This letter from ACLU-NH Executive Director Devon Chaffee and NAACP-Seacoast President Rogers Johnson, was sent to the University of New Hampshire Board of Trustees and its Presidential Search Committee and ran in the Foster's Daily Democrat on Wednesday, November 15, 2017.
Dear Chairman Small and the UNH Presidential Search Committee,
We share in your excitement about the opportunities that come with the hiring of a new University of New Hampshire (UNH) President. We recognize the enormous influence that a president has to shape the direction and ethos of a university. In no small way, the vision of a university president can shape a state and generation through graduating classes of future leaders. It is in recognition of this enormous influence that we are writing to ask that you include consideration of candidates’ experience in fostering diversity and equity on campus during your search.
The UNH website, as well as the job posting announcing the presidency position, state that diversity is critical to the college experience. We wholeheartedly agree. Universities benefit tremendously from diversity on campus, including in the student body and the faculty. Moreover, exposure to and training about diversity, equity, and multi-culturalism during college are critical to students’ success after graduation. To be successful in nearly any profession requires an understanding of and respect for other cultures and views. As New Hampshire’s flagship university, UNH has a particular responsibility to ensure its students graduate with the training and experience necessary to be engaged, critical citizens. We implore you to seize this opportunity to bring in a new president who understands this and who will foster a more socially conscious and inclusive campus.
When you are interviewing candidates, we encourage you to include questions about what actions candidates are prepared to take starting on day one to build a more inclusive university that enhances learning and protects the rights and dignity of all students. What experiences do they have in fostering respectful conversations about race and equity on campus? Would they consider mandating diversity training for Administration and staff, and during freshman orientation? What would they do with the current Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate? What would they do to recruit and retain more students and faculty of color?
UNH has a majority white faculty and student body, leaving students and faculty of color particularly vulnerable. This underscores the importance of ensuring students and faculty of color are included, respected, and feel safe. Recent events on campus, including students dressing in racially insensitive clothing and posting pictures of it online, and racial slurs and swastikas being painted on school property, make clear that racism is a problem and one that needs a more systematic and committed response by the university administration. We care deeply that the next UNH President be better prepared to address these issues and foster equity on campus.
When incidents of racial bias and intolerance are met with statements and meetings, but little concrete action, a University Administration sends a clear message that diversity and equity are not true priorities. Everyone at a university, and its reputation, suffer in turn. As has happened with UNH, where incidents of racism on campus go back decades, a concerted effort is needed to change course. When you interview candidates, we encourage you to ask them what they would do differently if faced with these incidents of racism on campus. What would they do early in their tenure to improve equity and safety on campus, and bring accountability to UNH?
The hiring of a new president is the single greatest way to redirect a university. As the Committee that meets with all candidates, you are uniquely situated to ensure that the final candidate and next UNH President brings positive change. New Hampshire needs UNH to be a beacon on the hill, to be the example of what we could be and not what we have been. UNH should show us our better selves.
Thank you for your time and consideration of our concerns. We hope you will consider us a resource as you move forward with this important search.
Devon Chaffee Executive Director ACLU of New Hampshire
Rogers J. Johnson President NAACP Seacoast