Leadership Message in Response to Alumni Concerns

Dear Kimberly, Saamiya, Sarah, Tyson, and Cynthia:

First of all, we want to apologize for the delayed timing of this response. We felt it was necessary to open up a dialogue and meet with you in-person as a first step, and we appreciate the discussion we had on July 3, 2020.

We want to thank you for your thoughtful and detailed letter, and also for your leadership in engaging fellow alumni to stand together and create change. Your calls to action are shared by many in the Cockrell School community. We hear you, we agree with you, and we are driven to build a more diverse Texas Engineering community that is free of hate, racism and intolerance. We understand that we must do better — and be better — and that now is the time for action.

Regarding the questions you asked in the six points outlined in your letter, our responses are outlined below. Additional data will be provided in our 2020 DEI Report, which will be published on our website in August.

  1. UT Austin has emphasized graduation rates as a major priority for the past 5-10 years, and in the Cockrell School, we have employed a number of approaches to improve our retention of undergraduate students and graduation rates. Though data for underrepresented students still lag behind that of other groups, the URM four-year and six-year engineering graduation rates have improved significantly over the past 10 years. We feel that our Ramshorn Scholars Program, launched in 2016 to help underrepresented, first generation, and disadvantaged students make a successful transition from high school, has had a positive effect on retention by providing exclusive support services for hundreds of engineering students. In addition, we are in the midst of implementing a comprehensive student success management software, Navigate, which will bring important and timely information into the hands of advisors, staff, and faculty to support student success from enrollment through graduation.

    Regarding recruitment, Interim President Jay Hartzell recently announced that UT will be increasing its outreach efforts to recruit Black students in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. In the Cockrell School, Michele Meyer, assistant dean for student services and our Title IX liaison, is serving on UT’s Black and African American Recruiting Committee to ensure that we are fully aligned with all new initiatives implemented by the university. In addition, our Engineer Your World program is providing a high school engineering curriculum to over 120 public schools in Texas, of which many serve predominantly underrepresented communities. We plan to leverage all of these programs to increase the number of Black students studying engineering at UT.

    On a positive note, the number of Black students who paid deposits to enter the Cockrell School for Fall 2020 is higher than the number for Fall 2019. However, we do not know the impact that COVID-19 will have on actual enrollment.

  2. Since 2008, the Cockrell School has required that a qualified woman or underrepresented minority candidate must be interviewed for each junior faculty position, and starting in the 2019-20 academic year, we required all faculty candidates to submit a diversity statement as part of the recruitment and interviewing process. This past year, one-quarter of all offers were extended to Black or Hispanic candidates. As a result, two new Black full professors and two new Hispanic assistant professors accepted offers to join the Cockrell School faculty during the 2019-20 academic year.

    Regarding leadership, we conducted three searches for department chairs in the 2019-20 academic year. A diverse pool of candidates was considered for each, but no Black or Hispanic faculty were among the finalists for the positions.

  3. We will be offering several new anti-racism, bias and ally training programs across the Cockrell School starting in the 2020-21 academic year. These include a planned training for the leadership team, a planned workshop on anti-racism for faculty, and bias training for all chairs of faculty search committees. In addition, Dr. Leonard Moore, UT’s vice president for diversity and community engagement, is currently offering a course called “The History of the Black Experience,” which includes five 90-minute lectures and additional assignments, for members of the university community. More than 60 Cockrell School faculty and staff are enrolled in this course, with many more watching the lectures on YouTube.

  4. The Cockrell School currently provides emergency financial support for students in need, and we have not yet received any requests for support following the recent Black Lives Matter protests. We have also pledged new fundraising campaigns to support professional development opportunities for Black students, and we will be raising funds as part of the EOE 50th Anniversary and WEP 30th Anniversary celebrations over the next two years.

    Mental health continues to be a major area of concern at UT and in the Cockrell School. We are currently working with the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center to provide another counselor in the Cockrell School as part of the Counselors in Academic Residence Program. Over the past two months, the three of us have met directly with our student leaders from the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Graduates for Underrepresented Minorities (GUM) — along with a variety of other groups — to understand their concerns. Moving forward, we are working directly with our NSBE leaders to address their needs and we will be meeting regularly with both groups to ensure continued collaboration.

  5. The university’s anti-racism effort is being led by Dr. Leonard Moore and Dr. Edmund Gordon, UT’s vice provost for diversity. Christine Julien, assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, works in partnership with the university’s Coalition of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officers — a group that includes assistant/associate deans for DEI in the other UT colleges and schools — to build a more cohesive campus-wide community and implement best practices and programs in the Cockrell School. Christine, along with other members of the coalition, authored an initial statement on June 1, which was posted immediately on the Cockrell School website.

    Our You Belong Here message, which we plan to expand in the 2020-21 academic year, is intended as a public assertion to members of our community — a “rallying cry” of sorts — to combat imposter syndrome and let all students know that they have earned their place in the school. Though it is not intended as a campaign with unique programming and metrics associated with it, we believe it has strengthened our ally network and had a positive effect on the community.

  6. To ensure that best practices are followed, all professional recruitment is handled through the Engineering Career Assistance Center (ECAC). This year, Michael Powell, director of ECAC, has developed a formal feedback mechanism for students to express their concerns about biases encountered during Expo and/or during company interviews, and that feedback will be shared with employers to ensure proper handling within their companies. In addition, we have sent official correspondence to each employer attending this year’s virtual Expo asking them to include a diverse team of representatives and to provide information about the diversity of their workforce. We cannot control how companies act, but we are doing everything we can to make sure they clearly understand our expectations.

As we mentioned when we met, we are eager to work with you to generate new ideas and to improve our plans. We also will continue to support and encourage you in your effort to engage more alumni, as we firmly believe it will bring us all closer together. Finally, if you would like to post this response on your website, we would be happy to share your page in our Cockrell School channels. It is important to us that we remain transparent in our plans and actions.

Once again, thank you for your thoughtful letter. We look forward to seeing you again soon and continuing this conversation.

Sincerely,

Sharon L. Wood
Dean, Cockrell School of Engineering

Christine Julien
Assistant Dean, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Cockrell School of Engineering

Michele Meyer
Assistant Dean, Engineering Student Services
Title IX Liaison
Cockrell School of Engineering

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