Provost Ogren Responds to History Department’s Critique

Provost Ogren Responds to History Department’s Critique

In a letter to Provost Dr. Kathy Ogren, the History Department faculty expressed their “dismay and objection” to President Kuncl’s language addressing the group Redlands Alumni for Black Lives Matter (RABLM). Responding to the letter yesterday, Dr. Ogren acknowledged and thanked the faculty for their leadership. She went on to defend President Kuncl’s statements with previously-unknown context, claiming some students and alumni have felt pressured to join RABLM.

The Department took issue with the framing of RABLM as a “pressure group” distinct from “courageous voices expressing authentic experiences,” finding it reminiscent of those who dismissed civil rights groups as “leftist” or “radical” during the Cold War. 

Having been endorsed by the College Assembly, it can be inferred that at least a majority of College of Arts and Sciences professors agree with the letter. The University Council on Inclusiveness and Community, which consists of all types of University community members, also endorsed the Department’s message.

RABLM was founded by a small group of recently-graduated alumni who declare on its website that “for too long, the University has failed to protect its Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”

Since making their first Instagram post on June 6, the group, which remains unaffiliated with the University, has garnered the support of hundreds of students and alumni. Their Instagram account currently has 1,690+ followers and they’ve crafted a petition that has amassed hundreds of signatures.

RABLM has formed a coalition joined by 15 student organizations, including the Black Students Union, Asian Students Association, Middle Eastern Students Association, and Hillel.

Referencing RABLM, Redlands History professors said “they are Bulldogs for life. And they are sending us a message. We ignore it at our peril.”

President Kuncl’s language of “the group, calling itself Redlands Alumni for Black Lives Matter,” according to History faculty, echoes of “racist aspersions such as ‘the so-called Malcolm X’ or he ‘who calls himself Muhammad Ali.”’

Provost Ogren’s letter addresses the characterization of RABLM as a “pressure group,” which she doesn’t assume was “intended to be analogous to ‘Cold War’ dismissal[s] of civil rights activists,” while acknowledging that perspective as valid.

Recognizing that RABLM is a group of activists, Ogren explained that the group is “pressuring” the trustees, administration, students, and faculty for change.

This pressure, which has many positive historical precedents, can also “alienate and anger those negatively affected,” Ogren said.

Speaking to students’ genuine experiences with racism and exclusion, “it is imperative that we attend to the issues these voices raise,” Ogren stated.

Ogren expressed hope that alumni’s “positively transformative experiences” are not erased by recent calls for social and institutional change. She referenced commencement addresses and public reviews of the University by some members of RABLM that promote all the good Redlands has to offer.

“We are called to reckon with our past and present institutional character and, in so doing, strengthen our resolve and readiness to move ever forward to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion work,” Ogren’s letter read.

Provost Ogren indicated that some members of the administration may not agree with the tone of Dr. Kuncl’s statements, saying that University-wide announcements, while discussed with the Cabinet and Office of University Communications, don’t always represent every individual of those groups.

The History Department’s letter also took issue with Kuncl’s message delivering the news that Head Football Coach Mike Maynard had been reinstated following his distasteful tweet in June. Calling his email “dismissive,” the faculty expressed concern not with the outcome of the investigation, but for the lack of recognition of students’ voices.

“The conclusion was that Maynard’s remark was ironic, not racist, as if it could not be both at the same time,” stated the faculty.

Ogren’s letter didn’t address this particular concern. President Kuncl did not respond to the Bulldog’s request for comment.

While the support behind RABLM is strong, Ogren countered that the University has also received “complaints from student groups, parents, alumni, and others who felt coerced to join with the RABLM.”

The University must hear “from the many, not the singular,” Ogren said.

Sharing the experiences of the Redlands Communications team over the past few months, Ogren said that University staff, including herself, have been subject to personal attacks and “personally identifying information [being disseminated] on social media.”

The intended or unintended consequences of the current rhetoric damage “our campus morale and climate, our recruitment, and our philanthropic community work,” according to Ogren.

“The deans, Cabinet members, Dr. Kuncl, and Dr. Jones are available and committed to joining with you and other faculty groups on additional work we can do together,” Ogren said.

The letter did not explicitly demonstrate the intention to communicate with RABLM or other student organizations who share their concerns.

Provost Ogren outlined the steps the University is taking to promote diversity and inclusion at the U of R. She mentioned “advancing” a campus climate survey, “changing recruitment, hiring, and retention policies to be more explicit about diversity, equity, and inclusion; and launching the one-week ‘Activist in Residence’ program.”

Notably, a campus climate survey would satisfy the first demand of RABLM.

The Office of Career and Development hosted the Black Leaders in Business panel last month, which featured students, and Senior Diversity and Inclusion Officer Christopher Jones cohosted the four-part Challenging Conversations series with VP for Advancement Tamara Josserand.

The University recently updated its anti-discrimination/harassment policies to include a process to raise and investigate concerns, allowing corrective action if violations are confirmed. 

Finally, Ogren announced that today the University is launching the Inclusive Community and Justice Fund to support “a variety of proposals to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University.” Details are not yet known.

The University’s steps toward improving the educational experiences of people of color fall well short of RABLM’s demands. These include “immediate removal of Kuncl from office or imposition of benchmarks Kuncl must reach to maintain his title,” “development of a specific plan to recruit and retain more Black faculty,” and “immediate publication of transparent and detailed Public Safety policies to protect against excessive force and discriminatory practices.”

Agree or disagree with these demands, the question remains: is the University doing enough to promote diversity and tolerance? Based on the voices that have been publicly expressed, the court of student opinion seems to lean “no.”