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USF faculty passed a resolution condemning racism. The vote was close.

The Faculty Senate largely agreed the university could take a stronger stand against racism. But they disagreed on how to say that.
The Faculty Senate at the University of South Florida passed a resolution condemning racism, but not all members agreed with the wording of the document.
The Faculty Senate at the University of South Florida passed a resolution condemning racism, but not all members agreed with the wording of the document. [ Times (2018) ]
Published Nov. 7, 2020

Like many institutions, the University of South Florida responded to last summer’s protests over the death of George Floyd with a commitment to do better by Black people.

Researchers at USF would explore racial issues. The school would recruit more Black students and spend more money with Black-owned businesses. It would elevate Black leaders to key positions and revise its curriculum, among other steps.

That wasn’t enough, said faculty leaders, who created a council to address issues of diversity and proposed a resolution.

“Individual departments were drafting statements for in-house purposes but there didn’t seem to be anything of significance coming from the university as a whole or faculty as a whole,” said Richard Manning, a USF philosophy professor and the Faculty Senate’s sergeant at arms.

Richard Manning [Courtesy of USF]
Richard Manning [Courtesy of USF]

But getting agreement on the right words for that document proved difficult.

In a meeting last month to pass a resolution condemning racism and anti-Blackness — and calling on USF to be a leader in that fight — the measure passed narrowly, 38 to 33. Faculty members debated language that some found too strident, eventually voting to approve a toned-down version.

Among those pushing back was senator Barbara Hansen, a professor in the internal medicine department, who voted against the resolution.

“I thought the whole tone of the document was abhorrent to me,” Hansen said in an interview. “It depends on how you interpret it. But I interpret it as USF is racist. USF faculty are racist. USF Faculty Senate is racist. USF faculty administration is racist. ... In my 15 years (at USF), I’ve never seen a single faculty senator say a single thing that could be interpreted as racist. Not once. And I don’t want to limit it to the Senate. I have never, ever heard a university administrator say or do something that I would interpret as racist. ... I’ve never heard a student in a classroom say anything, ever racist. Now think about that. How do you want the university portrayed to itself? Is it a racist place?”

Barbara Hansen [Courtesy of USF]
Barbara Hansen [Courtesy of USF]

After suggestions on the first draft, Manning said he took out a phrase condemning white supremacy.

“It was relatively inflammatory and might have been objected to as unnecessary,” Manning said.

He explained why he included the wording in the first place: “My leading thought was that enough is enough. Instead of putting little Band Aids and singing a little song about diversity, we’ve been doing that for 50 years. Nothing’s going to happen until white people see it as their problem to fix. …The language of the resolution is pretty strong, but if you can’t use strong language against anti-Blackness and racism, when can you?”

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The resolution was drafted in consultation with the Black Faculty and Staff Association and USF’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity, said Jenifer Jasinski Schneider, a professor of literacy studies in the College of Education and the Senate vice president.

Jenifer Jasinski Schneider [Courtesy of USF]
Jenifer Jasinski Schneider [Courtesy of USF]

Among other provisions, it called on the university to stay committed to attracting diverse faculty and ensure that no student graduate without “a sound, basic understanding education concerning the historical and current manifestations and operations of anti-Blackness and systemic racism in American culture.”

Though the language passed, Manning said some in the Senate felt it was still too strong. Others said it didn’t call for concrete actions.

Hansen said she disagreed with many of the document’s assertions and wanted to see data, including numbers on faculty diversity, before it was passed.

"I think it would be an unfortunate conclusion based on zero data that we are anything but a very diverse and very inclusive university,” she said.

Manning said the resolution was a call for USF to be a leader in antiracism research and teaching students to have an impact outside the university. Jasinski Schneider said she believed the document was ahead of the curve, “an excellent decision and a step in the right direction” after researching how other prominent universities have dealt with racism and responded to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We can lead in patents and marine sciences and antiracism,” Manning said.

Others opposed the resolution, saying it was not inclusive enough regarding the LGBTQ community or Asians and Latinos.

Manning said the resolution was originally intended to focus on anti-Black racism as a response to the death of George Floyd. But the revised version added a footnote to specify that racism was to be understood broadly to refer to “discrimination of any kind against persons on the basis of their race, color, ethnicity or national origin.”

The resolution is groundbreaking, said Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, a professor who was appointed over the summer by USF president Steve Currall to be a senior advisor on issues of diversity and inclusion.

Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman [Courtesy of USF]
Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman [Courtesy of USF]

“I think that a document like this can be a useful reference for folks who don’t necessarily understand the gravity of anti-Blackness in particular and how anti-Blackness is a particularly virulent form of racism,” Hordge-Freeman said. “This is a learning process for the vast majority of faculty members at universities. Universities are certainly progressive, but the notion of moving from diversity to antiracism is a huge shift that we’re really just starting to see now.”

The document paves the way, she said, for faculty and colleges to take specific actions. For example, she said, USF’s College of Arts and Sciences recently adopted a course on systemic racism and violence that all students must take.

Faculty Senate president Tim Boaz said the vote reflects the particulars of the resolution, but not overall faculty sentiment.

“I think this is an area there’s been a lot of conflict in our country, so it’s not surprising we’re not all in agreement about this,” he said. “I do think the majority opinion of the Senate is that doing something is important. The lack of a more emphatic vote, if you will, I think had more to do with the details of it than the overall sense of the faculty that these are important issues and that something should be done.”

Manning said the ball is in the administration’s court. In times of budget cuts, he said, it’s important not to lose sight of the issue.

“This shows that (faculty) are committed to being willing to have some of their interests compromised for the greater good," he said. "Everyone is willing to say ‘I’m not a racist and I’m in favor of social justice,’ but very few people are willing to sacrifice anything for it — and that’s unacceptable. ... It’s talk, and talk is cheap.”

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