Colleges focus on systemic racism, see some financial hope

More presidents expect student activism, fewer anticipate 'severe revenue losses '
By: | August 3, 2020
Tackling systemic racism and promoting social justice will be priorities for college and university leaders heading into the fall semester, a survey has found.Tackling systemic racism and promoting social justice will be priorities for college and university leaders heading into the fall semester, a survey has found.

More college and university presidents now say they plan to tackle systemic racism and, compared to earlier in the COVID pandemic, fewer leaders expect to cut academic programs, a new survey has found.

In contrast to a COVID-related survey done in March, fewer presidents expect severe revenue losses of more than 15% or cuts in faculty positions, the Association of American Colleges and Universities said Monday in a report, “Responding to the Ongoing COVID-19 Crisis and to Calls for Racial Justice.

These leaders, expecting a rise in racial justice-motivated student activism, are also planning to make long-term structural changes and take other measures to tackle systemic racism.

The survey reflects “a recognition that if higher education is to emerge strengthened by the ongoing crisis touched off by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must intentionally prioritize quality, equity, and inclusion in any of the possible futures ahead of us,” AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella said in a statement.


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The survey also found that more presidents now expect to lay off staff, implement across-the-board cuts, cut administrative jobs, and cut benefits.

While leaders of small institutions said they were more likely to offer face-to-face instruction in the fall, only 20% of the presidents surveyed expected no change in fall enrollment, according to the report.

Leaders surveyed also plan to take the following short- and long-term actions to promote social and racial justice on campus:

  • Hold town hall meetings to develop new strategies.
  • Host listening sessions with students, faculty and staff—some strictly for the campus’ Black community.
  • Create divisions of diversity, inclusion and equity.
  • Add more courses and faculty to focus on racial justice.
  • Diagnose structural racism and inequities at the institution.

“Presidents are facing a tsunami this fall—from COVID-19, the recession, and racial unrest,” said Paul Friga, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill strategy professor and co-founder of ABC Insights, which helped conduct in the survey. “It will be the most challenging year for higher education in our history.”


UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.