Penn State Draws Up Plans for Center for Racial Justice

Amid a severe budget crisis, Pennsylvania State University on Wednesday announced plans to create a racial justice center.

The announcement comes just days after the university canceled a planned speech by the founder of the white supremacist group Proud Boys after violence escalated in the run-up to the event. Still, the center’s cancellation enraged staff, who accused the university of failing to tackle racism on campus.

“This is an egregious retraction of promise and commitment on the part of the university that reflects the administration’s very general view that these issues are not important enough to Penn State to give them the credibility they need,” Gary said. King, professor of biobehavioral health and African American studies.

The university said in a statement that administrators are committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging and will instead spend $3.5 million or more over the next five years on existing projects aimed at combating racism on campus.

“We remain deeply committed to continuing to build research and programs on racism and racial bias at Penn State,” University President Neeli Bendaput said in a statement. “I have decided that having the people who know Penn State best support current efforts is more impactful than investing in a new venture, so we are not pursuing efforts to launch a racial justice center.”

In June 2020, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, then-Penn State President Eric Barron established several committees on campus dedicated to combating racism, one of which recommended that the university create a racial justice center.

These questions are not important enough to Penn State to give them the credibility they need.

According to a September 2021 press release, the center represented the beginning of the university’s efforts toward racial justice and equity.

“Integrated into our research engine, the new Center for Racial Justice will allow us to leverage our strengths as a university to advance and lead important research related to racial justice as we facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration between leading experts at Penn State and other institutions,” he said. Lora G. Weiss, senior vice president for research, said in a university statement.

According to a statement from the university, the project would promote research and scholarship related to racism and racial bias, provide resources for new faculty and create a postdoctoral fellowship program for students. In March 2022, Penn State solicited applications for a national search for a director of the center.

But financial problems have plagued the school ever since. Due to inflation, revenue pressures from the pandemic, lack of state funding and tuition freezes, the university is projecting a loss of $149 million this year. In July, the board of trustees voted, among other things, to raise tuition fees and freeze employment, reports the university’s student newspaper. Daily Collegian.

This month, the search committee for the director of the Center for Racial Justice demanded clarity from Bendapudi about the future of the center after noticing that the university had not yet spent the money.

“That’s why it’s all the more surprising and distressing to juxtapose the assertion that restorative and racial justice is a core issue at the university with the failure to fund a research center that is an important first step in addressing important issues,” the group wrote. letter to the administration.

In a press release Wednesday announcing the new priorities, Bendapudi University reaffirmed its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in a statement, pledging to enhance existing programs and efforts.

In November, Bendapudi said he plans to appoint an existing faculty member as a special adviser on institutional equity who will speak with stakeholders and groups across the university, review existing data and reports and develop an institutional equity plan to share. university community early next year.

We remain committed to continuing the foundation of research and programs on racism and racial bias at Penn State.

According to the president, the university’s financial investment in existing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across Penn State is at least as large as it would have been for the Center for Racial Justice. Over the next five years, the university plans to allocate at least $3.5 million to existing DEI programs, a university spokeswoman said in an email. Chronicle.

Penn State is no stranger to backlash over its handling of race relations across its 24-campus system.

According to the 2020 publication More Rivers to Cross: A Report on the Status of African American Professors at Penn State University, the university has struggled to retain and attract black faculty, and those who did felt isolated on campus.

But the decision to no longer create a center for racial justice has caused some faculty members to lose complete faith in the university’s leadership’s commitment to racial justice, says King, one of the report’s authors.

“The university should be ashamed,” King said. “President Bendapud should be ashamed of himself for taking such a simplistic approach to this issue and something that is quite unbelievable. It’s embarrassing for him to think that black faculty and students believe anything else is going to happen.

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