them that the very best we can do is to be honest with each other — always. There are some things we cannot do, some things we can do, but not right away, and others that can be done immediately. Earlier this week, I had a productive meeting with the co-chairs of the DEI Advisory Group about their statement and specific immediate requests of the university. The group addressed three specific items in their statement: recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day, equal enforcement of the posting policy, and staff engagement in the marketplace of ideas.
1. Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day
There has been a surge of support this week urging KU to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The First Nations Student Association (FNSA), Student Senate, the DEI Advisory Group, the various diverse Faculty/Staff Councils, the Office of Diversity & Equity and others have called for the university to recognize this important day.
The chancellor has also committed to recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day in the following ways:
- KU will recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day on the university calendar;
- KU included a story on Indigenous Peoples' Day in KUToday, pointing out observances and celebrations occurring in the Lawrence community; and,
- the chancellor has recommended that the university community consider the development of more structured activities to further engage the KU community in indigenous heritage for next year’s Indigenous Peoples' Day.
The University of Kansas is proud of the rich and dynamic impact of the indigenous heritage on our academic community. Through our people and our partnerships, we are seeking ways to ensure our connection to indigenous communities stays strong and vibrant.
We have a longstanding and ever-growing partnership with Haskell Indian Nations University. I recently met with Haskell President Dr. Venida Chenault to discuss how we can enhance the partnership between our two institutions. Since this meeting, we have already initiated conversations between our housing departments to share knowledge and training opportunities for mutual benefit. Some of our students, so often the drivers of great change at our university, met with me not too long ago. Representatives from the First Nations Student Association (FNSA) and the Lied Center shared their need for more support for the annual KU Powwow & Indigenous Dance and Culture Festival. I’ve committed to them that we will do our part to ensure this incredible event continues to be a significant part of the KU community. My office is currently in the process of scheduling time to meet with the chairmen and chairwoman of the Four Resident Tribes of Kansas: The Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, and Sac and Fox Nation. Through these conversations, I hope to gain a better understanding of what we can do to create stronger pipelines of Native students into the university.
2. Equal Enforcement of the Posting Policy
The university policy on the posting of materials and on public assembly has guided many of our conversations over the past week. As university administration, we must do our part to enforce our policies, but we also must be sensitive to and aware of the larger dynamics at play on our campus, in our community, and in our nation. I will admit that last week, we learned some lessons that we will carry forward with us. Public Safety Officers will not be called upon to help remove postings throughout campus. Facilities Services staff have been asked to more regularly sweep campus and remove any and all postings that are in unapproved locations. We are asking Facilities staff and others throughout the university to not simply remove postings, but to then relocate them to an approved bulletin board whenever possible. We want to make sure we adhere to our policies while at the same time respecting our community members’ right to self-expression.
3. Staff Engagement in the Marketplace of Ideas
To every life situation, each of us tries to bring the fullness of our experiences. I often say, you can’t write a rulebook to cover every contingency. Because of that, we must work with our leaders to see the value of encouraging their teams to be active and involved participants in the university community. There were different philosophies regarding participation in the protests last week and that will probably always be the case. In my office, I was joined by a number of my staff members that spent anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour standing in solidarity with members of our community. I will commit to you that in our next leadership meeting, the deans, vice provosts and I will address this issue and examine ways for our teams to fully engage in the marketplace of ideas. Please know, though, that engagement may still look different for each office.
Again, I want to thank the DEI Advisory Group for your leadership and service. I know that this response will not be enough for some who read it. As I said, the only thing I can promise is honesty and I will always hold true to that. Whether you see it on a daily basis or not, I can promise you that the university is shifting. The focus we are placing on ensuring a diverse, equitable, and inclusive KU for all students, staff, and faculty will be abiding and unrelenting. For that, we have many to thank and many to honor. Our university is only as strong as our people, and thankfully, we have incredible people.
Neeli Bendapudi, Ph.D.
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
University of Kansas