Task force on campus climate present their five initial recommendations

In a campus-wide email on Friday, Nov. 8, President Farnam Jahanian shared recommendations from the more-than-a-year-long inquiry from the Task Force on Campus Climate, which was tasked last year with finding ways to improve inclusion, diversity and equity at Carnegie Mellon.

Jahanian announced the task force in an Aug. 2018 campus-wide email. The task force was to be led by three co-chairs, David Danks, L.L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy and Psychology and Department Head in Philosophy, Jodi Forlizzi, Professor and Geschke Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, and Michelle Piekutowski, associate vice president and chief human resources officer.

This announcement followed the resignation of Lenore and Manuel Blum, professors of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. In a memo explaining her exit, Lenore Blum cited what she saw as “sexist management” and “professional harassment.”

“We are committed to thoroughly investigating those concerns, and to acting upon the findings,” said Jahanian in the announcement of the task force, addressing the Blums’ resignation. He also noted that the task force represented an opportunity for broader investigation into the campus climate, “That inquiry notwithstanding, the senior leadership of the university, including the provost and the deans, recognize that this is an opportunity to check in with our community.”

Danks, Forlizzi, and Piekutowski divided the task force into five subcommittees after hearing what the faculty, students and staff on the task force wanted to address. Figuring out what the subcommittees would examine, said Piekutowski, was “a really nice brainstorming activity.”

Danks was the liaison to the Empowerment and Structures subcommittee, as well as the subcommittee meant to look into issues on the Qatar campus. Forlizzi was the co-chair liaison to the Research and Discovery subcommittee, which was set with discussing the empirical methods to use to identify problems and working solutions. Piekutowski was the liaison to the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity and the Respect and Relationships subcommittee.

The task force embarked on an over 75-session listening tour. “The nice thing that we did see was so many correlations between, you know, what the task force subcommittee groups were providing, as well as what we were hearing from the listening tours that we went on,” said Piekutowski.

“One piece of feedback that we received a lot was there’s not one area on campus responsible for diversity, inclusion and equity,” said Piekutowski. While attendees reinforced that changes to support diversity and inclusion should happen campus-wide, many recommended the creation of a specific office, like the student-facing Center for Diversity and Inclusion, that would reach out to everyone on campus.

During the tour, said Piekutowski, faculty and staff tended to bring up issues with transparency and clarity in processes on campus. Graduate students often talked about implementing family leave programs, and international students tended to ask for financial support and programs aimed at promoting a sense of belonging.

Jahanian, in the official charge, asked the task force to analyze the “Campus Climate” by identifying what programs are in place to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity on campus, figuring out how best to promote them and recommending new programs. He gave them the same tasks when it came to the “Campus Response,” asking them to identify and recommend new channels to report incidents that violate these specific principles.

Jahanian’s campus-wide email on Friday, Nov. 8 outlined some of the key issues that the task force encountered: “There have been accounts of ‘divisive, hostile, and generally non-inclusive behavior by individuals in positions of structural power,’ most notably affecting staff and graduate students. Furthermore, they found that women and underrepresented minorities also were unduly affected by these incidents and by climate issues across the board.” Jahanian also linked to two reports from the task force, a 53-page outline of recommendations and a five-page summary of findings.

The report outlines five recommendations from the task force, highlighting long- and short-term components for implementation. With these recommendations, says Piekutowski, “the task force work is actually complete,” but the co-chairs will continue to work with the Implementation Steering Committee, which also includes the provost, chief human resources officer, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and vice president of marketing and communications. The recommendations are targeted at the Steering Committee, but some are also geared towards implementation through the college-level diversity initiatives.

The first recommendation centers on developing programs that promote a sense of belonging for students, faculty, and staff. The report recommends looking at the role of affinity groups and community organizations in promoting belonging, as well as assessing university initiatives supporting policies like accessibility, parental leave, childcare, and gender-neutral restrooms. The task force also recommends creating working groups to examine the experiences of those in the community who have disabilities, and international students.
The second recommendation focused on promoting awareness and understanding of professional ethics and the values of diversity and inclusion through professional development and training programs. Some training would be targeted at supervisors and managers, focusing on things like professional ethics, while other training programs would focus on creating pipelines to leadership positions for underrepresented groups. The task force also recommends the implementation of new channels for reporting violations, as well as establishing advocate programs for diversity and inclusion at different levels of the university.

The task force addressed hiring and retention processes with their third recommendation, asking that the university develop specific plans to hire, retain, and reward underrepresented groups, as well as increase transparency and consistency when it comes to hiring leaders.

The remaining points focus on communication and oversight of programs for diversity and inclusion on campus. The fourth recommendation suggests that a working group develop and maintain a dashboard with different diversity metrics, and the fifth recommendation asks that the university improve communications about the programs that are developed and the reporting tools. The importance of communications to the task force’s recommendations, said Piekutowski, led to the inclusion of the vice president of marketing and communications on the final steering committee.

The task force recommendations represent the end of a process that took more than a year, but the beginning of the process of implementation by the steering committee. In an emailed statement, Piekutowski said, “given all of the feedback that the Task Force on Campus Climate received, CMU has work to do across all campuses and across all community members to improve climate and CMU’s leadership is committed to and focused on making sustainable improvements. Some of these improvements will be immediate and others will take longer. We all have a role in improving climate at CMU. We encourage all members of the campus community to read President Jahanian’s email and the attached task force reports.”