Chancellor remains optimistic after last semester’s incidents

Chancellor offers optimistic 2020 message

Kent Syverud's annual winter message emphasizes strides since racist and anti-Semitic episodes on campus.
Published: January 13, 2020 | Updated: January 26th, 2020 at 9:55 pm
A capacity crowd in the Melanie Gray Ceremonial Courtroom in Dineen Hall on Monday listens to Chancellor Kent Syverud delivered his Winter Message.
The Melanie Gray Ceremonial Courtroom in Dineen Hall was packed with hundreds for the Chancellor Kent Syverud's Winter Message, but not many students were in attendance.

In the Melanie Gray Ceremonial Courtroom in Dineen Hall on Monday, Chancellor Syverud delivered his Winter Message. The message comes in the wake of #NotagainSU protesting the university’s response to a series of incidents rooted in racism and antisemitism. The Chancellor had a clear message that change can not happen overnight but that he is confident in the university’s ability to persevere through these challenges. He used the tragedy of Pan Am flight 103 as an example. “It would have been reasonable to expect in 1988 that after such an experience our university community would turn inward in anger and in fear… this community, instead, reaffirmed its values in new and creative ways and this university grew better in the process.”

Even after all of the protests, the Chancellor is optimistic and claims that the challenges present a “choice whether to seize this moment today to learn, to teach, to get better and to reaffirm our values” that he believes will be made and establish SU as a “world-class model of an academic powerhouse that truly embraces, welcomes, and values all people.”

New hires

The Chancellor boasted many new hires during his Winter Message including J. Cole Smith as dean of the College of Engineering, Rajiv “Raj” Dewan as dean of the iSchool, as well as interim Vice Chancellor and provost John Liu. The Chancellor said that he will be able to announce the new Dean of Newhouse in the coming weeks. The Chancellor also announced that Liu will be introducing a new initiative titled the Diversity Opportunity Hires Program which “will give us an immediate edge in the competitive market for hiring diverse faculty candidates,” according to Syverud. The details of this new initiative will be announced by Liu later this week.

According to Syverud, SU has hired 116 new faculty members this year and 68 of these new hires are tenured or tenure track which is double than what it was in 2018 and more than competitors of SU such as Cornell and NYU. Syverud says that the University is focused on hiring from underrepresented demographics with all these new positions.

In order to promote diversity, inclusion, and safety among the student experience, the Chancellor highlighted five new hires whose primary focus will be addressing these issues: Amanda Nicholson who will be interim Deputy Vice President for the Student Experience, Kal Srinivas, Meredith E. Davis, Ryan Williams, and Brittany Zaehinger. Four of the individuals are a part of an underrepresented group. “Together they are deeply committed, indeed resolved, to build on an orange history of inclusion to even better model the community and values this moment requires.”

Student experience

The Chancellor transitioned into improvements in student experience with the construction and opening of the Barnes as well as increases in participation in recreation, wellness events and fitness classes. Counseling drop-in appointments have also had a positive effect on students as they have increased their hours and appointments available by 70 percent.

Safety has also been a large concern among students after the Ackerman assault and other incidents. Syverud announced the hiring of 11 supervisors and 63 officers to provide 24/7 staffing for residence halls. Of those hired, one-third of the supervisors and 48 percent of the officers identify with underrepresented groups. Additionally, a new policy has been put in place that requires a daily review of security camera footage.

Syvereud seeks to foster community engagement even more so after students have achieved the University’s goal of 15,000 volunteer hours last semester as a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the university. Bee Gonzales, the Vice President for Community Engagement, challenged students to achieve 15,000 more. Syverud also announced that the administration is working to add community service opportunities to the online tool Handshake. He went on further to announce that more funding will be provided to the Shaw Center as well as Hendrick’s Chapel in order to provide more opportunities for community engagement.

The Chancellor also announced a new process for housing and roommate assignments. Bea González, who is the Vice President for Community Engagement, said that these changes are being made to make students more comfortable “by putting people of like interest together.”

Commitments regarding #notagainSU

One of the 50 commitments made was to provide regular updates, including in the Winter Message, about what the university is doing to enhance inclusion, diversity, and safety. There was a project management team assigned and working over the winter break to track and make sure these commitments are achieved. Syverud also announced $5.6 million for diversity and inclusion initiatives with 16 new staff members assigned to these initiatives.

The Board of Trustees has created a special committee on university climate, diversity, and inclusion which will provide a report from the special committee alongside input from an independent advisory panel. The report will also take a look at diversity and inclusion initiatives at other universities and will recommend some for SU to implement.

In order to address a lack of space for African-American and multicultural individuals, Syverud announced that room 550 in Byrd Library will now be designated as more space to accommodate those students. This space will be open until the renovations at the Schine Student Center have concluded. Additionally, student life faculty have identified spaces for multicultural greek life organizations and will be meeting with student leaders for their input as well.

The Chancellor also met with Native American students and promised them the preservation of their space on Euclid or the administration will find them improved space that will better meet their needs. Syverud also announced the formation of a committee that is assigned with making a permanent marker on campus acknowledging that SU sits on ancestral Native American land. “There will be no decisions made about space for our Native American students, our indigenous students, without their input and their agreement, and I personally made that commitment,” Syverud said.

The administration has been working with SU’s Jewish community to conduct a security assessment of Hillel. “We think this is particularly urgent and important in light of continued anti-semitic violence that has occurred around the country in the last few months,” Syverud said.

Juan Tavares, the director of SU’s Center for International Services, will act as a liaison between the university and international students to address their concerns. ADditionally $400,000 and 4 new hirings will be made to address issues among international students. “I believe this work requested emphatically, insisted upon by our students will make us a better place,” Syverud said.

Bea González, Vice President for Community Engagement and Special Assistant to the Chancellor, at Kent Syverud's 2020 Winter Message.
SU Vice President for Community Engagement Bea González had this message for students of color as they head back to class this semester: "This work is a lifelong effort and this work requires continuous engagement, so please stay engaged."

Finances

The Chancellor then began to assure the audience that SU can afford all of the new faculty, programs, etc. previously mentioned. He boasted a balanced budget with a $1.43 billion endowment at the end of November. This praise comes after the largest monetary gift in SU history of $75 million to Newhouse. “This tremendous investment in curriculum, in innovation, in student support, in faculty, not only benefits students but also raises the national profile and the impact of the entire university,” Syverud said of the Newhouse donation.

Optimism

When asked about the Chancellor’s role in the process to address the incidents from last semester, Bea González said that Syverud had been working hard every day. Vice President for Community Engagement went on to say that Syverud seems more comfortable and is at his best when he is having those “smaller conversations” with students and used the Chancellor giving driving lessons to students as an example. “So he’s very intentional about his conversations with students, because he’s a good listener and he wants to get it right,” she said.

The Chancellor ended the speech further addressing the incidents from last semester with optimistic views asking the university’s population voice their opinions but also listen to those they may disagree with. “We cannot magically change everything overnight, but we can respond appropriately, proactively, and positively true to the values we aspire to,” the Chancellor said.

Chancellor Syverud shows the compares the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty hired by SU this year to other universities. Text
Chancellor Kent Syverud shows the compares the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty hired by SU this year to other universities.
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is a newspaper and online journalism and political philosophy junior. He is a lead news producer for The NewsHouse. He is also in Army ROTC.