Progress on Key Institutional Initiatives

May 7, 2020

Dear Campus Community,

Normally, I am privileged to spend the final weeks of our academic year with you in various venues, celebrating our students, faculty, and staff’s enduring contributions to the Spider community. It is always one of the highlights of my year, and it saddens me that I cannot acknowledge your many contributions this academic year and thank you in person. While circumstances prevent us from being together, I would still like to pause and reflect on the remarkable progress we have made on several key initiatives this year, and to thank everyone who has worked so hard to advance these priorities.

Making Excellence Inclusive

In July 2019, we released Making Excellence Inclusive: Report and Recommendations, outlining an ambitious plan to make Richmond a more inclusive and welcoming community for all. We appointed an interim senior administrative officer (SAO) and an Institutional Coordinating Council (ICC) to distribute leadership work across the institution — and to propel cultural change at Richmond. While the racist and xenophobic incidents on campus this past January — and our students’ admirable activism and advocacy thereafter — remind us that we have considerably more work to do, we have also made significant progress. I encourage you to review our MEI work plan for a comprehensive overview of progress to date. I am particularly grateful to Dr. Amy Howard for her leadership and vision as interim SAO, and to the ICC’s members and its co-chairs, Dr. Patricia Herrera and Dr. Glyn Hughes, for their work connecting and communicating MEI initiatives and goals across campus.

President’s Student Cabinet

This past January’s racist and xenophobic incidents demonstrated not only the urgency of our efforts to foster a safe, respectful, and welcoming community for all, but also a critical need to better connect students and University leadership. In February, I announced the creation of a President’s Student Cabinet, comprising current students from across the institution and intended to foster communication, engagement, and collaboration among students and the University’s senior leadership. Student Cabinet members will be selected to represent the broadest possible range of student backgrounds, interests, experiences, identities, and ideologies. Formal recruitment of the inaugural Cabinet class will begin in August. Faculty and staff may nominate students to serve, or encourage them to self-nominate. I look forward to convening and working with this group in the fall.

University History and Memorialization

We have continued to deepen our shared understanding of the University’s past as we work together to foster a more inclusive future. In January, I established the Burial Ground Memorialization Committee, co-chaired by President Emeritus Edward Ayers and Vice President and Chief Information Officer Keith “Mac” McIntosh, to engage the campus and broader community in constructive dialogue on how to memorialize the enslaved burial ground located on what is now our campus, and the history of this land, including its sustained intersections with enslavement. The committee began its work this semester, hosting open meetings to learn about the extensive research on the burial ground, completed by Shelby Driskill and Dr. Lauranett Lee in December. I invite you to read their report and watch a video presentation of their research findings.

The committee has engaged Mrs. Brenda D. Nichols, a Henrico County public historian, as a consultant and advisor for our work with descendant communities. While the committee’s progress has been interrupted by COVID-19, when conditions allow, the committee will resume its work, including important meetings with members of the descendant community and campus community to discuss appropriate and meaningful ways to formally memorialize the burial ground and the land’s connection to enslavement. It is my hope that the committee can complete its work and make a recommendation in December. I am grateful to the members of the committee for their commitment to this important effort.

Free Expression

Finally, community dialogue continued throughout this year regarding free expression on our campus. Last spring, I convened a Task Force on Free Expression to review our institutional practice and policies related to free expression and academic freedom at the University. I charged the Task Force with determining whether the University would benefit from a definitive statement on free expression, and if so, with drafting a statement for our community’s consideration. Over seven months, the Task Force carefully studied the national discussion regarding free expression in higher education; reviewed free expression statements from a range of other colleges and universities; and ultimately determined the University would benefit from having a statement rooted in our own educational mission and institutional values. The Task Force drafted a Statement on Free Expression, which I am pleased to share with you. Provost Legro and I will consult with representative groups across campus during the fall semester to discuss the recommended Statement and will consider comments and suggestions submitted online. We expect to finalize the recommended Statement before the end of the fall semester. I am grateful to Professor Kurt Lash and the members of the Task Force, who thoughtfully and diligently fulfilled their charge, and I look forward to discussing their recommended Statement with the campus community next semester.

These brief updates hardly do justice to all the hard work undergirding our progress, not only for those named here, but also for so many of you who have contributed your strategic thinking and candid feedback to propel these initiatives. Advancing inclusion, grappling with complicated histories, and fortifying free expression present challenging work for us all, but they are critically important to our educational mission and our institutional culture. Thank you for your countless contributions to our shared efforts. All of you are the reason why I am — and will always remain — profoundly grateful to lead the University of Richmond.

I wish you good health and continued well-being during this challenging time, and I look forward to seeing you all once again.

With gratitude,

Ronald A. Crutcher