After a heated faculty exchange resulted in the temporary shutdown of an employee discussion listserv last summer, a committee was convened to review the listserv’s purpose and draft possible solutions. Now, the committee has revised University Policy 6B3 with measures aimed to prevent similar incidents in the future.
According to Chancellor Randy Pembrook, the original exchange was uncivilized at best and considered racist at worst.
“We got to a situation in July and there was an exchange, and there were some people that felt like the quality of the conversation … maybe wasn’t as civil as it needed to be — at minimum, that was what it was. Some people perceived it went beyond that and was actually starting to have elements of racism in it,” Pembrook said.
The exchange and temporary shutdown may have been influenced by a number of factors, according to Director for Equal Opportunity, Access and Title IX Coordination Jamie Ball.
“With the stressors of the pandemic and the social justice reckoning and everything else that’s been happening, I think the temperature is sort of heating up a little bit, and that created a good opportunity to kind of push the pause button and reflect on … how can it be used constructively so that people can share questions and ideas in a way that’s not sanitized completely of controversy, but is not harmful?” Ball said.
This review process would be led by a group of campus constituents who met over the Fall 2020 semester to suggest revisions to the listserv policy — one such revision, now part of the official policy, is the need for employees to opt themselves in rather than opt themselves out. Professor of Applied Communication Studies Diane Hayes said every employee should do the former.
“Please, opt in,” Hayes said. “Please let your voice be heard. Please don’t shy away and think that this listserv is not for you to engage in the democratic process of free speech and exchange … but the thing that we’re asking is, [you] do it civil, [you] do it with all perspectives in mind, back up your arguments and please don’t sell your wares.”
Employees will soon receive instructions from ITS on how to opt in if they so choose.
Another revision created a dedicated five-member panel for monitoring reported messages considered in violation of listserv policy. Pembrook said monitoring was actually a part of the original policy which simply hadn’t been enforced until now.
“One of the things that that group found out in reading the original documents, which went back years and years, was that there was actually supposed to be a monitoring process which had kind of fallen along the way,” Pembrook said.
According to a recent email sent from a separate announce listserv, the discussion platform will be “monitored” but “unmoderated,” a decision Hayes said was based on the maturity of the participants.
“I think the working group, we felt that we are well-educated adult scholars, staff, employees … all of us have four-year degrees and beyond. Keeping that in mind, we feel like we at least have the respect for one another that we didn’t need someone to be a principal,” Hayes said. “That’s why we went to that approach, we’re grown.”
Ball said under this monitored system, messages would be reviewed only after they’ve been reported — messages will not be reviewed before they are allowed to go out to the listserv. According to Ball, if an employee’s messages are repeatedly found in violation of the existing policies, there is a procedure in place to respond.
“Generally speaking, we would just be undertaking that inquiry, saying, ‘Okay, what happened? Was this consistent or inconsistent with our established policies relating to harassment and discrimination?’ And then, ‘What are we going to do about it?’” Ball said.
Hayes said there will be three levels of discipline depending on the severity and repetition of offenses.
“The first thing of the three-tiered system, number one, you will receive a warning,” Hayes said. “The second level is, ‘We’re going to give you a two-week timeout, let’s cool out’ … you’re not kicked off, just a timeout. The repeat offender, number three, that’s where we come and make a decision — we’ve done the warning, we’ve done the two-week timeout, doesn’t seem like it’s working, our recommendation is that this person needs to be suspended from the listserv, possibly permanently … we make that call and then shoot it to the [Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion].”
Section III of the new policy states that employees who wish to be reinstated after facing discipline may file an appeal to Ball, the Director of Human Resources and the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, once someone is named to that position. According to Hayes, the criteria employees would have to meet to be reinstated under these circumstances is still being determined.
While the events of last summer were tense, Hayes said they resulted in a positive opportunity for employees to resume discussions, albeit with some assistance.
“This panel would’ve never came to its inception had we not had that exchange last summer, and that says that there are issues on the campus … that we are working to resolve,” Hayes said. “We are excited about the changes that Chancellor Pembrook is putting in place, but we need everyone to support this. We need everyone to opt in and not be afraid … This is your opportunity to have a voice. We’re just there to help you along in the process, that’s all, just in case it gets heated.”