Penn States Scraps Plans to Establish the Center for Racial Justice on Campus

Pennsylvania State University has scrapped plans to fund and establish a new Center for Racial Justice on campus. Last fall, the university announced plans for the center that it said would be dedicated to research and scholarship around racism and racial bias.

In December 2021, Neeli Bendapudi was selected as the next president of Pennsylvania State University. She had been serving as president of the University of Louisville. Earlier, Dr. Bendapudi was was executive vice chancellor and provost at the flagship campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

In a statement to the university community, Dr. Bendapudi said “there is remarkable diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging scholarship and practice underway by current faculty, staff, and students across the university, and we remain deeply committed to continuing to build on the foundation of scholarly research and programming around racism and racial bias at Penn State. I have determined that enhancing support for current efforts by people who know Penn State best will be more impactful than investing in a new venture, and so we will not pursue efforts to launch a Center for Racial Justice.”

Dr. Bendapudi added that “Penn Staters have accomplished much in recent years, and we should all be proud of this progress and the ongoing commitment of so many in our community to building a more equitable and inclusive university. I truly believe that as a community we can identify the best models for DEIB practice at Penn State and invest in our ability to build on that foundation so we can support our students from recruitment through graduation, as well as staff and faculty at each stage of their careers.”

Twelve members of the faculty that were serving on the search committee for the director of the center, issued a statement that read in part: “Penn State does not have a solid reputation for adequately addressing social injustices, inclusion, and racism. Without such a reputation, this cancellation is likely to affect the ability of the university to recruit and retain top faculty, who may strengthen existing or create new revenue streams, lead by example in this space, and produce critical new scholarship and public activity around race and the study of it.”

A 2020 study by faculty members at Penn State found that African Americans made up 10.6 percent of the population of Pennsylvania. But only 4.1 percent of the student body at the state’s flagship university was Black. The report stated that in 2018 there were 3,822 full-time faculty members at Penn State. That year, there were 112 Black faculty members. Thus, Blacks made up 2.9 percent of the total faculty. The report found that in 2004, there were 83 tenured or tenure-track Black faculty at Penn State. By 2018, the number had dropped to 68. In 2018, there were 23 Black full professors, the exact same number as in 2008. (See JBHE post.)


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