Board of Trustees President’s Report

Friday, June 12, 2020


On May 25, our nation was devastated by the brutal and violent death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. In the days since this tragedy, all of us have felt deep anguish, sadness, frustration, grief, and anger over the latest in a far-too-long list of Americans of color who have lost their lives in acts of violence. And like many others, I have felt disgust at the thought of the many other people of color in our communities and across our country who have suffered from racial discrimination, harassment, and cruelty.

George Floyd’s last moments of life have sparked outrage and protests all around the country, including in Indianapolis and Bloomington. Many people of color have reached a breaking point. They have decided enough is enough. Many others agree with them and have expressed their solidarity and support in numerous ways.

Here at IU, students of color now make up more than a quarter of the university’s total enrollment. Hence, what is happening in Minneapolis and other cities around the nation serves as a powerful reminder of our special obligation to do all we can to ensure that our campus communities are places where differences of all kinds, whether of race, ethnicity, or belief, are respected, valued, and protected, and where hatred, bigotry, and intolerance will be powerfully condemned.

Standing up for what is good and right

We are all members of an educational community, and as such, we must always, as part of the very core of what we do, face the challenges inherent in understanding and evaluating the ideas, assertions, and arguments that come from varied perspectives, traditions, disciplines, and beliefs, as we pursue our fundamental mission of searching for knowledge and truth.

In the days and months ahead, we must be seen to be strongly reaffirming Indiana University’s commitment to diversity and equity. We must condemn those who shamefully seek to divide us based on race, ethnicity, nationality, political beliefs and other areas. We must join together as a strong and vigorous educational community to be inclusive, supportive and welcoming to all. And we must always stand up for what is good and right.

Under the dedicated and committed leadership of Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, and Dean of the Graduate School, James Wimbush, and with the strong on-going support of Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel, IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar, and Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs John Applegate, IU has made great strides in recent years in enhancing the impact of its efforts related to addressing social injustice, diversity, and inclusion. Indiana University is proud that in little more than a decade, the size of its minority student body has nearly doubled to now mirror the racial composition of Indiana.

But we must do much more and we must take yet more action. I will describe, in what follows, five areas in which we will be doing so. I expect more to follow.

The Pandemic Health Disparities Fund

One of the most immediate—and urgently needed—steps we can take is to address the very disturbing fact that the devastating COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected African American and Hispanic communities. CDC data shows that the hospitalization and death rate among these communities is about double that for the white community. 

This is a matter of great concern to us given that about 15,000 IU students are African American or Hispanic. Consequently, they are potentially more at risk than the rest of the population. Hence, given this, IU intends to establish additional special programs related to public health safety measures including special screening and testing, mental health services, and broader student wellness programs for African American or Hispanic students returning for the fall semester in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An initial fund of $1 million has been identified for this purpose. It will be used to establish the Pandemic Health Disparities Fund. I ask Vice President James Wimbush to immediately assemble a committee of around eight to ten faculty and staff from medicine, public health, psychological counseling, student services, and other health sciences, to report back to me before the end of this month with their recommendations as to additional programs that should be put in place on IU campuses to address the special needs resulting from the pandemic for African American and Hispanic students returning for the fall semester. The members of this committee should, where possible, be African American or Hispanic, or have experience in the particular health and social challenges of these communities.

HRSA grant to IU School of Medicine

Health disparities more generally is an area that must receive greater and more immediate attention. Thus, I am extremely pleased to note that the IU School of Medicine was recently awarded a $7 million grant by the Health Resources and Services Administration to help the school educate medical students to better care for underserved populations. This grant is aimed directly at making the IU School of Medicine a leader in eliminating health care disparities.

The grant will award $1.75 million annually for four years. It will fund a project called Primary Care Reaffirmation for Indiana Medical Education (or “PRIME”). The goal of the program is to provide doctors with the tools needed to offer better care to medically underserved and vulnerable communities, both in primary and specialty care.

This is a major—and timely—boost for medical education in the school, and hence the state. I want to commend Executive Vice President for University Clinical Affairs and Dean of the IU School of Medicine, Jay Hess—as well as the school's Executive Associate Dean for Education, Paul Wallach, and Senior Associate Dean Brad Allen for their vision and their dedicated efforts that helped secure this much-needed grant.

The Racial Justice Research Fund

Earlier this week, we also announced that IU had taken another major step to help address social injustice and promote diversity and inclusivity by establishing the Racial Justice Research Fund. Jointly supported by the offices of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs James Wimbush and the Vice President for Research Fred Cate, this fund will:

  • Support 25 grants providing start-up funding of up to $15,000 each for research by IU faculty focused on racial equity and justice,
  • Connect funded researchers with the university's Foundation Relations, Business Partnerships, and Research Development teams to help the investigators secure external funding for race-related research,
  • and host an on-going Racial Justice Research Workshop series to connect researchers working on racial equity and justice issues and to engage other members of the university community.

This initiative provides a way to engage some of IU's best researchers in tackling these vital problems at this pivotal time in our nation's history. In an effort to address critical racial equity and justice issues as broadly as possible, funding will be available to tenure- and non-tenure-track faculty on all IU campuses, without regard for field or discipline. Black researchers, or efforts that involve black graduate students or partnerships with black colleagues in other universities, industry, government, or not-for-profit organizations are encouraged to apply.

The names of campus buildings and structures and Garrett naming

In recent years, there have been vigorous, complex, and difficult debates at many universities across the country over whether the names of figures in the past who espoused racist or other contentious views should be allowed to remain on campus buildings and structures.

In the spring of 2018, I received a letter requesting that the name of Ora Wildermuth be removed from the Intramural Center, and that it be named instead for legendary IU basketball player Bill Garrett in order to fully to honor his contributions to the integration of athletics and of the University as a whole.

Subsequently, I appointed a university committee to advise me on this matter chaired by Trustee Harry Gonso, to first, consider the issues raised by this letter, and second, to consider the need to develop criteria by which future decisions would be made as to whether to de-name a building of major facility. The committee presented its recommendation to me in August 2018.

In October 2018, the trustees approved a resolution to remove the name of Wildermuth and rename the building the "Intramural Center."

Since then, discussions have taken place as to possible new honorific names for this building. So, it is with great pleasure that I commend to you a resolution to name the Intramural Center in honor of one of IU's greatest basketball players and a true pioneer of racial justice in athletics, Bill Garrett. The resolution reads as follows:

Whereas the trustees of Indiana University have fiduciary responsibility for the naming of major facilities such as buildings on all IU campuses;

Whereas William Leon Garrett was named Mr. Indiana Basketball in 1947 and was recruited to play at Indiana University at a time before the United States Supreme Court declared racial segregation in our educational system unconstitutional;

Whereas William Leon Garrett was recruited to Indiana University with the assistance of a number of African American alumni and civil rights activists at a time when few universities had integrated basketball teams;

Whereas William Leon Garrett was named a first team All-American his senior year and was IU’s all-time leading scorer when he completed his basketball career at IU and graduated;

Whereas William Leon Garrett was the third African American drafted into the National Basketball Association, but his career was curtailed when he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War;

Whereas William Leon Garrett played for the Harlem Globetrotters after his service, and then became an educator and basketball coach in Indiana including coaching the state championship team of 1959 at Crispus Attucks High School;

Whereas William Leon Garrett completed his career by serving as assistant dean for student services at IUPUI after earning a master’s degree in education and a certificate in guidance; from Butler University; and served in that role until his untimely death due to a heart attack at the young age of 45.

The Trustees of Indiana University do hereby approve the naming of the Intramural Center on the IU Bloomington Campus as the William Leon Garrett Fieldhouse.  Appropriate signage will be placed on the building to honor this great alumnus of Indiana University and one of its true courageous leaders in the integration and acceptance of African Americans in basketball at both the collegiate and professional level.

Again, Mr. Chairman I commend this resolution to you for your consideration.

As the resolution I present today suggests, we have, in recent years, taken a thoughtful approach to the names of buildings on campus. However, recent events in our country have demonstrated once again the awful weight that racial discrimination has placed on our citizens, and how that legacy can be perpetuated through those we choose to honor, in our public art, our icons, and the names we put on buildings. Indiana University holds fast to the fundamental values of equity and inclusion. We cannot, in any way, be part of perpetuating this legacy.

I am therefore asking the University Naming Committee to begin a systematic review of all named buildings or structures on all campuses of Indiana University with the goal of trying to identify any of these where the person after whom these buildings or structures are named has been found to have held views in statements, writings or publicly, inimical to the fundamental values of the university and where there is a case for considering the removal of their present names.

This will be a complex and difficult task, and the Naming Committee is empowered to establish, with my approval and that of the provost or campus chancellor, special committees of experts and others to review specific cases where they believe this is necessary.

We should not delude ourselves that this process can be carried out quickly or easily. There are hundreds of named buildings and structures across all the campuses of the university. Some of the historical figures for whom they are named, such as David Starr Jordan, are well known and currently being scrutinized closely. Others are obscure, and often all but unknown.  

Some will argue that weighing the views such figures may have sincerely held 100 years ago by the standards and values of the present is unfair, and that there may well be views that we think of as timeless and universal now that will likewise be poorly regarded 100 years hence. Against this argument, however, are the claims of our faculty, staff, and students of color—indeed, of us all—who at this public university should be free to enter any public building without concern that it honors someone who would have held them in contempt on account of their race.

Weighing these claims will require judgment and care, but we are a university and such tasks should not be beyond us.

University diversity programs and policies

Indiana University has, over roughly 20 years since Dr. Charlie Nelms became the first Vice President for Diversity, and under the subsequent leadership of Dr. Ed Marshall and now Vice President James Wimbush, established a substantial range of programs aimed at increasing the racial diversity of the IU community and creating a welcoming and supportive environment for people of color at IU. There have been some notable successes, but in other areas, we have frustratingly failed to make enough progress.

This then, is an appropriate time to also review the programs and policies we have in place to determine which ones are working effectively and whether there is an opportunity to improve them even more, and which ones are working less effectively and whether they should be replaced or modified. It is also an appropriate time to consider completely new programs and policies.

Vice President Wimbush has recommended to me that we carry out this process in the relevant programs and policies concerning faculty, students, staff, administration, procurement, and the IU Police Department. I will be discussing with him and other senior members of the university about how we might do this, while balancing at the same time, our challenges in resuming blended in-person and on-line instruction in the Fall. I expect we will make further announcements here as well before the end of June.

Mr. Chairman, these may be the most difficult times the university has ever faced, with the enormous challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded with the tragedy of the death of George Floyd and its aftermath. Our responses to the former we have described in numerous public documents, so I will not repeat those details here. As to the latter, I have described in some detail in this report the ways in which we have and will be rapidly responding over the next month. But I remain confident that the whole university community fully understands the gravity of the present situation and is fully committed to surmounting these challenges.