Brandeis caves to diversity demands after 12-day student sit-in

After nearly two weeks, a student sit-in at Brandeis University ended Tuesday when the administration agreed to take action on a list of demands for improving diversity.

The Boston Globe reports that “hundreds” of students participated in the 12-day sit-in, camping in the hallways of the school’s administration center until officials agreed to address their 13-point ultimatum.

The university’s initial response, as evidenced in a letter to alumni posted to Twitter on November 23, was to acknowledge the protesters’ grievances, but at the same time caution that “reacting to immediate timetables and ultimata is not something that is productive or does justice to the work that needs to be done.”

The administration’s final response attests to the sincerity of that sentiment, presenting a detailed Draft Implementation Plan for Diversity and Inclusion that not only outlines the specific steps the school will take in response to the students’ ultimatum, but even provides deadlines for their implementation and assigns oversight responsibility to school officials.

“Brandeis University has long viewed itself as an innovative interdisciplinary community of scholars and students united by their commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and social justice,” the school’s statement begins. “But as the recent campus rallies and sit-in in the main administration building have made very clear, many members of our community experiences with racism on Brandeis campus and society at large have resulted in exclusion, vulnerability, and isolation.”

The university’s action plan addresses virtually every item on the students’ list, though in a few cases it does stop short of committing to certain quantitative targets students had sought.

In response to the demand that it increase the number of tenure tracks for black faculty, for instance, Brandeis agreed to fund two additional positions per year for “diverse” candidates, but whereas the students had sought an increase in full-time staff and faculty of color to 10 percent, the school countered with a proposal to double the number of underrepresented faculty that it currently has by 2021.

The school also accepted, without reservation, demands that it appoint a Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and an “ombuds” (sic; presumably they wanted to make clear that the position will not be reserved for a man) role “to create independent, neutral, and confidential place [sic] for students to discuss academic issues and concerns.”

Yet the university’s proposal also fell short of the students’ demands on several points, and neglected to mention two of them entirely.

Though the students demanded a 15 percent increase in the minimum wage for all hourly employees, Brandeis committed only to increases of 10 percent and 11 percent for part-time workers over the next two years, noting that it had just raised its minimum wage for full-time employees to $15.05 per hour in July.

The school also declined to fully endorse the demand that it “increase the admittance of black students via the general admissions process to 15 percent within both undergraduate and graduate schools,” agreeing to take steps toward increasing the number of applications from students of color but omitting the concept of admissions quotas from its action plan.

The student protesters had also been demanding increased funding for “black student organizations and programs,” but no mention is made of this in any of the documents released by the school.

Similarly, there is no reference to the demand that Senior Vice President Andrew Flagel “issue a public apology to Khadijah Lynch.” In January, student newspaper The Justice reported that Flagel had posted a comment on his website criticizing Lynch for tweets (which had become public) in which she first said that she had “no sympathy” for murdered police officers before adding, “I hate this racist fucking country.”

Although Flagel has not apologized, at least in public, for referring to Lynch’s statements as “hurtful and disrespectful,” the student protesters have been silent on the omission, both in public statements and on their Twitter page, focusing their attention instead on celebrating the victories they did achieve.

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