Lack of Diversity Task Force Accountability Disconcerting

President Hamilton spent much of his first semester at NYU forming and setting specific goals for an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Task Force with the help of the University Senate. This team was charged with soliciting input and advice from the NYU community on the campus environment, and assessing their findings to develop strategies to foster a more inclusive climate. However, the Task Force’s first major deadline — April 2016 — has come and gone, with little to show for their supposed efforts.

Since then, there has been little correspondence regarding the task force’s official activities. Whether this reflects an indifferent administration or simple bureaucratic delay, it suggests that NYU’s true commitment to its task force’s goals is weak and is more talk than action. President Hamilton’s inauguration ceremonies even included an event dedicated to exploring “NYU’s legacy of equity, diversity, and inclusion.” Yet this event blatantly ignored the wealth of questions left unanswered regarding the progress of last year’s diversity initiatives.

For example, the task force had explicitly stated that it would provide the community with a “preliminary progress report” concerning the state of diversity at NYU by April 2016. This report was referenced multiple times, by name, in communications from the Task Force to the NYU community and Hamilton himself. In these letters it is stated time and time again that this preliminary progress report would be presented during the final University Senate meeting of the spring semester — which occurred on April 28 — yet no such report is currently publicly accessible anywhere.

This is particularly unusual, as the details of what occur during University Senate proceedings are normally recorded in the Minutes and Records section of the organization’s webpage. However, this information will not be available to the public until the senate’s next meeting sometime in October, per University Senate procedure. The only information available to the NYU community from this April 28 meeting can be found in an incredibly vague PowerPoint published by the Task Force. This slideshow is impossible to interpret in any meaningful way without the accompanying presentation. It lacks any of the specific details that would constitute an official “preliminary progress report,” and instead is merely a hodgepodge of copied recommendations from a letter sent earlier in the year by Hamilton, and the Task Force’s own initial charges.

This makes it incredibly difficult to discern what actually happened to the Task Force’s preliminary progress report. The Task Force’s web page — which is supposed to be kept up to date with records of the information exchanged at all of its meetings — was only made available after two of our writers met with the administration personally to ask about the missing information. As of last week, the information had yet to be updated with the summaries of any of their meetings since March. The only information available regarding the actions of the Task Force since then can be found in a letter to the NYU community on May 17, which explicitly mentions that “written preliminary report” will be made available in the summer. It includes no mention of the fact that they failed to meet their April 2016 goal.

The fact that it requires this much explanation to even begin to answer the question of whether or not the Task Force accomplished the first of their three explicitly listed goals within their allotted time frame is embarrassing. In an attempt to answer these questions we raised these concerns with Task Force cochairs Gabi Starr and Charlton McIlwain, yet their answers were unhelpful. They insisted time and time again that they had never made any claims to actually publish a written preliminary report, and that the phrase “preliminary progress report” was merely a figure of speech that was never meant to translate into anything written that the community would get to see. Yet, this seems to be almost an obvious falsity, since they stated in the aforementioned letter that the community should “stay tuned for [their] written preliminary report.”

The lack of information available about the Task Force presents a serious problem for anyone invested in the ongoing dialogue about diversity at NYU. Whatever work the Task Force has done between these two semesters seems to be buried somewhere deep in NYU’s bureaucratic crypts. It’s difficult to piece together an actual picture of what the Task Force has been up to, even if one painstakingly tracks each tiny bit of public information. This is a major transparency failure on the university’s end, and this discovery comes at an unfortunate time for the newly inaugurated Hamilton, who touted the Task Force as “absolutely critical to our community.”

But this claim is disputed by the fact that there seems to be little in the way of documentation available to average students of what’s been going on with the Task Force behind closed doors. If NYU’s community cannot even depend on the president’s initiatives to deliver a relatively simple report, then it begs the question of what we actually can depend on them to do in terms of real action.

Hamilton should not forget that his predecessor, John Sexton, saw his favorability crumble because of his failure to address the concerns of the NYU community. With his appointment, Hamilton — whose “professional life has been defined by [his] role as a faculty member,” per his introductory email — was poised to be different. From the kindly English chemistry professor, we expected a president who understood the frustration of administrative stonewalling, who would be sensitive to the urgency of the issues facing the student body and who would make a commitment to fair and open dealings with the community he was set to govern.

The issue of campus diversity was an opportunity for the Hamilton administration to prove that it could make good on its word. Instead, we got broken promises, forgotten deadlines and needlessly puerile rebuffs from official spokespeople. This is unacceptable from any administration, never mind one that has purposely staked its legitimacy on its open communication.

The most frustrating thing is that these ambiguities could have been easily rectified if those responsible for the Task Force simply released a report as planned, or even just acknowledged that they were in the wrong and pledged to do better. The goal here is not to pit the university’s administration against the students and community, but to ensure that the administration can own up to its mistakes. Ultimately, we are all rooting for NYU to better itself as an institution and as a community. To end up feeling that trust in our university was unwarranted is disheartening.


A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 3rd print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]