This statement was delivered by the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ottawa at the meeting of the Board of Governors today:
I want to begin my report today by updating you on the anti-racism and inclusion file. I want to reiterate my firm commitment toward establishing a safe and respectful environment for all on our campus and rooting out systemic racism within our confines and in broader society. We absolutely condemn racism, harassment, racial slurs, and discrimination.
Some students are calling for immediate action. Since last Friday, a group of students has held their protest in Tabaret Hall’s rotunda. We respect their right to express their point of view on such a critical topic.
For more than a year now, we have been listening and we continue to listen to these students, as well as many other BIPOC students, faculty and staff. We have done so through events such as the two town halls on racism on campus that we held in 2019, and through the many recommendations they have provided and through consultations with many groups and individuals across campus. We continue to hear their very sincere concerns and the pain they have felt as a result of their lived experiences on our campus.
Based on a number of recommendations and consultations from our students, faculty and staff, we put together an action plan that was shared for comments with members of the President’s Advisory Committee on Anti-Racism and Inclusion in the Summer 2020. We had hoped that these committee members would review the plan so that these recommendations could begin to be implemented. However, as you have heard from your own colleagues on this Board, that was not the case. After a year of meetings, the consensus was that the committee had proved to be ineffective. So, we acted on the advice of our student representatives on this Board, as well as others in our community including committee members, that the committee needed to shift to a committee of action.
Two weeks ago, I announced the launch of a new, more action-oriented committee with a renewed mandate and membership.
The new Action Committee on Anti-Racism and Inclusion will bring together members of our community, who will be mandated to:
- review and assess University resources, programs, policies, processes, and practices to understand how they contribute to systemic racism
- provide recommendations that will further the inclusion of BIPOC members at the University
- eliminate barriers to the University’s diversity and inclusion efforts
The new Action Committee will review the action plan and all recent proposals from all groups, revise it as necessary, make additional recommendations if required and recommend and oversee specific targets and outcomes. It will also be tasked with oversight of the recommendations it makes and provide regular progress reports to the University’s Administrative Committee and this Board of Governors.
The implementation and coordination of this work will be supported by a Special Advisor, who was appointed last week: Boulou Ebanda de B’béri, who is an expert in the field and a full professor at our Faculty of Arts.
For some, swift measures should be taken immediately to address anti-Black racism on our campus. I agree that we cannot afford to waste any more time. But we owe it to our students, faculty, and staff to take the time to listen to them, so we get our actions right. We have and will continue to act based on consultation with our community because an action plan without proper community input is bound to fail. This week a number of students and faculty have raised questions about the proposed committee and participation in it.
To ensure we hear from members of our community and that they are comfortable with the proposed approach and are included its direction, we will extend the call for nominations to the committee until the end of January to allow our Special Advisor to consult more widely with our student unions and other representative groups, our BIPOC faculty and our staff to ensure their concerns and voices are heard.
However, we need to be clear. There is common ground among us all about the need for rapid and decisive action. It must happen in 2021 and we are committed to making it so.