President Frenk unveils plans for racial justice

Photo credit: Jared Lennon
Photo credit: Jared Lennon

President Julio Frenk first arrived at the University of Miami in 2015 during a moment when its students, faculty and staff were grappling with racism on its very own campus.

Student protestors who engaged in a Black Lives Matter rally in December 2014 on UM’s campus were attacked with expletive, racist comments shared anonymously through Yik Yak, a popular app at the time which facilitates anonymous conversations for users within a 5-mile radius of each other.

University statements were written and a presidential task force was formed, but still five years later, several Black students and leaders at UM feel like not enough progress has been made–and Frenk is among them.

Once again, the university is pledging to address systemic racial injustice, however this time, with a 15-part plan complete with measures to uncover and act on present issues on campus, increase the number of Black hires and invest in the Black community.

The plan, announced in an email sent out to the entire UM community on July 1, came after several endemic problems were raised during the Black State of the Union Address last month and a letter was sent to the Board of Trustees outlining recommendations for the university to heed to.

Click here to read the full message.

Amid the national conversation on racism following George Floyd’s death, Frenk said the university must take action now.

“We have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to channel that indignation into urgent and useful action, rather than divisive or destructive behavior,” Frenk wrote.

Here are key takeaways from the university’s plan.

1. ‘I am not satisfied.’ Frenk outlines 15-part plan to address racial injustice

During Frenk’s first five years as president, the university welcomed its first two Black academic deans, increased Black faculty by 26 percent, brought enrollment of Black students up from 8 percent to 11 percent and increased the number of Black first-year or transfer students up 47 percent from 147 in fall of 2015 to 216 in fall of 2019, among other accomplishments.

“In my time at the U, we have made progress on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but as I told the Board, I am not satisfied,” Frenk wrote. “We are committed to making the University of Miami an exemplary institution.”

Directly serving alongside Frenk, a new special advisor to the president on racial justice will oversee the university’s efforts laid out in its 15-point plan.

Donald Spivey, a professor of history at the university who specializes in African American history, will serve as the president’s advisor. A message sent out to the UM community on July 2 confirmed his appointment and qualifications for the role: “Professor Spivey is one of our most accomplished faculty members, whose command of issues related to racial justice, extensive scholarship on the history of the Black community in the United States, administrative experience, and commitment to mentoring students and colleagues alike make him the ideal candidate to take on this new role.”

Frenk wrote that this plan is only the beginning of a process to address systemic issues.

“These 15 actions are not an end product; they are a starting point,” Frenk wrote. “I will continue to seek input from trustees, faculty members, staff, students, and alumni on ideas that put our values into practice.”

2. University’s plan meets nearly all of Blacks students’ demands

Ahead of the university’s Board of Trustees meeting held on Juneteenth, 20 Black student leaders crafted a letter including 11 recommendations for the administration to act on. The 15-point plan presented by the university two weeks later meets nearly all of these requests, including additional provisions to carry it out.

This includes plans for mandatory university-wide diversity and sensitivity training, a strategic hiring plan to increase and retain more Black faculty members and collaboration with the university and Coral Gables police departments to improve policies and training.

However, not all demands were met. The diversity, equity and inclusion committee which student leaders had suggested should be transitioned into a center is instead being revamped to coordinate the university’s actions on racial justice. Students had also requested that a new executive vice president for diversity inclusion along with a vice provost be hired to head a diversity, equity and inclusion center. While this is not yet part of the university’s plan, the new special advisor to the president on racial justice will collaborate with the committee and oversee the university’s racial justice initiatives

Students also advocated for additional study abroad options to be added in Africa, the Caribbean, South America and other regions affected by the African diaspora. This was not mentioned in the university’s plan so far.

Here is a full list of recommendations from Black student leaders that the university is acting on:

– Mandatory university-wide training will be completed annually, including a new online EVERFI course module on diversity and inclusion for students to complete starting in January. Annual classroom evaluations will also be completed.

– A strategic hiring plan will be instituted to increase recruitment and retention of Black faculty members, staff and administrators. This will be accompanied by programs to support current minority and Black faculty members, as well as incentive programs.

– An internal demographic audit will be completed annually and made public.

– A racial climate survey will be sent out this fall to benchmark the current conditions on campus.

– The university will amp up outreach to local Black communities with service initiatives, academic programming and other forms of support.

– A center for global Black studies will be created to focus on issues of structural racism. The university is also planning to fund research teams dedicated towards exploring institutionalized racism. Proposals will be reviewed later this month.

– The university is dedicating funding for identity-based events, including the annual Students of Color Symposium which will be funded in full.

– Special opportunities and incentives will be provided for Black and minority-owned businesses to use campus facilities.

– The university will work with the university and Coral Gables police departments to discuss implementing de-escalation policies and diversity and sensitivity training.

3. UM plans to recruit more Black faculty, Black students

Black faculty currently make up 5.1 percent of the total, a number that Frenk said the university plans to increase in the coming years through intentional recruitment and support. This will be directly run and overseen by a new office for faculty inclusion and diversity which will work to recruit, retain and grow minority faculty members, especially Black faculty.

Frenk also revealed plans for more ambitious hiring practices. Currently UM requires that for any given position, female and minority applicants must be considered, however within five years, this initiative will take one step further.

“By 2025, at least 80 percent of faculty searches will have diverse candidates not just among applicants, but among finalists,” Frenk wrote.

Further aid and support will be provided to increase recruitment including loan repayment programs and special incentives.

Students and leaders at UM explained to The Miami Hurricane why hiring a diverse staff is important to empower and improve the Black student experience.

The university is also continuing its efforts to recruit and retain a high percentage of Black students, a big component of which will be financial aid, Frenk wrote. The university plans to meet full demonstrated financial need by 2025.

Frenk explained the university has offered more competitive prestigious awards, such as the Singer scholarship and Foote Fellows distinction, to Black students and will continue to do so.