Update on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Aug. 28, 2019

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

At the end of the last academic year, members of the group #StillConcernedStudents voiced their concerns about various diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues at Brandeis. Today, I am writing to share my thoughts on progress we have made over the past year in the area of DEI. In an upcoming message, Provost Lisa Lynch and Stewart Uretsky, executive vice president for finance and administration, will provide more detail on specific actions we have taken in response to the concerns of the #StillConcernedStudents.

At Brandeis, we deliberately set high standards for ourselves in all that we do, especially when we seek to ensure that we welcome and champion every member of our community. We know that our community is stronger because of its diversity, in every sense of that word. We also know that we can and should always strive to improve — not only in living up to our values but also in understanding the important work already underway to better support all Brandeisians.

This has been a year of growth for Brandeis. Last fall, through the Independent Investigators’ report on campus climate, we learned that the university had fallen short of our aspirations in upholding standards of equity and fairness. Since then, we have taken a number of actions toward strengthening our commitments in this area.

Over the past several months, we have completed a major commitment to DEI training for my senior administrative team. Both as a group and then in individual sessions, the senior administrators — Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion; Zamira Korff, senior vice president for institutional advancement; Steven Locke, general counsel; Lisa Lynch, provost; William O’Reilly, chief of staff; Stewart Uretsky, executive vice president for finance and administration; and William Walker, interim senior vice president for communications and external relations — and I worked extensively with the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, a highly regarded coach and leadership consultant in the DEI field. Two members of the senior team who have just joined us — Raymond Ou, vice provost for student affairs, and Dan Kim, senior vice president for communications, marketing, and external relations — will receive DEI training in the near future.

This initial training period is the first stage of a more extensive staff development process, starting with the President’s Management Council, a group that includes my senior team as well as the academic deans, other division and unit heads, and leaders of units within their purview.

In addition, Mark Brimhall-Vargas and his team have been steadfast and effective in ensuring that our processes and practices are designed to allow us to better live up to our ideals. Faculty, staff, and students have opportunities for training on: (1) minimizing bias during search and selection processes; (2) understanding equity, nondiscrimination, and reporting options; and (3) developing conflict resolution and intergroup dialogue skills through the Multicultural Communication and Conflict Framework — a major training module developed by Allyson Livingstone, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion education training and development — which is being delivered to the whole campus. In addition, Mark has established the new Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) to receive complaints of harassment and discrimination. OEO is headed by Sonia Jurado, who joined the university in March.

We have made significant progress on other concerns expressed by the #StillConcernedStudents; details on those actions will be included in the upcoming letter from Lisa and Stew. My senior leadership team and I look forward to continuing to engage with the #StillConcernedStudents and the important issues they have raised.

As we reflect upon the past 12 months and anticipate the academic year ahead, I look forward to joining with all of you in a spirit of shared purpose. I am confident that we will reach the goal of building an environment that exemplifies the values we share as Brandeisians — values of mutual respect, support, and understanding — as we strive for the highest standards of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In a national climate that feels increasingly divisive and hostile, these values are more important than ever.


Ron Liebowitz