The Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate is continuing its campus outreach, evaluations and other efforts as the spring semester begins to draw to a close.
The 36-member task force, composed of faculty, staff and students, is divided into three subcommittees: Campus Experience, led by Lisa Nishii, associate professor of human resource studies in the ILR School and vice provost for undergraduate education; Regulation of Speech and Harassment, led by Eduardo Peñalver ’94, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and professor of law; and Campus Response, led by David Wooten, professor of marketing in the Dyson School and associate dean and chief diversity officer of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.
The task force co-chairs said their subcommittees have been meeting weekly since the end of January. Initial stages of the committees’ work involved collecting extensive data about Cornell’s existing structures, resources, policies and climate challenges in an effort to develop and refine specific outreach questions. Those questions subsequently drove the committees’ outreach efforts, which have included dozens of meetings with groups across campus, including key administrators, members of the assemblies, faculty and staff bodies, and student organizations.
Through these extensive outreach efforts and deliberations, several themes have begun to emerge for each subcommittee, the co-chairs said, and the subcommittees are now honing in on specific recommended changes to university structures and practices. Committee members will use numerous additional outreach meetings scheduled in the coming weeks to refine their emerging recommendations to President Martha E. Pollack.
In addition to the in-person outreach, the subcommittees sent a survey to the campus community that was designed to provide all community members with a vehicle for providing both qualitative and quantitative feedback about campus climate and university responses to bias incidents. The survey was launched by Cornell’s Survey Research Institute before spring break, and the deadline was extended until April 13 in order to maximize participation.
The task force co-chairs said that anyone who wants to provide additional input or meet with specific subcommittees is welcome to do so by emailing PresidentialTaskForce@cornell.edu. Although only a few weeks remain in the semester, the committees will make every effort to respond to these requests.
Co-chairs discuss process, concerns
“I did not know what to expect from my subcommittee when we began to meet,” Peñalver said. “I had never met most of the committee members before, but I quickly came to be tremendously impressed by their dedication, work ethic and their love of Cornell. I have been encouraged by their collaborative attitude. They have worked tirelessly in their spare time on this challenging and important project.”
Peñalver said he is confident that the task force subcommittees will produce something more than a report that will just sit on the shelf. “Our subcommittee’s goal is to recommend specific action items that can be implemented almost immediately in addition to other, more ambitious reforms that might require further consideration,” he said.
“We have heard from various members of the community about their frustration over not having eyes into the deliberations of the task force, and we certainly understand why they have these concerns,” Nishii said. “Everybody – including us – continues to be weighed down by unacceptable acts of incivility and bigotry, both in the broader society and here at home in Ithaca.”
About the task force’s process, Nishii explained: “We deliberated a lot when we began our work about the inherent tension between providing the transparency that we knew the community would desire and the space and time our task force members would need to explore incredibly complex issues. This work is not easy, nor is it simple. The development of recommendations that have the potential to offer transformative improvements to our campus climate involves a lengthy and iterative process of doing outreach and research to identify themes, deliberating over preliminary ideas, then engaging in due diligence to test the worthiness of those ideas. Ultimately, we agreed that we would be doing a disservice to the work of the task force and to our concerned community by presenting preliminary results that had not yet been fully vetted.
“We ask for the understanding and patience of our colleagues and friends as we focus on the enormous amount of work that we must still complete in order to deliver our final recommendations to President Pollack.”
Wooten emphasized that “the final report of the task force does not mark the end of this process. Part of the charge of the task force is to recommend mechanisms for sustaining ongoing critical reflection, dialogue and accountability for change.”
Overlapping themes emerge
Although the task force committee co-chairs said it is premature to share specific recommendations, they said that many of the themes they began to identify within their individual subcommittees overlapped with those identified by the others.
These common themes are likely to be reflected in the specific recommendations they will deliver to Pollack at the end of the semester:
- a need to clarify Cornell’s core values and principles – in particular, what they actually mean and look like in practice across the three subcommittees’ charges;
- a desire for overall greater process and outcome transparency in reported bias incidents, including incidents that do not attract press attention or result in formal disciplinary action; and
- a call for more proactive investments aimed at coordinating and better communicating the activities and responses of the many decentralized resources and units that address diversity and inclusion across campus.
Along with the task force’s work, progress on diversity and inclusion efforts also is continuing across campus on numerous other initiatives; updates and details can be found on the university’s Diversity and Inclusion Campus Climate Initiatives website.