President and Provost respond to call for ‘equity and inclusion’

Christa Kelly & Kristian Evans, Staff Writer & Senior News Editor

President Paul Pribbenow and Provost Karen Kaivola detailed the university’s response to student concerns and the need for campus inclusivity. Topics such as academic freedom, the role of the chief diversity officer and Multicultural Student Services (MSS) and recording devices in the classroom were touched upon in an email to Augsburg day students and faculty on March 6.

The position of chief diversity officer, held by Joanne Reeck, moves from a part-time position to a full-time position and places Reeck on the president’s leadership team. This move comes “in direct response to student recommendations,” according to the email, and was also discussed in the president’s All Hands meeting on Feb. 14. In addition, the MSS director positions have been converted to 12-month positions. Director of Augsburg Latin American Students (ALAS) Ruby Murillo provided a statement on behalf of the three MSS directors saying, “Moving from 11 to 12 months has been advocated for by MSS departments, external consultants and student feedback. We are excited to see that student voices solidified the decision to expand our roles back to 12 months on campus.”

A resolution from the Augsburg Day Student Government (ADSG) in December called for many of the items that Pribbenow and Kaivola addressed. Brandon Williams, Day Student Government President, reports mixed reviews from the student body regarding the email. While some were content with the email, many students worried that it wasn’t enough.

“A lot of students have complained even since [Pribbenow and Kaivola] released this email today that there is no substance to it,” Williams said. “There is no ‘this is exactly what is going to happen. This is what we plan on doing.’ A lot of students like to see stances.”

William’s noted that the lack of clear steps was disheartening for some. Williams said, “When you’re in the position of administration, you can’t necessarily say, ‘This is what will happen,’ because that’s promising students something.” He said that gives students “firepower to use if [promises] don’t come exactly the way that students planned.”

Also noteworthy was what had been omitted. While the majority of the action steps outlined in the president’s email lined up with the framework proposed by the ADSG in December, there was no mention in the president’s email about mandated cultural competency training for faculty and staff. Williams had mixed feelings about this. “It’s very hard to get faculty to show up for those things. Once you make it required, people show up out of a sense of just showing up versus showing up to care,” he says. “It would dilute the experience.”

Still, Williams’ feelings about the outlined steps were mostly positive. He explained that the promised review of a number of Faculty Handbook points, such as those involving changes to the definition of academic freedom, were significant steps forward. “It’s very beneficial for students.”

On the matter of academic freedom, which was a prominent part of the Honors program coverage by publications such as “Inside Higher Ed,” Pribbenow praised a faculty-led change to the student bias reporting policy. “Academic freedom is not an excuse for behavior that inflicts harm, undermines student learning or denies a student’s humanity.”

The email also references a revision in the policy for using recording devices. “The use of recording devices in our classrooms and conversations without consent is also of concern, given the potential chilling effect on both students and faculty alike,” say Pribbenow and Kaivola. The president called on Human Resources, Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to create a policy consistent with “the kind of community we want at Augsburg.”

The rest of the email responded to student concerns. Williams expressed that he was pleased that Pribbenow’s focus remained on the students. “I think the university is doing a good job saying, ‘No, we’re still going to favor students while letting faculty know we care about you.’”

Above all, Williams stressed that the struggle for change isn’t over. “I think that fight will never stop,” he said, adding that our job is to “make sure that the people after us get to reap those same benefits of the advocacy work that we’ve done … We’ve got to find a way of keeping the sustainability of our change.”

In the university’s public statement, Pribbenow commented on the issue in a broader scope. “Augsburg will address this important topic [of inclusivity] like it has many other critical issues in our 150-year history: We will acknowledge and engage the topic, not shrink from it, and work together to make the university better.”

This article was originally published in the March 8, 2019 issue.