4/9/21 Purdue Board of Trustees, John Gates

Trustees listen while Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion John Gates discussed goals for the Equity Task Force.

Purdue’s Equity Task Force has defined concrete goals and plans to invest more than $75 million into the committee’s next moves over the course of the next five years.

This update comes after months of reviewing pages and pages of documents, fact-finding reports and talking with students and employees, trustees said Friday morning.

Provost Jay Akridge said after the meeting that although he is unsure of the exact timing for the release of the Equity Task Force’s documents, it would be “soon.” The Exponent has submitted a public records request for all material related to the board’s decisions.

The goals are split into three categories that will measure the task force’s success in making Purdue a better place for Black students, faculty and staff: representation, experience and success.

Black representation

For students, better Black representation on campus means launching new scholarship programs, expanding recruiting and summer research programs, and forging partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities.

The task force also plans to expand the University’s African American Studies program through the creation of new faculty positions in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, according to the board’s presentation.

Though it wasn’t discussed at the meeting, the SIS-related goal may resonate with faculty after the school was the center of controversy last year when Purdue took steps to consolidate its 16 departments into six. The merging of departments, a decision made largely without faculty input, according to previous Exponent reporting, angered many faculty members.

Eventually Purdue backed off its original plans, and the administration announced a temporary fix: Akridge announced one additional year of funding for the SIS, to help with what was deemed a “transition period” over the past year.

Months later, the board outlined plans to develop a more diverse faculty and staff, and to participate in “high-touch opportunities,” like the Indiana Black Expo, to find Black candidates.

Black experience

Investing in mentoring and student-onboarding programs between Black students and alumni is among the board’s goals for improving Black students’ experiences on campus.

The task force pinpointed a need for closer relationships between students and alumni, trustee and task force chair Don Thompson said during Friday’s meeting. He said “mentoring came up many times” during the meetings he and other task force members have hosted since the committee’s conception seven months ago.

Thompson, who is Black and the only person of color on the board, recounted his experience on campus as a student before he graduated in 1984, telling trustees that he hadn’t been aware of opportunities to connect with other students.

After he graduated, Thompson said he didn’t often come back to campus. And when he did, he mainly returned to his alma mater for his friends, not for the University.

“I had a lot of fondness for Purdue,” he said. “But I just didn’t really know whether or not Purdue had a lot of fondness for me.”

Beyond the experience of Black students on campus, the board aims to strengthen networking and professional development programs for faculty and staff. One staff goal listed during the meeting was to add a “Diversity at Purdue” module to new hires’ onboarding curriculum.

Black success

The goals for bettering Black success on campus were perhaps the most quantifiable — doubling the number of Black undergraduate students, improving the placement of Black students post-graduation, and improving retention and promotion of Black faculty and staff.

“That’s a large number,” Akridge said in reference to the goal of doubling Purdue’s Black student population. “It’s gonna take a tremendous amount of work and effort of our entire campus.

“Campuses around the country are looking to do the same thing, and we’re gonna need to put those recruiters to work.”

The board did not give a timeline for when the population should be doubled.

Each one of the goals listed, chair Mike Berghoff said, is based on pages of documents reviewing the details of the task force’s findings.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels said prior to the meeting that it may feel “brutally compact,” as the board had much information to get through and had already consumed “hours” of the upcoming information.

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