Maurice Gipson, MU vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity, announced he was pausing plans to restructure MU’s social justice centers — plans that caused outrage among some students and faculty members.
Gipson told the MU Faculty Council on Thursday the plans to reimagine the centers and positions are paused, meaning they are no longer looking to begin implementation July 1. Gipson said the pause will allow him to “learn and get more feedback” from stakeholders.
On April 28, MU spokesperson Christian Basi said plans to restructure the five social justice centers, which provide resources and mentoring to underrepresented students, were scheduled to start July 1. However, initial steps, such as posting new positions, were put on hold until Gipson met with full Faculty Council on Thursday, the Missourian has reported.
Although Gipson said there is not a timeline for restructuring plans at this time, the coordinator positions set to be eliminated will remain through July 1. He did not say how long that will be the case.
He said four coordinator positions will be replaced with two assistant directors and two student support specialists. Gipson said the staff members in those positions have been communicated with and recruiting to fill the newly “reimagined” positions has not begun.
Gipson began his presentation by apologizing for the failures of communication surrounding the rollout.
“I didn’t intend to cause this level of anxiety, pain and uncertainty,” he said.
Students protesting the restructuring on campus April 29 called for the removal of Gipson and B. Sherrance Russell, assistant vice chancellor for student diversity initiatives.
Basi said at the time that because the student protesters were disruptive, both in Jesse Hall and later in the MU Student Center, “information from the protests” will be forwarded to the Office of Student Accountability and Support for review, the Missourian has reported. When asked about those students being penalized, Gipson said he was unaware of any discipline.
Rebecca Graves, chair of the council’s Inclusion, Equity and Diversity Committee, put forth a motion to protect the student protesters’ freedom of speech.
“We are concerned the current free speech policies are not fully understood by the university community and that their implementation may negatively affect students,” Graves said.
The motion, which was amended and will be voted on by private ballot among council members, includes the following four requests:
• Students who demonstrated in support of social justice center staff, including those who peacefully protested April 19 and April 29, be exempt from disciplinary procedures that would impede their careers.
• Public meetings be held as soon as possible to allow dialogue about the social justice centers and the campus climate. These meetings must include students, alumni, faculty, staff and administrators.
• The current free speech rules be interpreted equitably, with regard for the power dynamics in place between students, administrators and those empowered to apply the regulations.
• Faculty Council investigates whether free speech policies enacted in 2017 are well-understood by faculty, students and staff, whether they are being consistently followed and whether changes need to be made to the policies.