SUNY Brockport report: ‘Climate and culture have deteriorated at the campus’

Education

BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — SUNY Brockport President Heidi Macpherson sent an email to staff Monday regarding a Campus Climate and Working Environment report that was conducted last fall, and how the college is working to meet the goals and recommendations laid out in that report.

The report was conducted for campus employees and conducted by Curtis Lloyd, former Vice Chancellor for Human Resources at SUNY. In the report, Lloyd interviewed 27 employees, including those in leadership positions and those who had a formal role to play in equity and diversity work, as well as others who requested to participate.

MORE | Brockport’s Chief of University Police wanted to ‘dig up dirt’ on fired Diversity Officer, says lawyer

The report was published on October 21, 2019 and Dr. Macpherson first shared the results of the which with the campus community on November 6, 2019.

“The executive summary of the report pointed to a need to provide additional support to our students, particularly students with accessibility concerns and under-represented students,” Dr. Macpherson wrote in her Monday email.

The report itself, to reiterate, was published last fall — well before:

Although published months ahead of the recent developments on the SUNY campus, the language therein may have been an indication of things to come.

“My assessment of the climate and working environment at Brockport has revealed some serious and rather troubling developments taking place at the campus,” Lloyd wrote in the opening statement of his report.

Before diving into the specifics of the report, it should be noted that Lloyd also included in his opening statement: “I found no evidence that students are being negatively impacted by the climate created by employees and administrative processes.”

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“Amongst staff and certain functional departments, respect and cordiality have been compromised,” Lloyd wrote in his report. “There are accusations of bullying, lying, dishonesty, misrepresentation of facts, and outright dislike of some staffers. The culture may be evolving into being bureaucratic, highly top-down and autocratic. Many employees feel out of the decision-making loop. While many fingers are pointed at certain members of the leadership team, there is plenty of blame to go around, and all must accept that they are part of the problem and culpable.”

Lloyd continued in his executive summary: “There is a breakdown of trust across functional operations and it includes both the faculty and administration. I am unable to offer any thoughts as to why or how the climate and culture have deteriorated at the campus, but I can say it is crucial that this matter is addressed as quickly as possible.”

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Before addressing some of the negative concerns within the report, Lloyd wrote “not all discussions are doom and gloom. Brockport is blessed with many passionate and skilled professionals, faculty members, and staffers. I heard lots of positive comments and many of these folks appear to be very dedicated to building a better Brockport.”

Among the positive feedback, Lloyd heard such comments like:

  • Things have changed for the better since the president’s arrival. (MacPherson was brought in as the college’s president in 2015).
  • Some directors and senior leaders are prepared to be engaged more to assist the leadership with moving the campus forward.
  • The president has many supporters.
  • Many faculty members feel food about the president’s direction.

However, there was a fair amount of negative feedback highlighted in the report as well. Such examples include:

  • There is a level of distrust between some faculty members and the administration.
  • Leadership would benefit from having other people at the table.
  • All employees don’t understand the direction of the campus.
  • There is a feeling of unfairness in hiring and promotions
  • There is a lack of consequences for bad behavior
  • Ideas from certain women or persons of color are not taken seriously.
  • The desire for power prevents progress and solutions.
  • Some of the presidents’ leaders are about command and control. They are mean spirited and manipulative, and it’s their way or the highway.
  • Tensions are high and everything is heightened.
  • Policies cannot address the climate issue on campus.
  • Brockport is struggling with leadership and the leadership does not fully understand implicit bias and systemic racism.
  • Non-tenured faculty may not feel comfortable speaking up or speaking out.

More of the feedback can be found in the full document below.

Douglas Thomas, chair of the African and African American studies department, and many other faculty members of color said they agree with the report’s analysis of campus climate.

“You want to grow a more diverse population but you can’t do that unless you have new ideas to help grow it and you can’t get those ideas if everybody looks like you and thinks like you and talks like you, that’s ridiculous,” said Thomas.

Not all faculty feel this way. Kathleen Peterson, the chair of the nursing department, said she doesn’t see a problem with the climate.

“I don’t see problems in our department or with our students so I think our campus climate is just great because our department is doing well. I interact with a lot of people across campus on a daily basis and again it’s a great place to be, it’s a great place to work, though there are things we can make strides on,” said Peterson.

Also included in the report is a section regarding the duties of the Chief Diversity Officer, and recommendations for the position. It’s noteworthy due to the timing of the publication and the proximity to Dr. Archie’s firing a few months later.

According to the report, the CDO is tasked with developing inclusion initiatives, such as diversity training and multicultural events.

“I heard from many employees that Brockport has a serious need for a good CDO at this critical junction,” Lloyd wrote.

MORE | SUNY Brockport students protest against ‘racial issues’ on campus

The report also pointed out flaws with the campus “Bias Incident Reporting System” and offered recommendations on how to improve it for students and staff.

Last week, Dr. Macpherson made a statement committing to a list of actions she will take to improve the campus community. One of those is to revamp the current bias reporting system and replace it with an “accessible and efficient reporting structure that will hold leadership in charge of that operation accountable.”

Last week, on the same day that students held protests throughout the campus, faculty and staff members of color penned an open letter to Dr. Macpherson.

“The structural and systemic racism we have observed and experienced is deeply rooted and goes beyond particular personalities and distressing anecdote,” the letter said.

It continued: “This negligence trivializes persons of color and the great potential within each of them. There is no shortage of evidence of these biased practices from our collective years at The College.”

MORE | Fired Brockport Chief Diversity Officer: ‘I remain with you always in solidarity’

State University of New York Chancellor Kristina Johnson described the tension on the SUNY Brockport campus as “disheartening” and “not acceptable” in a letter to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren earlier this month.

Johnson, who was replying to a February 5 letter from Mayor Warren, said the issues resolving the climate at Brockport are “of great concern.”

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren was critical of the college’s decision to fire Dr. Archie, taking to Facebook to say, in part, “It’s unfortunate when people that work toward diversity and inclusion across the collegiate spectrum also face it themselves.”

MORE | Mayor Warren on dismissal of Brockport’s Chief Diversity Officer: ‘Larger issue’

Johnson says she plans to visit Rochester in the near future and said she would like to meet with mayor Warren “to work together to better serve the citizens of Rochester through access to quality and affordable higher education.”

News 8 reached out to SUNY Brockport for comment on the report, and officials say Dr. Macpherson’s Monday email shall serve as the official statement.

The university announced earlier this month that it would be formally changing its name back to SUNY Brockport, from the current The College at Brockport title, later this year.

SUNY Brockport Campus Climate Report

Dr. Heidi MacPherson’s Monday email

Open letter to the President of SUNY Brockport from faculty and staff of color

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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