A Message from Provost Ann E. Cudd
January 17, 2019
Dear Panther Nation,
Earlier this week I was honored to attend “Say It Loud: The Black Action Society, the Computer Center Takeover, and Transformation at the University of Pittsburgh” an event sponsored by the African American Alumni Council commemorating the critically important moment in 1969, when 40 members of Pitt’s then newly created Black Action Society took over the computer center located in the Cathedral of Learning, where the Provost Office now sits.
The students acted to protest racial injustice on campus. Their demands were as profound as they were straightforward: They asked that the University observe Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday and cancel classes on that day; they asked that more Black students be recruited and admitted to Pitt; they asked that more Black faculty be hired to teach. The momentum created from their actions also resulted in the development of what was then called the Black Studies program, now known as the Department of Africana Studies.
I have immense admiration for these Pitt students who proudly and courageously stood up and firmly stated their demands for equity and inclusion. I’m also proud that the University’s administration of the time listened and responded, seeing the justice in the students’ requests.
On the 50th anniversary of that brave action, we may confidently state that we have made significant progress—but there is so much more to do to improve the diversity and inclusiveness of our campus community. As we commemorate this local event and the 90th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should reflect on our role in securing justice and equal opportunity.
During the days since the Tree of Life tragedy, we have continued to be painfully reminded how important it is to value and respect difference, and to oppose bigotry in all its forms. Diversity is an even more vital value for an educational institution. Underrepresented minorities―students, faculty, and staff—on Pitt’s campuses need to grow in number. Why is this so essential to our mission as an educational institution? First, diversity, opportunity, and inclusivity are important moral and social values in themselves. Second, enabling our students’ future success requires us to teach students these values as they experience being a part of a diverse and tolerant community. Third, to excel in research and innovation, Pitt must attract and empower talented people from all social backgrounds, races, genders, and sexual orientation to connect, collaborate, and challenge each other.
In this hiring season, our highest priority is attracting the best scholars to our faculty ranks. In making our choices, we are building a community of scholars whose collective work will be more impactful than as individuals. Diversity is key—and is integral to The Plan for Pitt.
This academic year we welcomed the most diverse, most academically qualified group of students on record for the University, and we are tracking notable increases in racial, ethnic, and gender diversity processes. But we must work harder to provide access to a Pitt education for talented students from all walks of life.
I’ve heard from the Student Government Board about its interest in advancing socioeconomic diversity at Pitt. Committed students, like Rajaab Nadeem—who placed that issue front and center in his election campaign and was elected to the SGB—recognize the magnitude of the challenge and are determined to impact it.
It was poet Langston Hughes who posed the penetrating and provocative question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Across the country and around the world, too many people have had no choice but to live the answer to this question. We cannot do our very best—reach our loftiest goals—without ensuring that we are providing ways for underrepresented groups to share journeys, experiences, and expertise with one another, with our campus communities, and with the region. We must mindfully work toward equity—or face the unacceptable outcome of unwittingly working for inequality.
That is why I want to let you know that you can look forward to the creation of new underrepresented minority hiring and diversity-oriented student recruitment initiatives. I recognize that such actions require a commitment and a plan, and I will be announcing details of strategies for these two high priorities in the weeks and months ahead.
Communal commemorations of the Martin Luther King holiday bring us together to remind us of our commitment to equity and also to outreach. I invite you to join me as I will be rolling up my sleeves with hundreds of volunteers at Pitt’s Martin Luther King Day of Service this coming Monday, January 21. You are also invited to celebrate his legacy at the Interfaith Service on January 22.
We will reflect on his life—and also honor those who have carried his spirit onward, like Pitt’s Black Action Society and the African American Alumni Council. Actively pursuing diversity today serves justice and the goal of providing equal opportunity for all individuals, where people are judged and rewarded for their personal contributions and talents and not their ascribed identities.
I stand resolved.
Hail to Pitt!
Ann E. Cudd
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor