Schlissel recommends chief diversity officer, student advisory groups amid ongoing campus racial tension

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - 10:55am

Following a week of student protests over campus climate and calls for more action from University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, Schlissel announced two new diversity initiatives Wednesday morning.

“At Michigan we are strongest when we work to solve problems and promote understanding together as one community,” Schlissel said during a leadership breakfast Wednesday in announcing the changes.

As the first of the two initiatives, Schlissel announced he would recommend the creation of a new executive member, a chief diversity officer, to the Board of Regents at their monthly meeting this month. To fill the position, Schlissel has suggested Rob Sellers, current vice provost of equity, inclusion and academic affairs and executive leader. 

The new position will expand on the existing vice provost position and will serve as the principal advisor to all diversity efforts on campus. As well, the chief diversit officer will be charged with leading the campus-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, a year-long effort started by Schlissel and set to be released Thursday morning.

He also announced a new initiative to create two advisory groups to the president, which Schlissel will select. The groups will have 25 members each. One will be composed of graduate students and the other undergraduate students.

Schlissel said the advisory groups will have diverse representation and will be created this month.

Since the discovery of racially charged, anti-Black, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ posters on campus throughout the past week, students and the community have called for more administrative action when issues of campus climate arise, with protests drawing over 600. The Twitter hashtag #Schlisselwya, or “Schlissel where you at,” started after the president was absent at several protests and events over the posters and other incidents, has so far garnered over 100 tweets. At the time, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said Schlissel was out of town.

On Monday, chalk reading Schlissel “doesn’t care about black students” was found on the Diag.

After a first round of fliers last week, both Schlissel and other administrators condemned the messages and issued statements of solidarity with students of color on campus. The University has not released a statement about newer fliers discovered Monday.

Schlissel said at the leadership breakfast the inspiration for the creating of the student advisory groups was a community forum he hosted on the Sunday following the discovery of the first set of posters.

At Wednesday’s leadership breakfast, Regent Mark Bernstein (D) condemned the messages and said action to address them should be taken.

“We all have a responsibility to speak up, to stand up, to embrace each other and stand up for values that make this institution so important,” Bernstein said.

Faculty and staff also gathered in solidarity with students impacted by the racist posters on the Diag Tuesday afternoon, after an online faculty petition condemning the flyers was erased by an unknown person and replaced with the words, “All of the Communists will Hang on the Day of the Rope.”

During the breakfast, Schlissel also highlighted the launch of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan on Thursday, which includes 49 distinct plans, one for each academic or administrative unit. The University is allocating $85 million to the plan, in addition to existing funding for diversity efforts.

Schlissel said the DEI initiative is not only a plan but a “pledge” to be committed to diversity in the following years by including metrics and measure of accountability for role makers on campus.

“I would like to thank the members of the diversity working group who led the process, and to the many, many others who led the process in our schools and colleges and administrative units who have helped produce a plan that is specific, inspirational and sets us up for implementation work to come beginning now, and in five years and beyond,” he said.