A Statement from Dean Corsi

 April 23, 2021

The past few weeks have been emotional for many in the wake of a trial that brought back the pain of George Floyd’s murder. A strong statement of accountability was made by twelve jurors. However, there is no doubt that tremendous work lies ahead to heal centuries of oppression and racism. It is a heavy lift to starve hearts of bias and hatred, but we must try. Speaking about this topic is uncomfortable for many. I admit that it is for me.  But it is far past time that we accept being uncomfortable as we strive to live up to a contract of liberty and justice for all.  It is important to open dialogue and to take action toward completion of that contract. The thought of what our country might one day become should inspire all of us to do our individual parts to get us there.

All of academia must also do its part. Every university, college, department, and unit must do their parts. While higher education is an engine for social mobility and has great potential for breaking down racism and prejudices of many forms, it has often failed by preserving implicit and explicit discrimination and perpetuating social privilege. There has been progress, but it has been slow, and there remains much work to be done.

Diversity is particularly important in engineering and computer science education. Everything that our fields and disciplines do affects society. As such, our profession should reflect the greater society. But a diverse human ecosystem cannot reach its potential without inclusion, an atmosphere of respect for all, with access to the same set of opportunities and equitable rewards. Celebrating diversity and practicing inclusion are important ingredients for a healthier academic ecosystem. However, we should not, and cannot, treat these are performative, for that does not lead to systemic change. Academia must act, as all other sectors of society, for systemic and sustained change to assure justice for all.

On April 20th a large number of deans of engineering from across the United States met virtually to discuss how we can collectively do better to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering colleges across the United States. It was an inspiring discussion. The collective commitment was deep.  However, it is clear that we are just starting on a journey that I hope will ultimately lead to collective actions that benefit our students, staff, faculty, the engineering and computer science professions and, therefore, society as a whole.

June 20, 2020

It’s time to get uncomfortable.

We are in the middle of a pandemic that has caused widespread death, anguish, grief, and economic devastation. These effects have been disproportionately felt by communities of color and the poor.  The COVID-19 death rate in Black communities is twice the national average. The rate of COVID-19 deaths on many Native American lands exceed those of every State. 

Superimposed on the worst pandemic in over 100 years is the ugly face of racism that we have seen play out over and over again. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Tanisha Anderson, Ahmaud Arbery, and a list that goes on and on and on, should shake all of our souls to the core.

We must stand united against hatred, against racism, against murder of Black men and women. Those of us who have not shared the life experiences of Black Americans must get uncomfortable, let down our guards, listen, learn, grow, and demand and work for justice.  Speak truth to power and to ignorance. 

I am committed to doing so because Black lives matter. And learning from those who come from very different life experiences than our own not only brings us closer, but also makes all of us better, richer in spirit and soul.

We remain confronted with a continuum of deep wounds that have not healed over generations, and that challenges all of us to work toward overcoming bias in all aspects of our lives. But fixing a systemic failure requires that we confront what has caused it to endure for so long. We must acknowledge the advantages that some sectors of our society benefit from, and that are not afforded to others. I’d like to speak to how inequalities in society relate to academia.

Every university talks about diversity and its critical complement, inclusion. Every college of engineering uses these words.  But where is the action? Sadly, our profession’s success with respect to recruitment of Black faculty remains a miserable failure. It is wrong for colleges of engineering to celebrate exceeding a national average, when that average is less than 3% for Black faculty members. It is a failure that colleges of engineering in the US have so few Black faculty members, often just one or two who are taxed by being asked to take on additional responsibilities aimed at improving diversity on their campus. 

We must address failures in engineering education and research. We must make it more relevant and welcoming to underrepresented communities. We must support and reward those faculty and staff who engage in research that improves the human condition in underserved and oppressed communities. 

This is a call to action for all of us to be better. I am committed to listening and learning. I will work relentlessly to advance the efforts that the Maseeh College has started to build a more diverse and inclusive community. I will also challenge everyone in our community to do the same and to look critically and honestly at the advantages that many of us have been granted, and work to make these advantages universally accessible. Change is not easy, but it is long overdue.

This is me getting uncomfortable. I hope that you will join me. 

Richard L. Corsi, Ph.D., P.E.

H. Chik M. Erzurumlu Dean
Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science