A group of faculty at the University of Minnesota Duluth is calling on leaders at the system and campus levels to address what it called "deep-rooted structures of racism."

In a letter sent by the Anti-Racist Subcommittee of Employees of Color and American Indian group to university leadership, faculty outlined three steps to address inequities within the university:

  • Hiring a vice chancellor of equity and diversity;
  • Hiring a cluster of 50 tenured or tenure-track faculty who are Black, Indigenous and Latino or Latina in the next three years;
  • Requiring all undergraduate students to take a three-credit course on race and social justice.

"We recognize that the university is experiencing severe financial challenges due to COVID-19," the letter said. "However, the work of racial equity cannot be put on hold. Racial equity must be prioritized amid a pandemic that is wreaking its worst havoc on communities of color."

The letters states that faculty at UMD are less diverse than the state of Minnesota. In order to reflect Minnesota's population, the faculty group wrote that the number of Black faculty members tenured at UMD should be 24 instead of 11. As for Latino and Latina faculty members, that number should be 20 instead of five. While only 1% of Minnesota's population identifies as Indigenous, more than 2.5% of UMD's tenured faculty do.

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About 5% of all UMD faculty identify as Black, Indigenous or Latino and Latina; 15% identify as Asian American.

Rudy Perrault, a former president of the University Education Association UMD Faculty Senate, said that hiring a cluster of diverse faculty at one time — like the group recommends doing over a three-year period — is a "great idea."

"Then they all come in at the same time. They all support each other," said Perrault, who's a professor of music. "It's not enough to have allies who want to help. There's a feeling of isolation when you're the only one who looks like that."

Rudy Perrault
Rudy Perrault

To Perrault, creating a vice chancellor for diversity and equity position, which he said should have been done a long time ago, is an important first step to making sure there's teeth behind UMD's mission to address issues related to diversity and equity on campus.

"If you have somebody who's looking into diversity and equity, then their job is going to look at the ratio of faculty and say, 'OK, this seems a little lopsided. How can we change that?'" Perrault said.

"I think this is very timely," he added. "We have to take care of this now because if we miss this opportunity we may not get another one. This is the time to do it."

The university's spokesperson, Lynne Williams, said: "UMD leadership recognizes the importance of a chief diversity officer and is currently exploring structures and options for such a position moving forward."

In July, UMD Chancellor Lendley Black outlined seven action steps UMD would prioritize in order to "advance equity, diversity and inclusiveness and social justice," which is the second goal of the campus' strategic plan.

"We will implement additional aggressive strategies for hiring and retaining more diverse administrators, faculty and staff at UMD," Black wrote.

The action steps also include bias training for all faculty and staff; reviewing and reforming curriculum; broadening bystander intervention training for all of the campus; and bringing in a third-party for advice on combating racist and bias behaviors in law enforcement.

"UMD leadership appreciates the dedication and passion from our campus community around diversity and inclusion," Williams said in an email to the News Tribune. "The essence of these recommendations align with the action steps Chancellor Black provided to campus in July."

The chancellor meets regularly with the Employees of Color and American Indian group, Williams said. One representative from the group sits on the school's campus climate leadership team.

In the group's request that the university hire a tenured vice chancellor of equity, it asked that the start date be no later than the beginning of 2022 and that the person has "institutional authority to make broad and sweeping changes across UMD, which will benefit all faculty, staff and students."

The group recommended that the position report to the UMD chancellor as well as the U of M vice president for equity and diversity. Currently, the group states, the campus lacks cohesive leadership on issues of equity and diversity and that change to the campus climate "relies on goodwill and the extraction of labor from faculty, staff and students."

The group of faculty who wrote the letter has declined to comment. The letter requests a meeting with university leaders by Oct. 1.

Jamie Ratliff, a representative and former chair of the UMD Faculty Senate, said that the campus has been working toward diversity initiatives for years and that the requests from the anti-racist subcommittee outline a clear way forward.

"It's a really strong statement at a time when we all need to be making strides toward equity and justice on a national and cultural scale," Ratliff, an associate professor of art history, said. "Our administration has been searching for ways to positively impact our campus climate in proactive ways, to get ahead of incidents of inequity, injustice and racism before they occur. I think my colleagues in the EOCAI have handed them a pathway forward."

The three-credit course on race and social justice that the group wants to be required for all undergraduate students sometime in their first three semesters would need "significant institutional resources," such as a highly qualified course director leading the initiative and course instructors with a strong understanding of the subject.

The letter closed with: "Now is the time for bold and sweeping action that can transform our campus and community. While this is hard work, we expect our campus and system leaders to show the courage required to accomplish these goals."