A Statement from Dean Alexander
Statement from August 12, 2020
We are a mere week away from our campus opening and classes beginning. The challenges I spoke about a few weeks ago still loom large – the pandemic, racial unrest, and an economic downturn. The confluence of these events is quite challenging. I write today with a few updates, although as with all of my messages since March, I ask you to be aware that these situations are fluid and subject to change quickly.
Related to the university’s preparations to cope with the pandemic, I hope you have taken the time to read the updates from the provost about the classroom reconfigurations. I found watching the latest video very informative as I prepare to teach. I still feel there is so much to do – and so little time. I know our students feel the same way. I want to commend our department heads who have worked diligently to accommodate all teaching requests for online instruction approved by the Dean of Faculties/Human Resource process. The university moves into the fall with approximately 40% of classes having some face-to-face component (defined as one hour a week). Despite this, I remind you that, unless you are teaching, the expectation is that you will continue to work from home. And staff, except for a small cohort of staff with rotating schedules, should also continue to plan to work from home (after discussions with your supervisor) at least until October 31.
Over the summer, our College leadership has developed a series of plans for doing business in our “new normal”. All these plans can be found under the COVID-19 update link on our College home page. There are new business processes for everything from travel reimbursement (if we ever get to do that again!) to IT support. Also, do not forget that the EREL lab has remote access licenses for all kinds of statistical software you might need to handle your work this fall. If there is a software that you need to access, especially if you will not access it often, please take advantage of this resource rather than order a license to be installed only on your computer.
On the diversity front, CEHD leadership has spent this summer in guided reflection on diversity issues. All college leadership, including program area leaders, participated in a two-week training entitled Department Leaders as Transformative Diversity Leaders. Department Heads will be our coordinators as we continue this work throughout the next academic year. Additionally, the action-oriented Social Justice and Equity Collective has been working diligently to bring ideas to the table. I have been impressed with ideas that have already been brought forward including:
- The College will be supporting a diversity and social justice film study led by Mimi Young, program area head for Multicultural Education. The goal will be for all of us to learn about a variety of issues related to social justice and equity through interaction with films including ideas related to the roots of racist behaviors and how to identify and confront the pervasive microaggressions that pervade life for our faculty, staff, and students of color.
- The College is supporting a “Let’s Chat” series for K-12 educators. This idea, proposed by Jamilia Blake, program area head for School Psychology, brings together our faculty expertise to offer advice to educators about how to talk to their students about the racial unrest. These virtual coaching and professional learning communities will work together intensely during the first four weeks of classes.
- The College has expanded the training we require of individuals interested in teaching CEHD online courses to include additional courses on the foundations of culturally responsive instruction, pedagogical practices for social justice education, and anti-racism and multiculturalism in online instruction. These short (½-hour to 1-hour) courses will be complete In October. All of us can use opportunities to examine our blind spots and learn from the experts we have here in the college related to these issues.
- George Cunningham, in his role as senior assistant provost, has been coordinating with Robin Means Coleman, Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity, to leverage his expertise working with the NCAA on training in bias and belonging to co-develop a new Anti-bias Bystander Intervention Training program to be rolled out for Texas A&M students, staff, and faculty this fall.
As for our response to the economic downturn: you are all aware that Texas A&M is a state supported entity. If you have been keeping track of the news, you know the state’s sales tax and oil-derived income streams have been crippled by the pandemic. In general, Texas A&M has weathered this storm, but CEHD leadership has spent the last few weeks thinking through ways to adapt to potential changing financial opportunities in an attempt to put the College on the best financial footing moving forward. We are looking for ways to be more efficient with our resources with the goal of maintaining the financial health of the College. Please do not be surprised if department heads or unit leaders request that changes be made to how things have been done in the past. We are proactively examining our spending practices now, because it is far better to anticipate and plan for future reductions than to have to reduce our workforce or consider furloughs. In late spring, many of you participated in a budget cutting exercise with your department heads. We will use those suggestions as a starting point and will continue conversations over the coming year. As we reach out for your ideas and suggestions, please be creative to help us find ways to reduce expenses and initiate new income streams for the college. Importantly, I want to reassure our Academic Professional Track faculty that this situation does not change our commitment to the long-term contract policy passed by Dean’s Council in Spring 2020. We will be implementing 3-year fixed term contracts for those APT faculty at the associate level this fall; 5-year fixed term contracts for those at the full level.
I wish to thank each of you for your contributions to Texas A&M University and the College. We are entering “interesting times”. I do not know what the fall semester brings, but I believe that the provost’s office has thought through many of the changes necessary to open in the fall. I do not know how long we will be able to continue teaching face-to-face with our students, but I am pleased to report that Melinda Sheffield-Moore, department head for health and kinesiology, will be a representative on a committee created by President Young to examine the pandemic-related conditions on campus each week and make recommendations about steps forward.
Statement from June 12, 2020
I’ve spent much of this week listening. I’ve listened as our country struggles to come to terms with power and racism through protests. I’ve listened as our own students have painfully shared their deeply troubling stories on social media of how they were told they were “less than” or “irrelevant and unwanted” because of the color of their skin or their backgrounds. I want you to know that I hear you. This is racism. I’ve listened as our own faculty and staff reached out both to be heard and to offer to use their scholarly expertise to assist. I have heard you. To be clear, the college condemns all forms of racist behaviors and attitudes, as they do not align with our espoused mission and values as a college.
I’ve also reflected a lot about my leadership position and know that I have much to learn. Through listening, personal reflections, and reading to advance my growth and understanding, I am more convinced than ever that action is required. Inaction and silence are not options when someone experiences racism. Racism has personal consequences; but racism is not just personal, it is systemic and it manifests itself institutionally and structurally. To grow collectively as a college into the transformative and inclusive place to which we espouse, we need to take a critical look at our college and departmental policies, processes, and practices to recognize and – more importantly – to address the racism and structural inequality we find there with concrete change.
Action begins with leadership, and with me as a leader. At the moment, I have two ideas. First, I will engage the college leadership this summer (including program area heads and department leaders), using appropriate facilitators to deepen our understanding of confronting racism with the goal of providing each of these leaders with concrete tools and specific actions they can take in their respective spheres. Second, John Singer, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion will lead a call for participation for faculty, staff, and students to be part of an Equity and Social Justice Collective this summer. The primary goal of the Equity and Social Justice Collective will be to create an action plan to address racial inequality in the college. Over time, this group will grow to become an interdepartmental hub for research and action related to equity and social justice. This Collective is an idea that was suggested by a small group of EPSY faculty in 2018 after one of our college retreats, and now is the time for us to move forward. My hope is that we will draw on the expertise of faculty, staff, and students in the college. We have experts across EAHR, EPSY, HLKN, and TLAC in areas such as access, conflict management, culturally responsive teaching, equity, health, critical race theory, human resources, multicultural education, leadership development, organizational development, research methodology, psychological health, and more, who can help raise awareness, and suggest policy and procedure changes for equity and social justice. My commitment is that I will act on these suggested changes to the best of my ability, because I recognize that without follow-up and substantial backing for the work of this collective, we will not see true change.
Please consider joining this group. The College of Education and Human Development must be a place where everyone feels a sense of belonging, and are valued for who they are, and for what they have to offer to our community. My hope is that these actions get us one step closer to that ideal.
I welcome your additional ideas and feedback.
Dean, College of Education and Human Development
Reta Haynes Dean’s Endowed Chair
Texas A&M University
Statement from June 2, 2020
Sometimes a national crisis becomes a personal poignant moment. My mother stood in my kitchen this morning. Her eyes filled with tears and her voice broke, “How can this be happening still? We had the civil rights movement so this didn’t have to happen any longer. Why can’t we just treat people with tolerance and respect?” My oldest son reached around to hug her. He had just been sharing stories of George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests around the country.
A month previous, my youngest son had been interviewing my mother about being white and living through the Civil Rights movement in the south for his college history class. She told a story of riding the bus into the city twice a week, purposefully sitting in the back in the early years of the movement, as her small affirmation of those who did not have a choice. She had seen, in real time, the hope for and failure to achieve racial equity in the 60s.
There’s been a lifetime between these two moments, yet so little has changed – and not just for our black and African American friends, but also for those of Asian descent being blamed for the raging coronavirus, and those of Hispanic heritage who deal daily with the threat of deportation or discrimination because of assumptions about place of birth and worth. It is time to challenge the norms that have gotten us to this point, and think deeply about the privilege that sometimes leads to social reproduction, even inadvertently.
It is incumbent for all of us in the college to focus on two things: 1) our current community of faculty and staff; and 2) our commitment to educate a more tolerant and empathetic next generation. We have not just begun this work. For many years, the college has had the privilege of leadership in diversity and inclusion for our community but we need to work introspectively to dismantle the behaviors that reproduce privilege and bias. We are not powerless. To that end, I am challenging us in two specific areas:
- I recently wrote about the role of privilege in class scheduling for the fall. Some faculty stepped up and took on the challenge to teach face-to-face. Our students will be grateful for your expertise and the semblance of normalcy on campus. It was clear, however, that the schedules that were put forward for fall teaching disproportionately relied on our academic professional track and graduate students to do the face-to-face teaching. This is an example of invisible social reproduction. We can do better. I can do better. I am committing to teaching a face-to-face class in the fall. I challenge my tenure-track colleagues to consider doing so as well. If inequities continue to be insurmountable, I will ask department heads to make the difficult adjustments to teaching assignments to bring our behaviors more in line with our collective commitments to each other.
- We have a mission to eradicate health and education disparities. I am challenging each of our programs to carefully examine this fall whether the educational experiences both in and out of class challenge our students to confront inequities, privilege, and power, promoting tolerance and empathy instead. Examining how we teach, the histories of fields we privilege, and the interdependence of all can support our growth as instructors, the lifelong learning of our students, and their future leadership of our nation.
There will be more challenges. I do not want to see my son have the same conversation with his grandchild. We must make a difference – a personal difference – because these behaviors affect our friends, our neighbors, and really all of us. We must commit to call out those who threaten the richness of our interconnected lives. We owe it to each other to challenge behaviors that lead to tragedy, fear, anger, privilege one class or race over another, or degrade individuals. Those who seek to divide us will not be successful when we privilege the support and care of each other. Perhaps in this time of social isolation, we can make coming together matter even more.
Dean, College of Education and Human Development
Reta Haynes Dean’s Endowed Chair
Texas A&M University