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President Eisgruber releases initial priorities for response to systemic racism, student activists call for more specifics

<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

On Wednesday,  President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 announced several new initiatives and potential plans aimed at diversifying University faculty and leadership and addressing systemic racism within and beyond the University. 

This announcement comes after a summer of reckoning with systemic anti-Black racism both across the country and specifically at the University. Eisgruber initially tasked his Cabinet, a group of senior academic and administrative officials, with identifying plans to address systemic racism in June, and a growing community of student activists and faculty members have since vocalized clear demands.

Monday’s announcement constitutes the “initial priorities for collective, University-wide work this year,” according to a University release.

A central theme among the proposed initiatives is a commitment to increasing faculty and staff diversity. Specifically, the email outlines a University goal to “assemble a faculty that more closely reflects both the diverse make-up of the students we educate and the national pool of candidates.”

According to data from 2019, eight percent of tenure and tenure-track faculty members are Black or Hispanic compared to 18 percent of undergraduates and 32 percent of the U.S. population.

The University, Eisgruber wrote, “aspire[s] to increase by 50 percent the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty members from underrepresented groups over the next five years” and “undertake enhanced efforts to expand diversity of the faculty pipeline.”

“To enable the realization of these aspirations, we intend to use a broad range of existing and supplemental strategies, including thoughtful recruiting efforts to identify diverse candidate pools, encouraging departments to move into new fields or subfields that might offer diverse talent pools, and allowing hiring units increased flexibility to search in advance of future vacancies,” Eisgruber wrote.

In relation to non-faculty staff, Nassau Hall pledged to expand “efforts focused on procurement and diversification of vendors, consultants, professional firms, and other business partners, including external investment managers.” This measure comes after recent calls from prominent figures, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, for the University to diversify the asset managers who oversee the endowment.

The email goes on to detail plans for the creation of an ad hoc committee to “recommend principles to govern changes in naming and other campus iconography,” an increase in access to anti-racism educational opportunities for both staff and students, and a review of benefits and policies to aid employees impacted by systemic racism.

The University will also re-conceive the Faculty Advisory Committee on Diversity to assist Dean of Faculty Sanjeev Kulkarni with matters pertaining to diversity and inclusion and “make enhanced efforts to diversify external advisory committees throughout the University.”

In their early-July open letter, 350 faculty signatories pushed to increase the number of faculty of color who sit on important decision-making bodies — including the Academic Planning Group and the Committee on Committees — and urged “the training and promotion of a more diverse cohort of senior administrators.” According to the email, the University remains in conversation with faculty regarding “academic initiatives on topics relevant to systemic racism.”

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The University is also “exploring the possibility of a new credit- or degree-granting program that would extend Princeton’s teaching to a new range of students from communities disproportionately affected by systemic racism and related forms of disadvantage,” according to Eisgruber. Provost Deborah Prentice has agreed to oversee the effort.

Eisgruber noted that “as a result of its history and structure, Princeton has none of the degree-granting continuing education, general education, or related outreach programs that exist at almost all of our peers.” The University was the only Ivy League institution that did not offer some form of online courses, certificates, or degree programs prior to adopting fully-remote instruction this fall.

“This kind of teaching initiative might simultaneously help to address the effects of systemic racism and expand the horizons of our scholarly and educational community,” Eisgruber added. “Our growing experience with online learning adds to the tools we might use to enhance such a project.”

Although the University's plans integrated some of the demands outlined by student activists and faculty members this summer, most notably addressing the calls for faculty diversification and the commitment to look beyond the campus in the fight against systemic racism, activists involved in the consultation process thus far are not entirely encouraged.

Jailany Thiaw ’22, a member of the Black Leadership Coalition (BLC), worries that the University's plan is not specific enough.

“One thing which stood out immediately was the lack of numbers. Without supporting these initiatives with any clear metrics, it’s incredibly difficult to know what the University’s proposed change actually looks like, or when a lot of these initiatives will be realized,” Thiaw said.

“It makes it almost impossible for us as a community to know when we’ve done a good job and when we’re simply patting ourselves on the back once the noise dies down,” he added.

Eisgruber noted that the University would “collect and publish additional data, including an annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion report,” to increase accountability surrounding its goals. University Deputy Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss did not comment on what specific additional data would be published.

Kalyn Nix ’21, former President of the Black Student Union and one of the authors of the BLC’s August “Climate Report” — which compiled Black students’ anonymous experiences with racism on campus — expressed a similar desire for concrete action to accompany the plans.

“[I’m] looking forward to seeing more transparency and deliverables moving forward. Princeton has a habit of making working groups, but what we really need are actions and a clear timeline,” she said.

Gina Feliz ’22, a member of Students for Prison Education, Abolition, and Reform (SPEAR), sees Eisgruber’s proposals as “essential first steps to realizing justice and equity in our institutions” if accomplished.  SPEAR is currently petitioning the University to divest from the Prison-Industrial Complex, among other initiatives.

“However, it’s also important to note that these really are first steps and are an incomplete list of actions needed on this campus,” she added in a statement. “Creating a committee means little to nothing unless it’s followed by actual structural change. And it’s still up to us as students to keep demanding more from our institutions until the changes we wish to see are accomplished.”

In his message, Eisgruber emphasized a similar need for “sustained effort and continued commitment from the entire University community.” According to the email, there are plans for multiple town halls during September and October where students will be able to offer their opinions and insight.

“My colleagues and I look forward to hearing from you, communicating with you, and partnering with you to make Princeton fully inclusive, and to fight the systemic racism that has for too long damaged the lives of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, both at this University and in the United States more broadly,” he wrote.

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated to correct an incorrectly transcribed excerpt from Eisgruber’s message. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error.

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