From the President’s Desk: Continuing Equity Conversations, Next Steps, and the Scholars Strike…

Our community is committed to an open society that values equity, diversity, and inclusion.

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The University of Alberta’s commitment to an open society, one that values equity, diversity, and inclusion, is one of the key things that attracted me to this community. For me, a commitment to EDI is a commitment to self-reflection and evaluation, to acknowledging that we can and must do better, and to working continuously to address overt and covert exclusionary acts, symbols, practices, and behaviours. I know that the senior leadership of the university — along with faculty, students, and staff — are all deeply committed to achieving equity, diversity, and inclusivity at U of A. We condemn all racism, including specifically anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism, and see education as a key vehicle for change in the world.

This week, I know that students, faculty, and staff of the U of A community may choose to participate in the September 9 and 10 Scholar Strike being organized by academics across Canada and the US. I want to underscore that the U of A supports all efforts to draw attention to eliminating anti-black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and racism in all forms.

I am fully committed to continuing regular community discussions about equity, diversity, and inclusivity over the coming months and years. It is critical that the U of A continue to build an open society and to keep ourselves accountable to our core values as we move through a period of change and transition not only at the university but also in society more broadly.

Recently, I’ve been honoured to meet with a variety of equity-seeking groups to explore how the U of A can do better. Provost Steven Dew, Vice-President (Finance and Administration) Gitta Kulczycki and I held a town hall for Equity Seeking Groups on Aug 27 where over 180 colleagues joined a lively and thoughtful discussion about University of Alberta for Tomorrow (UAT). We heard concerns that UAT could not undo important recent work around EDI in faculty selection, evaluation, and promotion. All participants stressed that ensuring leaders are accountable to EDI goals was critical. We also heard that significant barriers persist for people with disabilities and trans and non-binary students, staff, and faculty.

At a follow up debriefing and advisory meeting last week important first steps were recommended including conducting audits for representativeness, inclusiveness, and accessibility; critically examining criteria for excellence that might be posing barriers or simply making pathways to success exclusive; changing recruitment and selection practices to be more inclusive; and ensuring the university is a welcoming and supportive place. The EDI Advisory Group also emphasized the importance of bias awareness training and training on inclusive best practices.

In addition to the town hall, several groups have reached out to meet with me. I am looking forward to a tea planned with Indigenous faculty and staff and meetings with Indigenous students and the Black Faculty Collective. Last week, I met with the Collective of Black Students’ Associations for an inspiring and productive conversation about how the U of A can be more inclusive and supportive. Together we agreed to move forward on many of their suggestions, including honouring Black History Month, and doing more to feature Black scholars and their work, past and present, at the U of A.

I want to thank all members of the university community for their ongoing commitment and engagement in helping to build a truly equitable, diverse and inclusive U of A.

Bill Flanagan
President and Vice-Chancellor