Message from the Dean (10/5/2020)

Message from the Dean (10/5/2020)

CoE Community,

This year has laid bare the need to address the institutional changes required to build a more inclusive environment for our faculty, staff and students. Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC) are bearing the brunt of the overlapping epidemics of COVID-19, economic dislocations and state-sanctioned violence. Last month, President Cauce and Provost Richards responded to a list of demands presented by the University of Washington Black Student Union (BSU) concerned with the role of policing in our community as well as issues related to making the UW a more welcoming and supportive environment for Black students, faculty and staff. As the University increases its efforts to address and redress the impact of systemic and historic racism on our BIPOC students, faculty and staff, the College is also moving forward initiatives in this space detailed below.

1. Strategic Planning Initiative

As the College moves forward with strategic planning, the Steering Committee has identified diversity, equity and inclusion as an area of focus for the plan. At this time, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion subcommittee is meeting to develop specific strategies, initiatives and other activities that the College can undertake to advance work in this area. The subcommittee recommendations will help form the core content of the strategic plan. We invite you to connect with the DEI subcommittee by providing feedback online. Your input will help shape the future of the College and, by extension, UW.

2. Senior college and department leadership training on race

UW’s Professional and Organizational Development has developed a course series titled Conversations about Race in the Workplace, covering topics such as: 

  • Understanding the damaging effects of unconscious bias
  • Building empathy and embracing difference
  • Inequity in our society and at the University
  • Transforming the workplace and becoming an antiracist organization

Leadership in the COE, including myself, chairs, and associate deans participated in this four-part series in September. This workshop was a unique opportunity for us to gather, discuss, and learn about issues of racism, bias and inequity. Participation in this workshop provided a good foundation for our work together to transform our College culture and structures. We are committed to supporting our faculty, staff and students in this space. 

3. Hiring process revamp

Stemming from our cluster hiring initiative, we are piloting a new faculty search process that aims to ensure equitable and inclusive searches and diverse candidate pools. We appreciate our departments’ enthusiasm and efforts to improve our faculty search procedures. Search committees will be asked to share information and data to the Dean’s office for review and approval, including rubrics, advertisements and recruitment plans, and candidate demographic information. The Dean’s office also aims to provide increased support and guidance on best practices for search committees.

We welcome your feedback on additional ways we may improve our faculty recruitment and hiring.

4. An External Assessment of DEI related issues in the College of Engineering

I’ve spoken with many of you and heard your call for a thorough review of our policies and practices. As such, we are contracting with an external evaluator to conduct a thorough review of the College with a specific DEI focus. My goal with this evaluation is the implementation of a successful organization-wide DEI transformation. I believe that this review will help us design a comprehensive work-plan with accountability metrics that will inform how we approach diversity, equity and inclusion in our everyday work. This review will also align with the strategic planning process and we will coordinate the subcommittee efforts and this external evaluation. Please stay on the lookout for an announcement once we are ready to launch this effort.

5. Reporting bias concerns – new College portal

The College of the Engineering and the UW are committed to protecting the rights and dignity of each individual in the University community. We value and honor diverse experiences and perspectives and believe that everyone deserves a welcoming and respectful learning environment that promotes access and opportunity.

We recently deployed a College bias concerns and advocacy portal to assist students, staff, and faculty in reporting bias concerns and to receive support to address their situation. The portal includes a team of advocates who will serve as trusted points of contact who can be reached by direct email or a web form submission. We have also partnered with colleges and schools across campus to coordinate our bias concern reporting processes so we can support students across the entire UW. We are working with the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity (OMA&D) and Student Life to better leverage UW’s Central Bias Reporting Tool to support students, staff, and faculty within the College of Engineering. This portal will be advertised directly to students, staff, and faculty, will be linked to via college and department webpages, and instructors will be encouraged to share this resource with their classes.

6. Classroom Climate Assessment Team

The College is launching a classroom climate assessment team to create tools to evaluate inclusivity and diversity in the classrooms throughout Engineering. Based on student input, this team is focused on promoting a learning environment that will support all of our students through a system of feedback and accountability. In partnership with the College’s ETL and UW’s Office of Educational Assessment, mid-quarter and end-of-quarter assessments will be used as part of a process of continuous improvement.

7. Associate Dean of DEI search

The national and local call to address systemic racism and injustice has underscored that diversity and antiracism work can’t belong to any one individual or team, but rather to everyone. As such, we have partnered with Rickey Hall and the OMA&D team to design a position to inculcate diversity, equity and inclusion in every aspect of the College. The result is the creation of the Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – a high level staff position – that will provide professional expertise and have the authority to lead, develop, and implement programs that increase the participation and engagement of diverse and underrepresented groups across the College.

This staff leadership position represents a structure used by many of our peers, and I’ve seen it thrive at my prior institution. OMA&D leaders and members of the student groups National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and A Vision for Electronic Literacy and Access (AVELA) worked with us to craft the job description. The position is posted and the search process is underway, co-chaired by COE and OMA&D leadership; the search committee includes student, staff, and faculty, and is representative of our engineering community. 

I acknowledge that we have much work to do and we will no doubt encounter obstacles along the way. I invite your feedback and participation as we advance this important work. I am optimistic that working together, our efforts will lead to more equitable outcomes in education and beyond for our BIPOC students, faculty and staff.

Nancy Allbritton
Frank & Julie Jungers Dean of Engineering
Professor of Bioengineering