Reflecting on the Past Month: Matteo Ricci College

June 9, 2016

Reflecting on the Past Month
June 9, 2016

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

As we, our graduates and their families look forward to the celebratory events of this commencement weekend, it is important for us as a university community to take time to reflect on our shared experience of the past month.

While the MRC Student Coalition sit-in occurred in one part of our university, it affected all of us and invites us all to look to how we work together to shape our education and Seattle University’s future, to how we include and listen to all voices and to how we relate to and engage with one another.

The events unsettled our university as a whole. While difficult, being unsettled can also be a force for good. I keep thinking of the line from the gospel “the thoughts of many hearts will be laid bare.” Indeed, the thoughts of many of the hearts of our community—students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni, have been laid bare about what we want our university and our education to be, how we treat, respect and relate to one another, how we might best engage one another on issues and disagreements, what we fear and what we do not want to lose. Bringing forth these thoughts of the heart is a good thing if we can capture them, listen to them, learn from them and discern from them how we, as a university community, grow in fulfilling our mission and doing what is in best long-term interests of the university.

The most important and hardest work remains ahead of us. We must honor our commitments to strengthen curriculum and culture, to give voice and respect to all and to be accountable to one another—especially on issues of race, gender and disabilities. It is this work that remains ahead of us and that we must move forward with deliberate urgency to achieve not only in Matteo Ricci College but also throughout the university. We will work to bring about the kind of welcoming and inclusive education and environment we seek in all aspects of our endeavors.

The sit-in was a fast-moving and challenging situation that offers a number of lessons we will apply as we move forward. There is work to do for us to make sure we are taking the issues raised with an appropriate seriousness and acting in a timely manner to address them as they surface and come to light. There is work to do to be fully prepared if we do end up in situations of this nature. I accept responsibility on both counts.

While I believe we made the right decisions in light of the full context, array of information and issues raised, I recognize the significant criticism we are receiving. I accept the criticisms and listen to them and take them into account as we live our present reality and shape our future based on the lessons learned.

I am confident we will remember and learn from these weeks as we together heal and build a brighter future for Seattle U. We are a strong and vibrant university rooted in academic excellence and driven by a compelling mission. Our academic standing is a testament to our accomplished faculty, talented staff and remarkable students—all of whom are deeply committed to helping us fully realize the aspirations of our education and mission.

More than two and a half years ago, we began a determined process to better understand and appreciate where we are doing well and where we are falling short in terms of diversity and inclusion. We placed a high priority on laying the groundwork to move forward this year. The recent events in Matteo Ricci College are but one indication of the work that must continue throughout the university.

I know many of you will be heading away from campus for the summer months in the week to come. Please be assured that we will continue to engage on these issues in the context of the entire university in the coming weeks and as we all come together again in the fall and continue into the 2016-17 academic year. In the meantime, if you would like to share your thoughts with me, I invite you to do so.

Thank you for your compassion and care for one another. To our graduates, I wish to extend a special blessing for a joyful commencement, to express my gratitude for what you have brought to the university and to offer my well wishes to you for all that is yet to come.

Sincerely,

Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.
President

MRC Coalition Update
June 1, 2016

Dear Members of the Seattle University Community,

I am writing to update you on the MRC Student Coalition sit-in within Matteo Ricci College. Throughout this process the university has remained focused on bringing the sit-in to a good resolution as soon as possible. The coalition students’ concerns around curriculum and culture are ones we share and are committed to acting upon with an urgency of purpose.

The university has engaged coalition students with the help and advice of faculty close to and trusted by our students. Our approach has been one of openness and respectful engagement.

We have outlined specific proposals to address the curriculum and culture concerns and that build upon work previously begun but in its early stages. The Provost’s Office has continued discussions with involved faculty on how best to faithfully implement the proposals to achieve meaningful results and reliable outcomes. Specific elements of the final proposals will be shared more broadly later this week by the Provost’s Office. This work is ready to begin immediately and without delay upon conclusion of the sit-in.

Earlier today, Interim Provost Bob Dullea also informed Matteo Ricci College faculty and staff of his decision to place Dean Jodi Kelly on administrative leave pending the outcome of formal complaints that have been filed and a broader review of her leadership and management of the college. Interim Provost Dullea indicated he took this step based on information that came forward over the past several weeks and his belief that successful operations of the college at this time require Dean Kelly step away from day-to-day management and oversight. It is a step that I support and believe is necessary. An acting dean for Matteo Ricci College will be named soon.

We appreciate your patience as we have worked with coalition students, faculty and others to get to this point.

This situation is an opportunity for learning, teaching and fulfillment of what we as a university aspire and hold ourselves out to be. Social justice—a cornerstone of our Jesuit education—is necessarily messy and unpleasant at times. We may not always agree on the best path forward for achieving it, but we should always be open to and accepting of those with the courage, compassion and care to actively and peacefully advocate for it. We invite our students to be engaged citizens and to seek equitable and just solutions—and should not feel discomfited when they do. Seattle University will be a better university as we move forward because of our students’ willingness to take a stand they believe in passionately.

Thank you for letting me share this latest update with you and please know you have my continued gratitude for all that you do for the university.

Sincerely,

Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.
President

MRC Student Coalition Sit-in
May 17, 2016

Dear Members of the Seattle University Community,

I am writing to you in order to communicate some essential principles I hope we, as a university community, can embrace as we work to address the present situation involving the occupation of the office of Matteo Ricci College by the MRC Student Coalition and the events, communications and other matters associated with it. I also want to express my full support for all Matteo Ricci students, faculty and staff and the vital role they play within the university. 

The most important principle is that we act as a university community, the kind of community we proclaim and aspire to be, and that we do so within our values including, most importantly, respect, dialogue and care for one another. These are our issues, especially how we relate with one another and work to bring forth a culture and climate of inclusive excellence. It is our responsibility to engage with one another and, as a Jesuit institution, always do so by putting the best interpretation possible on the views of others. By listening and understanding we will respect all individuals within our community. While outside entities have and will seek to influence matters, it is upon each of us to recognize this is our issue and our responsibility to address. The best way to do so is in dialogue with one another and through established university policies, procedures and processes.

In a letter addressed to me as president and distributed widely to the university I found certain language, especially the words “our racist dean,” when referring to Dean Jodi Kelly, runs counter to our values of respect and dialogue and to the Code of Student Conduct. I ask that we avoid treating anyone in our community this way. I have made it clear that the university will not accept the demand for the resignation of an academic leader. We have shared the proper established channels for bringing complaints and other concerns forward so that they can be addressed in a way that respects the rights of all. The policies and procedures we have in place are the best way to address complaints and grievances. I have also made clear that the university, in keeping with our policies, does not intend to publicly respond to personnel matters.

The students have brought forth other significant concerns relating to curriculum, climate and cultural competency within Matteo Ricci College. We have outlined specific measures we will take to address these with the professional insights of external consultants and the active involvement and participation of concerned individuals. These are the essential principles for the best way forward.

As president of Seattle University, I sincerely apologize on my behalf and on behalf of the university for what has been the experience of some of our students when it comes to race, class, gender and disability in aspects of the university’s academic and social life. I hope my apology is embraced and accepted as intended. We have taken a number of steps to address these concerns, from forming the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence to conducting a climate survey. We know there is more work to do and are moving forward deliberately on the recommendations of the task force in order to realize our ideals and aspirations.

We can and we will do better. You have my commitment that we will advance assertively and with urgency. The Task Force on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence will help guide us as will the expressed experience of students that we have come to more fully understand.

Finally, I want to honor all of the students and their families as we approach the time of year to celebrate and take pride in their accomplishments. We owe it to all of our students and their loved ones to mark what they have accomplished in a joyful and grateful way. As we engage in the important matters that have been brought forward in our community, we at the same time need to recognize and respect all of its members.

Please know my gratitude and blessings extend to each of you. As president, I remain deeply committed to making sure everyone feels fully welcome and part of our community.

Sincerely,

Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.
President

MRC Student Coalition Sit-in
May 14, 2016

Dear Members of the Seattle University Community,

On Wednesday of this week a group of students within Matteo Ricci College, the MRC Student Coalition, began a sit-in inside the college's main office in Casey Hall.

I attended Thursday's rally organized by the coalition. Yesterday morning, I participated in a meeting with other university leaders and coalition members. Both were opportunities for me to listen and try to better understand the concerns of the students and their very real pain and feelings of being marginalized. I cannot pretend to know how deep their pain goes, the amount of harm it has caused or the extent of our own shortcomings as educators and administrators.

What I do know is that these are serious issues and the way to address them is to work together in a spirit of empathy, solidarity, openness and cooperation. It is the foundation upon which we will be able to engage in thoughtful and constructive dialogue, make progress and arrive at good solutions.

I want to be clear that my strong desire is to work together toward solutions that address the concerns raised by the students. Some proposals have already been shared with the coalition that can facilitate this effort. They include a commitment to form a committee that will consist of Matteo Ricci faculty, students, coalition members, alumni and an external consultant (to be hired in consultation with the committee) to conduct a comprehensive review of the curricula of the college's degree programs and make recommendations for addressing the students' concerns. The review's findings and recommendations will be submitted to the provost.

A consultant will be tasked with assessing the college's culture, climate and manner of discourse and engagement both inside and outside the classroom. The consultant will then bring forward recommendations on how best to serve and support the college's students. Racial and cultural literacy training will also be made available for the college's faculty and staff.

There is an opportunity for us to work together with the coalition members toward real solutions, and I intend for them to be given ample opportunity to engage with us. In the meantime, their safety and well-being remains most important as they continue with the sit-in.

If you were to ask me even prior to this week's events to identify one issue at the university that is more paramount than any other right now, I would say it's the effort we have undertaken this academic year to understand, learn from and address what needs to be done to make our campus a more welcoming and inclusive community. While there are a number of ways in which we can point to Seattle University making good progress, there are many ways in which we can do more. The campus climate survey we conducted more than a year ago identified many, if not all of them.

At this year's Mission Day we took up the topic of racial justice. It was a powerful day on which we confronted the biases and pain that many in our community experience as individuals. I am committed, as are so many of my colleagues, to ensuring that our highest aspirations as a university are translated to tangible actions.

We have already taken a number of concrete steps, including moving forward on initiatives outlined by the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence. The FY17 budget includes funding to establish a Chief Diversity Officer, a diversity council and new resources for faculty and staff training and development. It also includes resources for an additional staff position in Disabilities Services and a new Deputy Title IX Coordinator. In the year ahead, additional steps will be taken to better ensure that Seattle University is a place where no one feels marginalized.

This sort of work is not unique to our campus. As a Jesuit institution committed to social justice, we are called in a special and deeper way to be true to that mission. The progress we are making demonstrates our commitment. We know that there is more work to do. By working together we can and will make it happen.

I remain grateful for each and every member of our Seattle University community, and look forward to the day when every student, faculty member, staff person, alumnus, parent and friend of the university feels fully welcomed and included in it.

Please know you have my continued blessings and that yours are much appreciated as well.

Sincerely,

Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.
President

Hate Speech Incidents
May 13, 2016

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

I write to inform you about several deeply appalling incidents that have come to our attention over the past 24 hours. Each incident involved phone calls to the university from individuals who directed vitriolic hate speech toward the MRC Student Coalition, whose members are conducting a sit-in in the offices of Matteo Ricci College. Let me be clear: we have zero tolerance at Seattle University for hate speech and such harassment and intimidation. There simply is no excuse or place for such behavior.

While I have been assured none of the incidents involved threats to specific members of this student group, we take each incident seriously and have reported them to the Seattle Police Department. If you receive any such communication, I encourage you to immediately report the incident to the university's Department of Public Safety. Depending upon the nature of the incident, you can report it by calling Public Safety's non-emergency line at (206) 296-5990 or the emergency line at (206) 296-5911, or an emergency may be directed to Seattle Police by dialing 911 if you are off campus.

Public Safety promptly reports all such incidents to Seattle Police for further investigation and appropriate response. Thank you for taking the time to read this communication. The safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and visitors hold the highest priority for us as a university community.

I also want to let you know I will be sending a broader communication to the campus community over the weekend relating to this week's sit-in by the MRC Student Coalition.

Sincerely,

Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.
President