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Choi Faces Faculty Questions On Racism At MU, Promotion And Tenure

MU Chancellor Mun Choi and other administrators fielded questions on the role of systemic racism on campus and the promotion and tenure process from faculty Wednesday.

During the fall semester general faculty meeting — attended virtually by about 350 people via Zoom and a YouTube livestream — professors requested proactive measures from MU to prevent inequity and revisited concerns about race on campus, including the Thomas Jefferson statue and recent student protests.

When asked to describe how he views racism at MU, Choi outlined what he envisioned as a campus community that swiftly and consistently deals with racist acts. He said MU was developing “sets of actions that supervisors and department chairs can take” to address those acts.

The actions, he said, could respond to what he described as a feeling that those who report discrimination are “handicapped or not able to do anything more because it’s going through the (Title IX) process.”

Several faculty members requested more, including proactive measures, to which Choi invited faculty to share in the future any ideas they may have. Choi acknowledged the role of institutional racism and emphasized the role of education in reducing and eliminating it.

He continued to stand firm, however, on his and the UM System Board of Curators’ decision to keep a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson on Francis Quadrangle, which several faculty called a “racist” and “painful symbol” for some. Choi, who is also president of the University of Missouri System, has repeatedly said the perspectives of many MU stakeholders, including alumni and Missouri taxpayers, had to be taken into account.

Removal of the Jefferson statue was among the demands issued by a student group that protested earlier this month. Several members of the group have been referred to MU’s conduct office. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Bill Stackman said at the meeting they planned to send letters to those students by the end of the week as MU decides whether there was a violation of campus policy.

Choi said he will send out details on a task force dedicated to the “contextualization” of the statue. Gary Kremer, director of the State Historical Society of Missouri, will chair the task force.

Choi faced further questioning about his conduct during last academic year’s promotion and tenure process. The MU Faculty Council censured Choi last week for failing to read the memos that accompany recommendations made by the Campus Promotion and Tenure Advisory Committee.

He defended his role in the process to the faculty body, saying he took a number of measures into account with each case. He disagreed with the assessment that he broke UM’s Collected Rules and Regulations.

“The CRR as I read it does not indicate that the letters have to be read, but the input and recommendation for (promotion and tenure) is to be considered,” Choi said. “I would also say that all the materials and recommendations are just advisory for the chancellor. Of course, it’s very important advisory.”

Other campus administrators provided brief updates on their departments’ initiatives. Provost Latha Ramchand, when asked about MU’s approach to the spring semester, pointed to the university’s COVID-19 active case total, which has significantly declined since the beginning of the semester. On Wednesday, there were 71 active student cases, according to the MU online dashboard.

“At this point, the reality is that we don’t have information that suggests we need to change things dramatically,” Ramchand said.