Dear University of Maryland Community and Terrapin Family,
Today is my first day as the 34th President of the University of Maryland. I have been on our campus for more than 25 years as an Assistant Professor, Department Chair, and Dean. Now, I am honored and humbled to be leading our great university in the third decade of the 21st century. My wife, Sylvia, and our two children love the University and the great state of Maryland. We have proudly raised two Terps! We are all part of the greater Terrapin Family and we are excited about our collective future.
At the same time, we are in the midst of twin pandemics, a time of remarkable disruption and uncertainty -- the abrupt and insidious cataclysm of COVID-19 and the long-festering wounds of racial injustice highlighted by the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. And let's not forget the earlier protests of the #MeToo Movement against sexual harassment and sexual abuse, as well as the many other individuals and groups that continue to face discrimination and injustice. In addition to the current health crisis and social unrest, climate change continues to be a defining issue of our time.
Through all of this, we are urgently reminded that we are all globally connected and, to address these great challenges, we must unite.
These seemingly insurmountable challenges present us with an opportunity that we must seize. As we begin to plan for a different and more equitable future, the University of Maryland will play a transformative role in tackling the issues facing our global community and work to improve the health and well-being of people in the state of Maryland and around the world. To emerge as an even more engaged, vibrant and impactful university, it is essential that we adapt continuously to the trials and opportunities of our time. Our entire campus -- students, faculty and staff -- must prepare for this future, because what was "normal" will no longer be the same.
I will have two priorities as your president: to promote excellence in everything we do -- teaching and learning, research, innovation, the arts, and athletics; and to create an inclusive, multicultural campus environment. These two priorities are closely related; excellence must be rooted in our values because what the University does matters. I invite you to watch my video message.
Today, my first day as university president, I am announcing twelve initiatives and recommendations to reaffirm our commitment to our core mission and values, and to one another. They are:
IMPROVING THE STUDENT EXPERIENCE
1. Increase Staffing for Mental Health Services
The impact of COVID-19 has affected all of us. Online therapy sessions have been completely booked throughout the spring semester and into the summer. Even though we find ourselves in difficult financial times, we will increase the number of staff to help support the growing demand for mental health services, especially from diverse populations who have suffered not only from stress related to the pandemic, but also from acts of injustice that still plague our society.
2. Hire Coordinator for Immigrant and Undocumented Student Life
I am pleased to announce that we will begin a search immediately to fill the position of Program Coordinator for Immigrant and Undocumented Student Life. This important position, which is housed in the student engagement office within the Adele H. Stamp Student Union - Center for Campus Life, will serve the needs of our immigrant and undocumented students, including working to support student success, retention, and completion of degrees as well as students' development as engaged leaders. The Coordinator will partner with students and the unique experiences they bring to foster a sense of belonging.
3. Increase Philanthropic Support for Students
Because of the pandemic's significant impact on our economy, many students and their families are struggling to make ends meet. As we enter the final stage of our $1.5 billion fundraising campaign, Fearless Ideas, I have asked the Division of University Relations to accelerate philanthropic efforts in the areas of student opportunity and accessibility, diversity and inclusion. We will continue to seek increased support for our Student Crisis Fund, which provides immediate assistance to any student who faces an unanticipated emergency financial need. And we will increase need-based scholarship support through the Maryland Promise Program, established by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, which, when fully funded, will include a $100 million endowment for need-based aid to undergraduate students from underserved populations in the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia.
CREATING AN INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT
4. Affirm our Culture and Values: TerrapinSTRONG
Starting this fall, we will develop a TerrapinSTRONG onboarding program for every new undergraduate and graduate student and all new faculty and staff that will affirm our mission, culture, and values as a diverse, united, proud, respectful, inclusive, accountable and empowered community of people from every background that works to impact positively our globally-connected society. Every new member of our community will participate in the TerrapinSTRONG program that will focus on what it means to be a Terrapin and to exhibit Maryland Pride. I have proudly witnessed the best of this for 25 years, and I want my fellow Terrapins to experience this from day one. This new program will include a brief history of our institution; unconscious-bias and anti-racism training; diversity, equity and inclusion training; sexual harassment training; and an introduction to our cherished traditions.
5. Propose Naming of New Residence Halls
In honor of their pioneering and trailblazing steps to diversify the University of Maryland student body, I submitted a request to name our two newest residence halls in honor of individuals who have contributed to the rich diversity and culture that defines our campus today. They are: Mr. Hiram Whittle, the first African American male to be admitted to our university in 1951; Ms. Elaine Johnson-Coates, the first African American female to graduate with a degree in education in 1959; Mr. Pyon Su, the first Korean student to receive a degree from any American college or university; and Mr. Chunjen Constant Chen, the first Chinese student to enroll at the Maryland Agricultural College. Each exemplifies Terrapin grit, desire and determination to succeed against all odds.
6. Enhance Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Curriculum
The Joint President and University Senate Diversity and Respect Task Force will reconvene over the summer and fall to make bold recommendations on how we can enhance our curriculum. The Task Force will be asked to review the current General Education Diversity course requirements and consider enhancing current courses or creating new ones to foster deeper conversations on race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, religion, protected veteran status, genetic information, personal appearance, or any other legally protected class. In its work and deliberations, the Task Force will consult with a broad community of campus stakeholders.
7. Enhance Community Policing
Recent tragedies in the United States demand that we take a closer look at the appropriate use of force against any citizen in our community. With the support of the University of Maryland Police Department's (UMPD) Chief of Police David Mitchell, I am establishing a University of Maryland Task Force on Policing, which will provide recommendations for enhancing community policing and building trust with our university community. It will examine procedures and practices related to bias, racial profiling, and the use of force, including those that result from our partnerships with other law enforcement agencies; protocols to ban the use of choke holds; and banning the use of pepper spray during peaceful gatherings. I am also pleased to announce today that UMPD will divest from the 1033 program that provides the department with military surplus equipment, a decision I wholeheartedly support.
8. Promote Voter Registration Efforts, Election Day and Census Participation
The 2020 United States national election will be held on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate, the election for President of the United States, 13 state and territorial governorships, as well as numerous other state and local government positions, will be contested. Because the right to vote is fundamental to American democracy, I encourage all faculty, staff and students to register to vote and exercise their constitutional right to vote. Maryland election law permits any employee who is a registered voter in the state up to 2 hours approved absence from work on election day to cast a ballot. I am asking all supervisors to be as flexible as possible so that employees can get to the polls. In addition, I encourage all of us to support voter registration efforts by organizations across the campus. And do not forget to complete your 2020 census, which determines billions of dollars in federal funding to local communities as well as the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives.
ADVANCING THE UNIVERSITY
9. Advance Student, Faculty and Staff Diversity
One of my priorities as president will be to increase the number of diverse students who are admitted, enrolled, and graduate from the University of Maryland. Over the past four months, I have worked closely with our Offices of Enrollment Management and Undergraduate Admissions to address the complex challenges of enrolling increasingly diverse incoming classes. I am pleased to report that, as of today, the total number of undergraduate students who indicated they wish to enroll in the Fall is up by 240 or 5.5%. The racial and ethnic diversity has increased as well -- the number of African American freshmen will increase by 8%, Latinx by 17%, Asian by 4% and those identifying with two or more groups by 26%. Even though these numbers are not final, if they hold true, this academically talented freshman class for Fall 2020 will be the most diverse on record in the history of the University of Maryland with 47.5% minority students, up from 45.8% in Fall 2019.
Advancing faculty and staff diversity will also be a focus of my presidency. We all benefit from voices, experiences and perspectives different from our own. And our students will be better prepared to become the next generation of scholars, scientists, artists and leaders in government, business, academia, and non-profit sectors when they have access to diverse faculty and staff.
10. Launch Research Leaders Fellows Program
Led by the Division of Research, we will create a faculty Research Leaders Fellows Program to develop and mentor the next generation of research leaders. We will equip more researchers to compete for grants to support major new research initiatives from foundations, federal and state government and other sources. Fellows will be nominated by colleges to participate in a year-long series of seminars in which they will receive training on how to pursue and win large-scale proposal initiatives; as well as mentoring and training on how to manage such awards. In this time of change, we need to be prepared and competitive as new research funding opportunities arise.
11. Display David Driskell Collection at University House
David Driskell, Distinguished University Professor in the College of Arts and Humanities and recognized worldwide as an artist, scholar and historian of African American art, passed away at the age of 88 in late March from complications of COVID-19. In partnership with the David C. Driskell Center, my wife and I plan to display a number of Professor Driskell's works in University House during the 2020-2021 academic year. These extraordinary works, which will be enjoyed by the many visitors to University House, will remind us of Professor Driskell's remarkable contributions. They will also help us to remember and pay tribute to the many lives our community has lost to the coronavirus. The Driskell Center is dedicating the 2020-2021 academic year to events and exhibitions celebrating Professor Driskell's life and legacy. I encourage everyone to visit the Center, once it reopens, to honor this giant of American art.
12. Host Voices of Maryland Listening Sessions
Many of the initiatives announced today represent a start to my administration's focus on improving the climate, community, and civic responsibility on our campus. This summer, I will launch a series of Voices of Maryland virtual listening sessions with faculty, staff and students to continue discussions about various issues and to listen to your ideas and concerns. A full schedule will be announced shortly. I hope you will find time to participate in these important discussions about our collective future.
Our University of Maryland family is comprised of a strong local, state, national and global community – students, faculty and staff, and a worldwide network of almost 400,000 alumni and friends. With a diverse community working collaboratively toward shared goals, there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome. Our community is TerrapinSTRONG. Together is the way, the only way, to succeed.
And remember – all that the University of Maryland does matters.
I am energized and optimistic about our shared future of excellence. We have rightfully set high expectations for ourselves, and I have every faith that, working together, we will live up to our ambitious vision.