Becoming an Anti-racist University: A Joint Letter from Chancellor Bill Groves and Board Chair Paul Mutty
In my letter to the community of June 1, 2020, regarding the George Floyd murder by Minneapolis Police, I promised that the senior leadership team and I would get back to you about ways in which Antioch University will work to foster racial justice and equity, both internally and externally. In that letter, and on behalf of the University, I condemned in the strongest possible terms the unconstitutional abuse of police power throughout the country, the racially motivated police murders of citizens of color, the systemic racism that fosters and protects it, and the growing cancer of white supremacy. As I have done following the Charlottesville riot and the massacre at Living Tree Synagogue, I called upon our elected leaders to unequivocally condemn the racism, bigotry, white supremacy, and white nationalism that continue to deeply infect our culture as a nation. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort has happened. Instead, the President doubled-down on Saturday by calling confederate generals “American heroes,” and protestors, “angry mobs”.
As Chancellor, I have strongly maintained that silence is not an option, that all institutions, especially a University founded on principles of social justice, have a moral obligation to stand up for their values and to advocate for change. To the extent there is any confusion about my position, I reiterate today that Antioch will not be one of those institutions that offer obligatory platitudes carefully crafted to not offend anyone. I and the Board rededicate ourselves to the notion that we have a moral duty to oppose actions, especially government actions, that violates our values. Finally, we acknowledge that we have a moral duty to support the social and racial justice movements that will bring about change.
Unfortunately, this is the twelfth time in the past three years in which I have felt the strong need to stand up and exercise our institutional voice, to denounce injustice, and to call for change. And while Antioch University specifically, and higher education generally, cannot be the movement per se, we all have an obligation to support the efforts that advance our Antioch mission, including the efforts of the peaceful protesters and demonstrators in the Black Lives Matter movement who have raised their collective voices against racial injustice, systemic racism and white supremacy. They have risked their personal safety, and economic security to be a force for change in a society that desperately needs it, and they’ve done that in a political climate that offers them no protection from the very police brutality they are marching against. Some have lost their lives in that struggle, including Heather Heyer in Charlottesville three years ago. We know that many of you are mobilizing in effective ways to oppose persistent racial injustice and systemic racism and to fight for change. We stand together with you.
But, while silence is not an option, it is equally true that words are not enough. Antioch must take concrete actions to confront systemic racism both internally and externally, to be willing to engage in honest self-assessment, and to take corrective action and affirmative steps toward becoming an anti-racist university. Since June 1, I have been working with the Board of Governors and the administrative leadership to chart a course for this work. It will require a commitment of time, energy and resources, but we are all committed to this effort. To that end, today, the Board Chair, Paul Mutty, and I are announcing the following initial actions:
- Amendment of the University Mission Statement. Last Thursday, the Board Chair, Paul Mutty, and Vice Chair, Bill Plater, agreed to recommend to the full Board of Governors that it amend the University Mission Statement to expressly include racial justice. While this has always been regarded as part of “social justice,” currently central to the mission statement, I believe it is both necessary and appropriate in this era that Antioch University be more explicit about race. The proposed amendment will be voted on by email, first by the Academic Affairs committee tomorrow, and then by the full board on Thursday. After the measure passes, I will circulate the full resolution. The revised mission statement will read as follows:
Antioch University provides learner-centered education to empower students with the knowledge and skills to lead meaningful lives and to advance social, racial, economic and environmental justice.
- Creation of an Anti-racism Task Force. Antioch University hereby immediately rededicates itself to its mission. In recent weeks, I have received all manner of suggestions, requests, demands from across the University as to what we at Antioch should be doing in these important times. In order to help me sort through and prioritize Antioch’s action steps, I am establishing the Antioch University Anti-Racist Task Force, (ATF), effective immediately. I see this body as having two roles. First, this Task Force will report directly to me and will advise me as to the University’s strategy and actions to be taken both internally and externally. These action steps will be addressed at assuring that Antioch University both behaves and operates in an anti-racist manner, and that it is advocating in our communities and beyond for an anti-racist society. Second, the Task Force will have a budget (albeit modest) in order to support the design and implementation of internal steps to promote self-awareness about bias, and to educate and sensitize all of us about the realities of racism, racial injustice and anti-racist strategies for change. The leadership of the ATF will be announced in the next several days. They will then work with me to determine the full membership of the Task Force – to be a representative mixture of faculty and staff – and to further spell out its mandate. I ask faculty and staff members alike to recommend membership or, if so motivated, to volunteer to serve. You can do so by contacting me by email.
- Recruiting a more diverse Board. The board is currently working on recruiting new board members and in that effort will focus on achieving greater racial and ethnic diversity. If you are aware of individuals that may be interested in serving on the board, please get those names and a brief biographical statement to me and I’ll pass it along to the Governance Committee of the Board.
- Recruiting a more diverse faculty and staff. I will do all I can to redouble our efforts toward hiring a more diverse faculty and staff to ensure that Antioch University reflects our communities and the populations we serve. This will require that we take decisive affirmative actions to ensure that anytime we do a search, we are obtaining a diverse pool of qualified applicants. This often requires more than job placement advertising in the normal publications. We will have many opportunities to do this in the next three years and I am committed to making real changes through those who will join us.
- Conducting an Internal Assessment. Finally, I also have asked my direct reports, the Vice Chancellors, to each look at their areas of responsibility in order to provide me with their assessment of the challenges and opportunities that can further embolden our efforts to make Antioch the anti-racist and pro-inclusive institution we all want it to be. These assessments are due back by early August and I will review and assess them with the Task Force
This is just the beginning for Antioch, as it is just the beginning for our nation as a whole. We must seize this opportunity to confront both our personal and institutional racism and to act for the common good in promoting a racially just society. I will continue to keep you informed of the recommendations of the ATF and the actions we are taking. Thank you for all you already are doing and for your commitment.
In Antiochian solidarity,
Bill Groves, Chancellor
Paul Mutty, Chair, Board of Governors