Paxson responds to Kelly reports

Following recommendations outlined by the Committee on the Events of October 29, the University will take steps to ensure freedom of expression, restructure the Office of Institutional Diversity and maintain a diverse student body and faculty, wrote President Christina Paxson in a letter released Wednesday to the campus community.

In her letter, Paxson pledged to support and implement many of the proposals made by the committee, a body comprising students and faculty members that formed last fall in the wake of the controversial protest and shutdown of a scheduled campus lecture by former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The committee concluded in its initial report in February that administrators canceled the lecture due to concern over the large number of protesters unaffiliated with the Brown community and fear that violence would erupt in the lecture hall.

In its second report last May, the committee called for the implementation of 10 recommendations, including increased resources for the Office of Institutional Diversity, greater faculty diversity and expanded Diverse Perspectives in Liberal Learning courses.

Anthony Bogues, professor of Africana studies and chair of the committee, said he was “very pleased” that Paxson “seems to agree with all of the recommendations,” which were the “heart of the report.” But he expressed dismay that Paxson did not specify which of the 10 recommendations she would send to the Faculty Executive Committee for review.

Freedom of expression is “essential to Brown’s mission,” Paxson wrote in her response to the committee’s recommendations, citing former President Ruth Simmons’ statement in a commencement address at Smith College in May that “one’s voice grows stronger in encounters with opposing views.”

Conversation about the Kelly lecture has often positioned freedom of expression and support for human rights as at odds, Paxson wrote.

Some community members argued that Kelly should have been allowed to deliver the lecture in the name of free speech and open dialogue. But protesters and others voiced opposition due to Kelly’s oversight of the New York City Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk policies, which they view as unfairly targeting people of color.

“We do not need to choose between supporting freedom of expression or racial equality,” Paxson wrote. “Protecting freedom of expression and furthering human rights are mutually reinforcing.”

In the future, Brown community members who “interfere with the free exchange of ideas” in the manner of the protesters at the Kelly lecture will be subject to disciplinary action for violating the Code of Student Conduct, Paxson added.

Paxson upheld the committee’s commitment to the importance of free speech, Bogues said. “What the committee tried to do was think about free speech within the kind of responsibility we have to each other on campus.”

In light of the committee’s recommendation to boost faculty diversity, the University will continue to rely on the Target of Opportunity program, which allows for “hiring outstanding diverse scholars outside the regular search process,” Paxson wrote.

The University will also launch several initiatives aimed at promoting diversity among the undergraduate and graduate student bodies, Paxson wrote. The President’s Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship Program will help recruit PhD students from “historically underrepresented” backgrounds starting in fall 2015, while the Advancing Diverse Scholars Annual Conference will connect minority graduate students and faculty members from Brown and other institutions for networking and mentoring, she wrote.

To streamline the implementation of these new diversity initiatives, Paxson proposed restructuring the OID, which is in the process of developing a Diversity Action Plan to outline goals for recruitment of students and faculty members from diverse backgrounds.

The OID will now fall under the auspices of the Office of the President instead of functioning as a separate entity, Paxson wrote. Consequently, Liza Cariaga-Lo, director of the OID and associate provost for academic development and diversity, will report to Paxson rather than to Provost Vicki Colvin.

In addition to ongoing efforts to hire a Title IX coordinator, the University will conduct a search for a staff member to work in the OID and lead the Transformative Conversations Project, which aims to provide opportunities for Brown community members to hold meaningful discussion, Paxson wrote.

Administrators will also evaluate expanding the OID staff, either by hiring new employees or by formally integrating other current employees who work on diversity issues into the OID, Paxson wrote. Ten employees across various University centers and offices — including the Brown Center for Students of Color, the LGBTQ Center and the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center — currently deal directly with questions of diversity, she added.

“This is an opportunity for us to more fully engage the Brown community around issues of inclusion, equity and diversity across student, faculty and staff concerns,” Cariaga-Lo wrote in an email to The Herald. “I will be working closely with the Diversity Advisory Board in the next several months to discuss how we envision our work in light of these changes.”

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