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Working toward unity

At November meeting, UD Faculty Senate formalizes Living Land Acknowledgement with Indigenous peoples

The University of Delaware took a stand for social justice during the Faculty Senate meeting held on Monday, Nov. 1.

But before the group delved into this and other agenda items, UD President Dennis Assanis offered an update on several matters of importance, including the ongoing refresh of the University’s strategic plan, which he said should be finalized by the end of the year, and the search for a new University provost, for which a committee has been appointed. He also noted his appreciation to Provost Robin Morgan, who graciously agreed to continue serving until the end of the current academic year. In the meantime, UD is being reviewed for re-accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the nongovernmental body which sets educational excellence standards for institutes of higher education in Delaware and beyond.

“The reviewers always look for alignment of mission, vision, resources and, most importantly, they are looking for continual improvement,” Assanis said. “And that’s what we aspire to do.”

Provost Robin Morgan added that UD will comply with the federal mandate for the vaccination of its employees, and that the University is monitoring any modifications to this guideline from the White House on a daily basis.

“We will honor religious and health exemptions, and we will continue to offer weekly testing, as we have been doing,” she said.

Senate president Chris Williams reminded the group about the formation of two new committees, one for exploring the value and feasibility of expanding the number of Faculty Senators to better represent underrepresented departments, and one for exploring student course feedback. Anyone interested in volunteering for either should email Jackie Fajardo (jfajardo@udel.edu) or Karen Holden (krholden@udel.edu). Also, the 2022-23 academic calendar has been finalized by the Registrar's office and is available for viewing at www1.udel.edu/registrar/cal, while the Faculty Senate’s new website can be found at https://facultysenate.udel.edu. To improve its Google ranking, “click early, click often,” Williams said.

The Senate passed several resolutions, including recommendations to approve program education goals for the undergraduate psychology major and the graduate secondary STEM education major; a recommendation to adjust the minimum grade requirement for receiving transfer credit from a C to a C-; and a recommendation to work with various campus units to refine the University’s Non-Discrimination, Sexual Misconduct and Title IX Policy. The Senate also passed a resolution reaffirming the University’s policy on public health measures taken in response to the pandemic. It was prompted by a Sept. 13 discussion in which one senator referred to UD’s vaccine mandate as a violation of the Nuremberg Trials – language that other members of the faculty decried as an inappropriate distortion of history. The senator clarified that he misspoke when invoking the Nuremberg Trials, rather than the Nuremberg Code, but that he stands by his protest of the mandate.

Additionally, the Senate voted to formalize a Living Land Acknowledgement, which recognizes that UD’s campus exists on land originally inhabited by Indigenous peoples and which serves as an important step in building relationships with tribal groups in Delaware — relationships that are based on respect as well as a responsibility to redress centuries of harm. With this motion, the University commits to working further with the campus Anti-Racism Initiative to identify action steps that will support academic opportunities, cultural expression, well-being and financial partnerships for Indigenous peoples. 

Vickie Fedele, assistant professor of English and women and gender studies with the Associate in Arts Program, called the motion “long overdue, centuries overdue, in fact,” and she cited the reasons for her support.

“First of all, there are action items included — we’re not just providing words, we’re not just being performative, but we’re laying out steps that we can follow to really effect change,” Fedele said. “Secondly, this was done carefully in consultation with tribal leaders, which was the respectful and reasonable thing to do. Thirdly, we pride ourselves at UD on our community engagement, and the action items in this resolution would allow us to extend this engagement to native communities. And fourth, our mission statement in the faculty handbook says that UD promotes an environment in which all people are inspired to learn, and it encourages respect for the views and values of an increasingly diverse population, so the bottom line is: If we’re going to be true to our mission statement, we should support this resolution.”

Via pre-recorded videos, tribal leaders offered endorsements. Dennis J. Coker, principal chief of the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware, who consulted on the document, called the Living Land Acknowledgement an “amazing tool” for recognizing the original people who inhabited the area as well as the harm that was done when their land was taken.

“In order for us to heal as a society, I think we have to have those discussions,” he said. “We have to get that baggage up on the table and talk about it and finally put it to rest so we can move forward as a people — a united people.”

Natosha Norwood Carmine, chief of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe in Millsboro, said the Land Acknowledgement is "very important to my people, for the future generation to come. I know that our land may have been taken from us, but I don't believe that what was has to be for future generations. I think that it's important they see that others can collaborate with the Tribe, and that we can move forward in a good way, having a good relationship with those outside the native community and building future generations to come."

Dean Michael J. Chajes offered an update on the Honors College, whose mission is to “engage students and faculty within an inclusive learning community to develop courageous, curious and compassionate leaders.” Achieving this goal involves strengthening academic excellence with an interdisciplinary focus, investing in a culture of diversity and belonging, strengthening a sense of community and sustaining a history of long-term success.

Chajes pointed to several Honors College highlights, including that 30% of first-year students now identify as non-white, which is four percentage points higher than within the University as a whole, while the total number of applications has reached a record number. Additionally, the Honors College is expanding work with national scholarship candidates.

“We work with students from all over campus,” Chajes said. “They don’t have to be Honors students to be served by any of the things we do.”

New business included a motion to defend academic freedom and the right to teach about race, gender justice and critical race theory, as state legislative proposals are being introduced nationwide that target academic discussions in these areas, as well as a recommendation from the Graduate Student Government Sustainability Council to call on UD leadership to eliminate single-use plastics.

Further information about the Faculty Senate, including meeting minutes and agendas, can be found on its website.

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