Independent Investigators’ Campus Climate Report

Nov. 29, 2018

Dear Brandeisians,

Last spring, the Board of Trustees appointed independent investigators to look into racial discrimination and misconduct charges against the former men’s basketball head coach, our procedures around complaints related to bias or discrimination, and more general questions about how we treat one another at Brandeis.

In September, we shared the first part of the investigators’ report (pdf), which looked specifically into what happened related to the former coach and which led me to take several personnel actions. 

Today, we are sharing the second part of their report (pdf), which focuses on campus climate. As the report shows, there are many ways in which Brandeis has fallen short of what we aspire to when it comes to upholding standards of equity and fairness. The investigators point out that much of what they observed is not unique to Brandeis. But as Brandeisians, we aim for a higher standard. We can do better, we are working to do so, and we are committed to doing more.

In some cases, the university had begun to address issues long before the situation with the former coach became public, thanks in part to efforts by student leaders as well as committed faculty and staff. In other cases, we are just starting the work we need to do. To address some issues discussed in the report, my administration will be working on additional action plans, which we will communicate to you over the coming months.

As my Framework for Our Future makes clear, strengthening the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives is central to my vision for Brandeis. A task force, which I will chair, will include a working group that will study how we might best honor our founding values; its charge will include articulating how those values guide our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and determining how we ensure historically underserved student populations have full access to the richness of the Brandeis experience. 

This week, the Board of Trustees spent five hours during its two-day retreat discussing the independent investigators’ report with the investigators and examining ways in which board members and university administrators can work together to play a more responsible and effective role in advancing progress on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. At the retreat’s end, the board underscored, by means of a resolution and unanimous vote, that Brandeis should be a community that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, and that the board is committed to holding itself, as well as other segments of the campus community, accountable for making meaningful, continuous progress toward reaching this goal. The board has asked university administrators to develop metrics that will enable it to monitor progress and to regularly report to it regarding performance. In addition, the Board of Trustees is itself committed to achieving more diversity — in every regard — in its membership, including actively recruiting people of color to the board.

The independent investigators’ report (pdf) — which I strongly urge you to read — highlights a number of Brandeis’ strengths. Many of the students, faculty, and staff members with whom investigators talked professed a “wide and deep affection for Brandeis,” even as they expressed frustrations and disappointments.

But the investigators also highlighted a number of issues in Brandeis’ culture that prevent us from being as effective as we can be. These are some of those identified challenges, along with some of the ways we are addressing them: 

The university’s efforts to sustain an inclusive and equitable atmosphere have been more reactive than proactive, leaving our commitment to these ideals open to question, particularly among students of color.

Mixed levels of engagement with equity and inclusion initiatives are apparent, particularly among faculty and the Board of Trustees. 

The ranks of Brandeis’ administrative leadership lack diversity.

The investigators noted reports of bullying, particularly as felt by junior faculty, graduate students, and staff. They also identified a fear of retaliation that inhibited individuals from reporting bad behavior.

Although Brandeis has a relationship-based culture that is positive in many ways, it can also generate reluctance to confront and handle problems directly.

My leadership team and I are committed to an ongoing, meaningful dialogue around these issues. Provost Lisa M. Lynch, Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas, and I will be reaching out to the Faculty Senate, BUSAC, the Student Union, the Intercultural Center, the Alumni Council, and individual departments to continue these discussions over the coming months. I invite you to email me if you would like a senior administrator to meet with your group to discuss these issues. The investigation website, newly renamed Campus Climate, now has a form you can use to provide comments and suggestions on these issues.

There’s no question we have much work to do in making Brandeis the most equitable and inclusive university it can be. That work will never be finished, but we will set goals, pursue them with diligence, evaluate our progress, and reach higher as we achieve. Our community deserves nothing less. 

Sincerely, 

Ron