Committee uses equity lens to review every University administrative policy

The committee aims to review all the University’s administrative policies by the end of June to identify potential negative impacts on marginalized communities.

by Katelyn Vue, Campus Activities Reporter

A University of Minnesota committee is undertaking more than double its usual workload in an effort to review every University administrative policy through an equity lens.

Last May, University President Joan Gabel requested that all remaining administrative policies undergo an equity lens review by the end of June 2021 to identify potential negative impacts for marginalized communities and underrepresented individuals.

The University has 200 administrative policies spanning topics such as final exams, conflicts of interest and access to University buildings.

Administrative policies must be comprehensively reviewed every four years unless a longer extension is requested. Because the Equity Lens Policy Review Committee was added to the comprehensive review in May 2018, not all policies have undergone the process yet.

To meet Gabel’s June deadline, committee members are seeing an increased workload to complete the necessary equity reviews at a faster pace. Out of the 200 administrative policies, there are fewer than 70 left to review.

“I see this as one of the most high stakes and broadly impactful things I do … because administrative policies affect everyone at the University,” said Holley Locher, a member of the Equity Lens Policy Review Committee and chief of staff of the psychology department. “If I and our committee can make that more equitable for everyone, then it’s worth any increased workload or any increased time on my part.”

Before Gabel’s request, committee members reviewed three to five policies a month. Now, committee members — composed of members of the Office for Equity and Diversity’s Diversity Community of Practice review 10 to 15 policies monthly. The Diversity Community of Practice started in 2015 and is a systemwide group with volunteer faculty and staff interested in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion.

The committee provides feedback in two categories: general comments and equity-related comments. Not all the feedback is implemented by the policy owners, however, said Joy Wise Davis, committee member and the human resources director at the College of Science and Engineering.

A policy owner is the person responsible for the administrative policy, including its procedures and processes. Depending on the policy, there may be more than one policy owner.

“I know we’re doing good work … I know that people appreciate it. Sometimes they take our advice. Sometimes they don’t,” Davis said. “But at least we can say that we reviewed it and we gave feedback.”

The committee is composed of nine staff members and one faculty member. In the committee’s review process, members consider the impact of the policy on underrepresented groups, including people of color.

The committee members also look into questions that address gaps in policies, such as gender-neutral language and accessibility.

Michele Gross, policy program director, said the majority of policy owners strive to meet the four-year requirement of comprehensive policy review. But sometimes, individual policy owners miss the requirement for various reasons such as major policy changes or lack of staff, she added.

“Policies just become so ingrained,” said Susan Rafferty, co-chair of the committee and chief of staff at the University’s School of Public Health. ”We all need to step back and challenge why things are and why things are worded.”

Committee members usually have a week to review the policy and provide feedback to the policy owners. But sometimes larger-scale policies can take longer, said Dr. Amelious Whyte, co-chair of the committee and director of public engagement in the College of Liberal Arts.

“It’s a big load, and it really depends on the availability of those [committee] members,” Gross said. “I have no doubt … that [the committee] will meet that deadline.”