Interview with Chancellor Blank
6:30PM Oct 28, 2020
It's great to see all you guys. So why don't we start maybe by having the student journalists introduce themselves. And if you want to say a little about your, your year in school, what you're studying anything else you'd like to share? Why don't we do it alphabetically? So Chelsea, you want to kick it off?
Yes. Hello. My name is Chelsea Hylton. I'm a current senior here and my pronouns are she hers her. And I'm one of the CO editors in chief of the black voice.
Hello, everyone, my name is Enjoyiana Nururdin. I use she her hers pronouns as well. I'm a senior, and I serve as the managing editor of the black voice.
Hi, my name is Nile Lansana, my pronouns are he/him/his and I'm the co editor in chief for the black voice.
Professor, did you wanna?
Sure, I'm Sue Robinson. I'm in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. And I'm a faculty advisor to the black voice and I'm just here for support and solidarity, unless anybody needs anything from me.
Yeah. Well, thanks, everybody for doing this. Um, I think the Chancellor's gonna start off with a few remarks. And then because there's only three of you asking questions, I'll just like you guys kind of sorted out and decide how you want to ask questions, I won't really need to call on you. So, Chancellor,
Before you start, we just want to let you know that we will be recording.
Oh, thanks, Nile.
No problem. Let me just say a few words. Because I mainly want to get into questions. I'm Rebecca blank, my pronouns are she and hers. Um, let me start by acknowledging that this has been a semester like none other we have seen, I know, it's been very, very difficult for students, as well as faculty and staff, lots and lots of uncertainty, lots of anxiety, you know, not just around what's happening at school, but with families and, you know, younger siblings and children, but you have to somehow teach one on one and all of the different issues that are going on there. Um, you know, as I said several times, we were sort of in a three part crisis here at the university. One crisis is the global crisis. The second falling out of that is a set of financial problems that we're trying to cope with. And the third, which is quite independent, and I think, in many ways, will have a much larger long term impact is the intense set of demands that have risen around racial justice over this summer, not that those demands were not there, but their intensity, and their presence has become much clearer as we moved into this semester.
Let me start by thanking all of the students who have followed health protocols, which is the vast majority of our students. And that has made a difference, I'm sure all of you are tracking our dashboard, we have now for almost six weeks, had numbers that were around 1%, we've got a little bit of an uptick today, which we'll see in tomorrow's dashboard, but not- nothing like you know, it's not a spike like we certainly saw at the beginning of the semester. You know, basically, we have numbers and percentage positive that is below the county. And the county is one of the lowest counties in the state that is just on fire with infection. So that if you look around the state, it's safer to be on campus here in Madison, than almost anywhere else in the state. And I you know, that's true, because our students, faculty and staff are taking precautions and are behaving in the ways that prevent the spread of this disease, we're not in control of it, the only way we control it is through those protocols. We obviously will be switching to fully remote instruction at Thanksgiving and trying to our students who go home to stay home so that we do not have people traveling elsewhere and then coming back to campus, particularly given the magnitude of the infections around not just the state, but the whole upper Midwest at this point. It will not be healthy for our campus community, or for anyone else who, you know, is all of us who might be in touch with.
The financial impact of all of this does continue to grow. I released a note to everyone, I'm sure you've probably seen that estimates are overall impacted about 300 and 20 million relative to where we thought we'd be last January before this all started. You know, we've got a number of ways in which we're dealing with that. And we can come back and talk. I have extended furloughs, which means somewhere between a half a day a month to one day, a month, depending on your income level among staff and faculty of unpaid time, it's time off, you're not supposed to be at work. And that's actually a necessary part unfortunately, of us dealing with the really short term cash flow problem we have right now. Um, let me turn into sort of a third crisis, which is the structural racism and injustice issues. We've clearly heard really powerful calls for all institutions to look at what they are doing and what they aren't doing in the wake of this summer's protests, and, you know, I fully recognize that this is an institution embedded, it's a white institution and a white state, we do not have a history that is always terribly laudable. It's one of the reasons why I funded the public history project. And I'm sure some of you have read some of their blog posts. And the other work that we're doing, I think uncovering and talking about that history is incredibly important.
I have tried to listen, I've had meetings with faculty and the staff. I met with the Wunk Sheek and with Black Student Union earlier, I have a meeting with BIPOC. Tonight, I think there's a meeting that's being scheduled with SIC, I know, I met with them, I think last spring. And, you know, we just have to keep working on all of this, my real focus is on the things that are really going to matter for the experiences that people live on campus, which is the diversity of our student body, the diversity of our faculty and staff, making sure we both fire and retain a good set of people and improve our outcomes on that front training and education amongst our entire community particularly focused on our white students and our white staff and employees around issues of racial justice and inclusion, and creating spaces and opportunities and services for students of color who need them and who want those spaces. And as you know, we've created I think, four or five different cultural centers that we now have running, we renovated some of those just this last fall. You know, all of that is part of a longer term effort on that front.
We have been relatively successful at this and we're moving in the right direction, a couple of years does not make a long term trend. Our freshman class is the most diverse class ever 13.5% of students from historically underrepresented groups, that's not by chance, that's a set of strategic choices and increased scholarship dollars that we've been working on for the last four or five years. And similarly, we've seen some real success in our hiring of faculty. Among our hundred and 70 faculty, we hired last year 85 of faculty of color, we were particularly been successful with what we call our TOP program, targets of opportunity, where we have so far hired 34 people over the last two years there. And the idea there is to hire people under represented in your departments, three fourths of them are faculty from underrepresented groups. The other fourth are women in science. So, you know, I, I, we just got to keep working on this one. And we will, and I'm happy to come back and talk about that. But let me stop there and let you jump into the questions that you want to ask.
Yeah, Thank you Chancellor Blank. We appreciate those remarks. But yeah, we want to thank you for giving us the time to speak with you today. And we also just hope to gain some insight and understanding as to specifically what the university is doing to make life better for black students on campus. And we also wanted to establish a line of communication and accountability between the students and administration. And with that being said, we're going to get started with the questions. And Chelsea can go ahead.
You're muted Chelsea
You're still on mute.
It's not working Chelsea?
Try signing off and signing on again. Let someone else ask the next question and we'll come back.
So regarding the meeting that you had with other journalism organizations, such as the Badger Herald, and Daily Cardinal on campus, what message do you think it sends when black voices are left I have important conversations on campus? Moving forward, how you plan to include black voices into important conversations and spaces on campus?
So, you know, I, I met with the group that was sent to me I can you can ask them, either Doug, or Meredith who's on this call?
Hi, folks, good to see everybody again, I'm sorry about the reverb on the call. Can you hear me okay? Okay, so yeah, that's my responsibility. And I apologize for the impact that it had. I reached out to the student journalists that I had been in contact with at that point in the semester, going forward, we'll make sure to always reach out if I don't know who the current staff of the black voice is, I'll continue reaching out to Sue and rely on her to to help put me in touch with the incoming editors.
I will also say to the three of you, that because the other papers every fall, reach out and say we want to meet with Chancellor and so we put them together and you should be just as aggressive and put your request in every fall as well.
Hello, sorry, I was having some technical issues. But I'm back. A follow up question I have to that Chancellor Blank is, why is it the responsibility of the black voice of entities of black students to reach out to? Why is that not something that you were taking upon yourself, to strengthen the communication and to strengthen the relationships directly with your students on your campus?
So for journalistic groups, I tend to talk to them when they reach out to me that is the way usually that I interact with journalists, you know, I, I don't call the Wisconsin State Journal and say, you know, I want to talk to you today, they come to me and say, we want to interview on a particular topic. So, you know, I do think that the standard practice here of, you know, when you want to meet with me, you're you got a paper, if you got something you're working on, you need to reach out. I do try, you know, and I will say, I have people whose first responsibility is working daily, with students with both students of color and other students on campus with those responsibilities. That's our Dean of Students, our Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, our chief diversity officer, and others who work in those offices. I meet with students when they come to me and say, we think it's time for you to have a meeting with this group of students. And, you know, that I think, is the right way to handle this. You know, one of the reasons I haven't met yet with bipoc, I'm meeting with them tonight. And his, I said, Look, you need to start by meeting with the Dean of Students, and then come see me, they have just refused. He said, If we can't talk to you, we're not meeting. And I'm sure they're gonna say that, to me again tonight. And I'm going to tell them that, you know, it is the responsibility of the Dean of Students and the Vice Chancellor for research and our chief diversity officer to deal with students on the frontlines with their immediate needs. I'm not adverse to meeting, you know, on an irregular basis when needed, but I just can't meet every week with a variety of student groups. That isn't my job, but that's someone else's job.
Chelsea, you want to take the next one? Because I did the first one.
Yeah, so um, I want to touch a little bit Chancellor Blank on in the past year or so, there have just been a number of racist incidents on campus, including the hanging of a noose on library mall, black women being erased in the homecoming video, and white supremacist material being spread on campus? Why should black students feel safe, valued and accepted on your campus?
So unfortunately, we're in a world where this is happening everywhere in society, as you well know. And when it's happening out there, it's going to be happening in here. We need to do everything we can to limit and prevent that. And but to tell me that under no circumstances can that ever happen on campus, I can no more guarantee that that someone can guarantee that that's not going to happen somewhere else in Madison. The question is, are we doing the education of our students? So if it happens, it's not coming from our students. That to me is question number one from our faculty and staff. You know, folks, you know, this is a very open campus, it's a public campus, folks can walk in from outside occasionally and do some pretty obnoxious and objectionable things. When they come from our own campus, we have to respond immediately, and take steps and use the disciplinary process. And I think we have done that, whenever that has happened. through someone who's part of our campus community, if it's someone from outside the community, do we have to work with other entities in terms of identifying those people, and, you know, doing what we can to get them to stop? You know, we're in a world where there's a lot of education and needed, and we are trying to work on that I can talk about some of the things we're doing in terms of increasing training. You know, we've now mandated all incoming students to training on diversity and inclusion, just as they do an alcohol or sexual assault. Lori Reesor's office has created a new, I'm gonna get their name wrong office for student training. And they're going to be working with mandatory training student leaders in a variety of different leadership groups from fraternities and sororities to union leadership to ASM to whatever. And Cheryl Givens is working on a whole variety of expanded training, aimed at faculty and staff in there's a lot out there, there's more that we can and should be doing, including training for faculty in terms of what happens in the classroom. And there's, we've got, I think, a few innovative programs going on that. You know, as always, if these aren't things that happen overnight, you've got to it only as you get more and more people into these discussions, two things start happening, but um You know, this is on the backs of those of us who are white, to ask the questions to do the meetings, to engage in the conversations to think about what and how we're engaging on this campus and in this society, and to think about how our actions, our policies, and our institutions have to change.
I have a follow up to that. What would you like- What is your personal responsibility as a white person to take on that action? What action have you personally done, like throughout the last few months, to educate yourself, and then to put that into action?
So I have asked my executive team, which is myself and the vice chancellors, um, to take on an educate some form of inclusive diversity, racial justice training every summer. This summer, we all read white fragility, and had two different people, one internal and one external, come in and lead us to a series of discussions. One in the morning, one in the afternoon, I also read the the book via our other keynote speakers who spoke this morning, I'm still here. And, you know, and, you know, I, I do try to keep up on, you know, all of the what are the current set of either novels or books that had been written, it's important that I read this, it's important for me, for a whole variety of reasons outside of the role that I'm in here as Chancellor, but it's certainly important to my role as Chancellor. So you know, if you're asking me about personal education, um, I tried to do with those of the two books that I've read in the last couple of months.
Okay, so you spoke a little bit about the steps that you were taking in terms of initiatives and different offices and things like that. And I'm wondering, what steps is the university taken to remedy the relationship between black students and administration in terms of the student body, rather than specific organizations or specific leaders in campus, and this is also including what does your relationship look like, personally, with the black community on campus.
So, um, one of the things that we've been working on for the last five years now is to create spaces that students can feel comfortable in. So we created the Black Cultural Center, which opened, I don't remember, not four or five years ago, um, we've opened up the, you know, sort of renovated places in the red gym, for, you know, other groups of students, both in Latinx community, as well as some of our Southeast Asian community. And, you know, have, you know, working with long seek, which has its own group, and, you know, the Multicultural Center, which has been there for a long time. So creating, you know, working on creating those spaces strikes me as quite important for the campus. I will say, working on some of the training things, I think is very important in terms of creating an outreach among people on campus, across different racial, ethnic, gender, other lines, and in a diversity is not just about race, it's about a lot of different things where people come to this campus with very, very different backgrounds. And if you're going to take advantage of the education we provide an important piece of that advantage is getting to know folks who are different from you. And that's true for all of our students wherever they come from, because the way our country is structured, you know, people tend to live in relatively segregated communities. And that's true of our students of color, as well as our white students. It is true of our international students, many of whom who haven't been to the United States before. And it's true by political bias, that you live in red communities and blue communities, and creating opportunities for students to interact, to get to know each other to think about, you know, where are they coming from? And why do some people disagree with them? And should they rethink what they believe or not? And, you know, it's sort of the process of going through a college education. And if we're doing that, right, we're making a lot of students question their assumptions while they're here. Um, you know, that's partly what I hope many of our courses are about. Did I answer your question?
Yeah. And a little bit as a follow up, so what specific things are being done to increase the resources, support and opportunities for students of color? I know, you mentioned the creation of different spaces for specific groups of students. But what are some other things that are happening?
So I know that Lori Reesor's office has put some amount of money into programming, special programming, I think specifically to the Black Cultural Center, I'd have to get the details. I know I'd have to get the details on that one. Um, we have put a million dollars on the table in research funding for our faculty who are working on issues of inequality and racial justice. And, you know, ask them to put in research proposals for funding that research. I should say, an important thing we do on this campus is we have some great scholars who affect not just the conversation on this campus and in our classrooms, but the conversation nationally and internationally and supporting those scholars and expanding that group is an equally important thing for us to be doing. The money we put on the table for our targets of opportunity program that I mentioned for that is, you know, basically giving big incentives to departments to hire faculty from groups that are underrepresented. And we've been very successful in the last two years, in the midst of a pretty big financial crisis. I'm not pulling that program, we're putting that money in again this year to do more hiring. And then lastly, in terms of students, I have worked very hard on expanding scholarships, our scholarship dollars have almost doubled in the last five years, a lot of that new money is going to lower income students, many of whom are students of color. So Bucky's tuition promise, which we announced two years ago, provides guaranteed free tuition for four years to low income students from Wisconsin. To me, that's the most important program I've implemented since I've come, it wasn't a cheap program to implement, it relied on a lot of fundraising to put it together. But, you know, it is a way to guarantee that we are accessible at this university for lower income students. And as I say, that is often disproportionately students of color, I've announced that we want to raise another $10 million in scholarships over this year, aimed at deepening that pool.
So you spoke a lot about the spaces that students have on campus. Um, and I understand that one of your initiatives is to enroll more BIPOC students, but if students of color are primarily given one building, in the red gym, where all the spaces are, and I understand that, like enrolling more BIPOC students is great, but if the climate itself is not changing, how does it- How does it become a better space for them to be in, I understand you have all these new initiatives that you're putting into place, and all these trainings for faculty and staff. But if faculty and staff are not actively implementing those trainings, and those policies, how is the climate getting better for students?
Well, if they weren't implementing the training the policies, it's probably not. And this has to be a both and, right. You want to create a climate whereby everyone comes together, they are together in classrooms, they're together in a variety of student organizations. But you also need spaces for where, you know, people feel more completely comfortable, that's particularly true for groups that are super minorities, right? where they want to be able to hang out with people, but where they don't have to explain where they're coming from and who they are. So it's both these should create more inclusivity elsewhere, as well as creating fewer of those spaces. And I don't disagree with you on that. One of the things that we've done in the last year or two is, I have asked every single unit, both schools and colleges, as well as our administrative units to put together diversity and inclusion plans. And one thing I'd encourage you to do is, you know, go interview every Dean and say, what's your diversity and inclusion plan? What are you doing on it? What impact is it having? How do you know it's having that impact? Because at the end of the day, it's what happens inside departments inside offices, that is going to matter more than almost anything else. And that requires work at that level, not not pronouncements from me. Right? It has to be conversations amongst staff, and faculty and groups, you know, sort of on the ground. And that's one reason why we're pushing schools and colleges and then individual departments to think about what they need to do, what conversations they need to hold, what resources they need, and then doing what we can to support them in that.
I just want to note we have about five minutes left. So another question or so.
Can I say one more thing about that. One of the real challenges that we face at any university is you go through this process, and every year, a quarter of your students walk out the door, and a quarter new students come in, who have to start all over again, from point one. So what do you say progress is slow, progress is slow. And at some point, until we start seeing changes across society, you know, we're gonna keep having a class of new students walking through the door to whom this is all news, right? And that's one of the big challenges here is you got to bring people along from where they are. And we constantly have new people coming in, who haven't had these conversations before. It's what our education process is about. But it can be very frustrating because it means you don't, you know, those who've been through four years left, and hopefully they actually caught on over those four years or more than did.
With that being said, I believe that the burden that students of color hold in like, doing with those who've never had this conversation is feeling that burden that they have to educate people. And so in that burden like that in a way that becomes traumatic. Where's there accountability to the professor's, to these department heads to make sure these initiatives are being implemented and where's the assessment if they're not being implemented.
So, the department chairs report to the deans, the deans report to the provost. And the deans are supposed to be doing this assessment across departments as they evaluate department chairs and meet with them every year for an evaluation. And the Provost meets with the deans quite regularly, often monthly, depending on who the dean is. And I know it's a regular part of the conversation. I know that every year as part of the budget requests, they are asked to, among other things, it's not just about budget, submit all sorts of documentation on what's happening on diversity inside their department. That's the counting numbers exercise of faculty and staff, that's not quite the same as what's happening on the ground in classes. You know, as you may know, we've got a group in the School of Education, that are working on something called the discussion project, which I'm quite excited about, I put a bunch of my own money- my own discretionary money into this for them to turn this into online training. I'm really focused on training faculty about what they do in the classroom. And, you know, those are hard metrics to come by, you know, what is the classroom climate, you can best get at it, I think with surveys. And it's one reason we tried to do climate surveys, I think we tried to do a, you know, climate survey that asked about all sorts of things, every four years, we were supposed to do it this last spring, and it was a bad time to do it. So you know, hopefully this next spring.
Well, we've got a couple minutes left. Chancellor, did you have any closing comments?
And now if there's another question, I'm happy to take.
Yeah, I did have another question. I was wondering if there's any way to attend meetings regarding like this conversation around diversity initiatives, or specific ways that students of color can get involved in the conversation, specifically, like around this.
So um, a couple of comments on that. One is you should talk to Lori Reesor she sets up this new student training thing, and I know she's got a Student Advisory Group. And that's one way to get involved there. Every one of you in your departments should feel free to go and ask the department chair or, you know, many departments have someone who is in charge of diversity issues, schools and colleges, almost all chief diversity officers and say, you know, it varies by college exactly how they organize this, many of them do have committees that have students on them and involvement in those committees, I think is highly important. You know, so, you know, it's, you know, there's, there's a structure by which these conversations take place, and these decisions get made. And usually there are committees working on them, and groups that come together. And I don't know any group that doesn't think of a student comes up in volunteers, and says, I want to be part of this process, they won't find a way to include them.
Alright, we are out of time, Enjoyiana, Nile, Chelsea thanks so much. I'm here, let Meredith and me know if there's anything more we can help you with for your article.
Yes, we also just wanted to say again, once again, thank you, Chancellor Blanc for sitting down with us on behalf of the block wase. And we just appreciate you taking the time.
You know, and I'm happy to do it again, at some point. These are important issues. And I know there's a lot of anger and upset on campus. And, you know, some of that's what's happening in society coming here on campus. And some of it what's what we do and don't do here on campus. And, you know, we all have to work on this. And all of us in particular, those of his leadership are accountable on these things. So you're absolutely right on what you're asking.
Alright, thanks again, everybody. Thanks, professor. Hope to see you all soon.
Take care, everyone.