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University-Wide Diversity Task Force Releases Final Report

University Hall houses many of Harvard's top administrators.
University Hall houses many of Harvard's top administrators. By Megan M. Ross
By Kristine E. Guillaume and Ruth A. Hailu, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: March 28, 2018 at 2:45 a.m.

A University-wide task force on diversity and inclusion released its final report Tuesday, calling on central administrators to coordinate efforts across Harvard’s schools to “fully integrate all members of the University into academic, professional, and social contexts.”

The report, which is the final product of the 55-member Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, asks Harvard to “become its best self” through a framework of “Four Goals” and “Four Tools” and a set of eight concrete recommendations. It recommends the University enhance its mental health resources, improve recruitment and retention strategies for faculty, and establish pipeline programs for staff, among other measures.

“When students, staff, faculty members, or academic personnel are integrated into our community in ways that permit them to do their best work, we anticipate that they will experience a sense of full belonging,” the document reads.

The task force discussed “many dimensions of diversity,” according to the report, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, and ideology.

Its recommendations aim to achieve “mutually reinforcing” goals of inclusion and academic freedom, the report says, calling both of these ideals “core to Harvard’s mission.”

The final report is the second document the task force has released to the public. The group published a draft executive summary in Sept. 2017, after University President Drew G. Faust announced she would step down in the coming summer. Faust originally convened the task force in Sept. 2016—a year after a College working group called for its creation—and charged its members with evaluating Harvard’s demographics, institutional culture, academic resources, and existing organizational structures. Allen said the group wanted to release its recommendations before Faust’s departure.

In an email sharing the report with Harvard affiliates Tuesday, Faust wrote she is “deeply grateful for the extraordinary work of the task force and for the insightful, ambitious, and inspiring approaches reflected in its report.”

She also announced the appointment of John S. Wilson Jr. as a senior adviser and strategist to Harvard's president. Wilson, the president-in-residence at the Graduate School of Education and the former president of Morehouse College, will serve as a “point person” for the implementation of the report, Faust wrote.

Faust highlighted the parts of the report she will implement before leaving office, including designating $10 million in presidential funds to new faculty hires and requiring deans and administrators to produce plans to advance inclusion and belonging in their schools or units.

President-elect Lawrence S. Bacow will take over implementation of the recommendations when he moves into Massachusetts Hall this summer. Bacow, a member of the Harvard Corporation—the University’s highest governing body—served as the president of Tufts University from 2001 to 2011. While at Tufts, he worked to diversify the faculty and student body.

Faust wrote she has been “in consultation” with Bacow about the implementation of the report.

“Because I am nearing the end of my term as president, I want to ensure that the University’s leadership transition does not delay the implementation of the task force’s recommendations,” she wrote.

Faust wrote she and Bacow have designated items that can be acted upon immediately and others for “longer-term strategic work” that will fall under Bacow’s purview.

After it released the draft executive summary in September, the task force—led by Government Professor Danielle S. Allen, Kennedy School professor Archon Fung, and Vice President for Campus Services Meredith L. Weenick ’90—conducted outreach to gather feedback from Harvard affiliates.

According to Weenick, the task force met with stakeholders across all of Harvard’s schools—including student groups, deans, and staff—throughout the fall to discuss the draft. The group also created an online "Solution Space" for Harvard affiliates to submit comments or suggestions to the task force that other users could support by voting.

“It was an extraordinary process of collective discussion and deliberation, and so I know that the final report is much stronger because the campus engaged with the discussion draft so thoroughly,” Allen said.

The final iteration of the report still contains many of the recommendations in its draft version, including its first recommendation, which focuses on evaluating the University’s symbols, revising its values statement and alma mater, and creating inclusive spaces.

The report specifically mentions the Smith Campus Center as a space that, in addition to containing administrative offices and health services, should also serve as “a center for programming that supports civil disagreement and productive engagement with one another.”

In her email Tuesday, Faust called the Smith Campus Center a “centerpiece” of efforts to promote interaction across groups at the University.

“It is designed to be a crossroads, a central place for members of the community to gather, and it offers us the opportunity to embody a number of the task force recommendations in its identity from the outset,” she wrote. “I have asked that its art reflect the heterogeneity of today’s Harvard.”

Like the earlier draft, the final task force report emphasizes staff inclusion—particularly in a recommendation calling for University Human Resources to “enable staff talent and improve organizational culture.”

“Such efforts might involve offering services and training to managers directed toward moving more job candidates from underrepresented groups from finalist to appointee, and on the development of diverse teams,” the report reads.

Weenick said staff across groups raised common concerns about “interpersonal relations” in the workplace.

“We discovered through our listening that staff also experience some of the most extreme feelings of not belonging here, so it feels like we have further to go in some respects with the staff,” Weenick said.

The task force also reiterated in the final report a goal of encouraging “responsive curricula” that adapt to student demand by establishing new courses, hiring new faculty, and integrating student input into the process of crafting syllabi.

The task force recommended that the University collaborate with Harvard’s governing boards to increase funding for faculty renewal, cluster hiring processes, and pipeline programs for graduate students to develop into future faculty members.

Thirty-four percent of the University’s faculty are female overall, and 18 percent are minorities. But faculty demographics are very “school-specific,” Allen said, and some schools struggle to recruit both groups.

The Business School, for example, has increased its percentage of minority faculty by just two percentage points over a decade—rising from five percent in 2006 to seven percent in 2016, according to the report. The Kennedy School reported an increase from seven percent to 10 percent, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences reported an increase from five to seven percent, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences reported an increase from one to five percent.

A similarly slow growth rate exists in the percentage of female faculty in these three schools, among others. The Kennedy School reported an increase from 27 percent in 2006 to 31 percent in 2016, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences reported an increase from 35 percent to 37 percent, and the Business School from 22 percent to 26 percent, according to the report.

“If we look at women, you see meaningful growth in many places but not much growth in other places,” Allen said.

The Law School has reported relatively swifter growth in its percentage of female faculty across the last decade—rising from 24 percent in 2006 to 30 percent in 2016.

Though the University has become more diverse overall in the past decade, the task force report calls progress “frustratingly uneven” across schools—and asserts many issues of inclusion and belonging previously remained “unaddressed.” In addition to the “school-specific” discrepancies in recruitment and promotion of diverse faculty, the report also raised issues surrounding interpersonal relations and the culture of the University.

“There are structural aspects of our institution that have come to connect with cultural norms that we believe merit re-examination,” the document reads. “We suggest that leadership and new norms will be required to ensure that necessary hierarchies are nonetheless linked to a broad and deep culture of respect for all.”

The task force went on to describe how, in outreach sessions, Harvard affiliates voiced concerns about the existence of what they called a “Harvard code.”

“[They] said that encounters with tacit social norms are often experienced as privileging particular identities—typically white, male, secular, and politically liberal,” the report says.

The task force also recommended that Harvard build two University-wide centers designed by faculty, with one center focusing on “identity, politics, and culture” and the second on “higher education, inclusion and belonging, and organizational change.”

Advocates for ethnic studies at the College criticized the September draft executive summary, raising concerns that the draft did not explicitly call for an ethnic studies program or center, which advocates have requested for decades. In their most recent effort, the Ethnic Studies Coalition petitioned the University to create such a center and increase faculty hiring and renewal in the field.

Ethnic Studies Coalition founder Juhwan Seo ’17 in November posted about the omission of an explicit ethnic studies center or program on the task force's online solution space, creating a petition for a University-wide research center focusing on race and ethnicity that would serve as a “national hub” for ethnic studies. The petition quickly became the site’s most popular, garnering over 500 votes.

Seo’s petition mentioned Yale, Columbia, and Stanford—three peer institutions with centers concentrating on race and ethnicity—as points of comparison.

Allen said a task force subcommittee looked at comparable centers at peer institutions and worked to gain an understanding of “curricular gaps and absences” within Harvard’s program.

But the task force ultimately decided the centers should be formalized by “pulling a group of faculty together to be engaged in the design process,” Allen said.

“We wanted to make sure that all the intellectual developments of the last few decades could flow into how people think about the work they want to do in this context,” Allen said. “So, we didn’t want to presume an intellectual paradigm—for example, Ethnic Studies.”

Allen said the driving idea behind the centers is to create a base for inclusion and belonging work that covers many goals in the task force’s report.

“The notion is that curricular work flows from that, and work that supports student engagement in the associated academic fields flows from that, and faculty collaboration in these academic fields flows from that, and intellectual communities that can support recruitment and retention of faculty members flows from that—all four of those things,” she said.

The final report expands upon its draft version by introducing a new proposal for enhanced mental health services. The report recommends structural and organizational changes in the allocation of mental health resources to make them more accessible to students across the University.

“The Task Force recommends that CAMHS receive appropriate resources to conduct this strategic planning effectively and that the Office of Institutional Research be equipped to continue the mental health and well-being surveys across campus in a systematic way,” the document reads.

Allen said mental health resources at the University emerged as a key topic of concern during multiple outreach sessions the task force conducted after publishing the draft.

“Right now, that interface appears to be working less well than it might, and it appears to be also having kind of disparate impacts on different groups of students,” she said.

The final report places emphasized political ideology as an axis of diversity—one essential to “academic freedom.”

During their outreach sessions, task force members heard Harvard affiliates describe feeling excluded on the basis of their conservative political views, according to the report. The task force found that conflicts involving academic freedom can often “generate sharp disagreement” on campus.

“We heard a clear theme that many conservative students on campus engage in self-censorship to avoid possible alienation from peer groups,” the document reads. “We cannot afford to presume a necessary conflict between protecting academic freedom and a culture of mutual respect.”

While ideological diversity had been a recurring theme in the task force’s meetings since the group’s inception, Allen said the emphasis on free speech and academic freedom “got somewhat reduced” in the draft version released to Harvard affiliates.

“One of the things that happened is yes, the discussion draft brought to the surface a way in which a theme that had been there hadn’t gotten as much air time in that discussion draft as we thought it had and that we needed to respond to it more fully,” Allen said.

The task force’s remarks on academic freedom and ideological diversity come amid nationwide debate about free speech on university campuses.

“It’s across higher education we are all wrestling with issues with the relationship between speech and mutual respect. It is just a core issue on campuses at the moment and so it was important that we think our way through that question,” Allen said.

The debate has manifested at Harvard in recent months through controversial speakers like Jackie Hill-Perry, an “ex-gay” and outspoken critic of homosexuality who was invited to speak by Harvard College Faith and Action. During Hill-Perry’s visit, protesters gathered in the back of the hall holding signs in silent protest.

In an interview, Allen also touched on another issue igniting controversy across the country: sexual harassment. The national #MeToo movement has raised awareness about sexual harassment in offices, movie studios, newsrooms, and universities—including Harvard.

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences placed Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez on “administrative leave” earlier this month after The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 18 women have accused Dominguez of sexual harassment over the past three decades.

Though the task force report does not explicitly mention sexual harassment, Allen said parts of the report are relevant to the dynamics underlying sexual misconduct and sexual assault at the University.

“Many people will read this report and think it is not relevant to issues of sexual assault and sexual misconduct and that I think is a deep misunderstanding of the problem involved with sexual assault and sexual misconduct, especially in sort of teacher-student relationships or supervisor-employee relationships,” she said.

Allen pointed to a section of the report outlining a goal for “improved mentoring.” The report asserts there should be “effective training for staff, faculty, and academic personnel” in mentoring relationships.

“Mentoring is such an important part of anybody’s academic or professional development and that depends on sort of healthy relational habits and practices and sexual misconduct and harassment often grow out of unhealthy, underlying relational practices,” Allen said.

Allen said that mentoring, in conjunction with the University’s Title IX policies, is integral to addressing sexual misconduct.

“You need really sturdy procedures for people to make grievances and for there to be responses to grievances and so forth. That point, I do think, our Title IX policies on this campus are a work in progress. Our report does not directly address Title IX, but it is obviously a critical piece of this,” Allen said.

As for the report’s implementation, Allen said she expects there will be “pretty smooth implementation hand-off” between Faust and Bacow once Bacow becomes Harvard’s 29th president.

In order to measure progress moving forward, the report lays out recommendations for improving data collection on diversity and inclusion metrics across schools. Allen said institutional research on these topics, as it stands now, is a “pretty fragmented enterprise.”

“Too often, efforts at diversity, inclusion, and belonging lead to well-intentioned but nonstrategic and uncoordinated ad hoc effects,” the document reads. “The result is ‘diversity clutter’: a host of programs that do not add up to more than the sum of their parts.”

The report also recommends the addition of an “inclusion and belonging module to the faculty climate survey, the staff engagement survey, and student exit surveys at each School.” This survey would be standardized across the University to provide a basis for gathering data about inclusion and belonging, according to Allen.

“What that will permit is it will give us a stronger basis for having that whole campus picture,” she said.

—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.

—Staff writer Ruth A. Hailu can be reached at Follow her on twitter @ruth_hailu_

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