Comments on President Watkins’ Resignation

As many in our campus community may be aware, President Watkins has announced her resignation from the University of Utah effective April 2021. We know that this announcement will be met with mixed reactions from our campus community and we would like to address a few key thoughts on this news.

First, while we have advocated for President Watkins to resign since summer 2020, we do feel bittersweet about this announcement today. Although we have grave concerns about the continued lack of transparency in administrative communication over campus safety, combined with the lack of accountability, there were several valuable initiatives championed as special projects by President Watkins. Central among these is the McCluksey Center for Violence Prevention, which focuses on preventing violent events from happening in the first place. We want to ensure whoever comes into this role next solidifies the standing of this presidential initiative to be a more concrete part of the university community.

Second, we feel very strongly that we must hire outside of the University of Utah leadership. No one who currently works for this institution should be considered in the nationwide search.

Third, student leadership in this decision-making and hiring is critical. While ASUU traditionally has representation on hiring committees such as this, we believe that this needs to be expanded to include at minimum the following student representation:

  • 1 graduate student
  • 1 BIPOC At-Large student (not ASUU)
  • 1 Native or Indigenous student

We understand that selection committees need to remain small enough as to not become unwieldy, but student input and trust in our next President will be critical to their success in this role. One student cannot speak for 30,000 of us.

Fourth, students must be brought in earlier throughout the selection process. Open forums and student meet-and-greet events often don’t happen until far too late in the selection process. Students need to be brought in earlier in the selection process this time around. Furthermore, the University of Utah needs to schedule these student interactions and feedback events to be during times that students can actually attend. The events also need to be broadcast and communicated widely. Previous hiring events for the Chief Safety Officer and Chief of Police occurred during break and finals periods, which meant few students had the capacity to attend the events and provide feedback.

Fifth, the new President should have significant experience working with diverse populations, as well as demonstrated success in enhancing outcomes for diverse populations. Candidates applying from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and HSIs (Hispanic Serving Institutions) should be strongly considered. We have seen over the past year and a half that there are two lived experiences on-campus in terms of safety. For many white students, there have been calls for increased policing and deployment of UUPD. For many BIPOC and LGBTQ+students, there have been calls for more investment in care and preventative resources. We believe that ensuring those with the least amount of power on our campus feel safe must be a fundamental priority of the next President, which means we need to see a track record of doing so for BIPOC communities on other campuses.

Sixth, there must be a plan and vision to address the material needs of students, faculty, and staff. We are a community and for education to be possible, we need more robust investments in childcare, a living wage for all employees, a healthy physical space, promotion of well-being, and actual equity work.

We believe that we can and should dream big for leadership. We have a campus full of diverse and innovative students, faculty, and staff. This is an opportunity to become national leaders in safety and equity work. Students must have a central role in this selection for this to be possible though.

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