Mark Taubman Responds to Student Calls for Anti-Racism Action

Jun. 17, 2020

Through letters and rallies, URMC’s learners have shared strong recommendations that have caused us to reexamine fairness and inclusivity within our own organization. The text below is an email response from Mark Taubman, M.D., CEO of the Medical Center and Dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry, to students who sent lists of proposed actions.

Actions Speak Louder Demands from medical students, residents, and allies

Immediate Action Items from the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering

This is an initial response to the list of demands I received in association with the White Coats for Black Lives protests, and a related list of immediate action items from the Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering. I am responding on behalf of myself and Dr. Chaudron, who together with me is working with Medical Center and University leadership to address your concerns. 

I will share with you some steps URMC is taking immediately, along with progress at the University level on areas of concern you have raised. Today I cannot provide a detailed plan to address immediately all 40 of the specific changes protestors are demanding. However, I will explain the process through which I intend to lead meaningful, measurable improvements in support for underrepresented medical students, residents, and graduate students, beginning this academic year. 

First, I want to acknowledge that our institution has failed on past promises to improve as fast or as fully as learners who are black, indigenous, and people of color have a right to expect. As CEO of the Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry, I hold myself accountable and understand your frustration at the lack of progress. I am personally committed to increasing my knowledge around anti-Black racism, and to creating a culture of inclusivity at the Medical Center that better supports Black learners. I agree that actions speak louder than words, and commit to driving positive changes as rapidly as possible.

Next, I want to describe the process I believe will best produce improved structures and supports that are urgently required. I will start by explaining that, in the last few weeks, hundreds of individuals have spoken their truths to me. They have offered constructive ideas and advice on how our institution can better serve Black people. Some of those ideas have come in the form of demands from individuals or from groups, including the learners you represent and the Black Physicians Network of Greater Rochester (BPN).

It has been sobering, but also inspiring, to see this unprecedented level of engagement and passion from people across our institution. To channel this energy as productively as possible, we need to sort through the ideas—many of which do not fall under the purview of the Medical Center, and some of which conflict with each other—to develop a comprehensive URMC anti-racism plan with goals, strategies, actions, accountability, and metrics.

To jump-start plan development, last Wednesday I chaired a meeting of URMC’s Executive Diversity and Inclusion Committee focused on setting priorities. Over the next two weeks I will gain additional ideas and insight through more than a dozen meetings, including the Black Physicians Network and multiple groups within URMC that advocate for underrepresented medical students, residents, and graduate students. I am also creating an informal advisory group of Black leaders and faculty members at the University to provide further guidance.

My intent is to produce a plan that can be readily endorsed by the groups I am meeting with to provide input. The BPN has suggested Sept. 20 as a reasonable target date for completing the plan; I am working on the timeline now and intend to be ahead of that schedule. I expect all of these groups not only to guide plan development, but to hold me accountable for progress and help the institution stay on track.

Responding more specifically to your demands, let me address each of the broad categories for change you have identified. 

Abolition of Public Safety Structures Centered on Policing and Violence. In response to mass shootings and gun violence that have increasingly threatened schools and other public spaces, I supported the decision to arm the Public Safety officers who are responsible for protecting staff members, patients, and the public in our Level 1 trauma center. I also support and will advocate for additional anti-racism training of Public Safety officers.

I should also note that Public Safety is a University department which has no contractual relationship with the Rochester Police Department, and City police (not DPS) have law enforcement jurisdiction over many campus thoroughfares. President Mangelsdorf, in a message sent last Monday to the campus community, added Mercedes Ramírez Fernández—Vice President for Equity and Inclusion—to the University’s Public Safety Review Board, and said the board will convene within the next few weeks “to determine ways in which our Department of Public Safety can contribute further to our campus discussions and actions around race.”

Support for Underrepresented in Medicine (URM) Students. Saturday I attended a protest organized by the Black Physicians Network, where several speakers noted that the lack of diversity among health professionals and trainees is a national problem. I acknowledged our Medical Center’s special responsibility to help lead the Rochester community’s transformation, and committed to improving our work and learning environments for black and brown professionals. Strategies for doing that will be a major component of our anti-racism plan, and here are a few specific thoughts related to your demands.

  • The academic and research leadership of SMD – including Vice Dean for Research Stephen Dewhurst, Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education Diane Hartmann, Senior Associate Dean for Medical School Education David Lambert, Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs Richard Libby, and Associate Dean for Admissions Flavia Nobay—join me in strongly supporting your goals to increase student diversity across the school,  to strengthen academic and social support for underrepresented students, and to integrate anti-racism education into our curricula. As part of our anti-racism plan, they will form committees representing faculty, staff, and students to achieve clear, measurable progress in each of these areas.
  • Offering full scholarships to School of Medicine and Dentistry students from underrepresented groups will make Rochester more competitive with other elite schools. As a first step, we have provided the SMD admissions committee two full scholarships to help attract Black medical students who have been offered admission in the upcoming academic year but have not yet committed to Rochester.  I have begun discussing ideas with SMD leadership and the URMC advancement team to increase scholarship funding. Additionally, I will work with University leadership to make these scholarships a priority in the Together for Rochester campaign that kicks off July 1, with a fundraising goal of $100 million.
  • Under the leadership of Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Mercedes Ramírez Fernández, and Associate Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Adrienne Morgan, the University is revising policies and processes for reporting, investigating, and resolving incidents of bias or discrimination. The new process, to take effect in the near future, will serve all University students and trainees, not just undergraduates. It will make reporting incidents of bias easier, protect those who report against retaliation, and carry clear, consistent consequences for individuals who violate anti-discrimination policies.
  • The University Counseling Center is working to provide racially informed counseling to students of color. Three of nine licensed staff professionals identify as African American or Black. The center employs about two dozen trainees each year who provide counseling support to students, and is committed to increasing diversity among its therapists, with a focus on recruiting people who practice from a race-based, trauma-informed framework. All trainees in the counseling center engage in a weekly multicultural seminar, and permanent staff meet monthly to discuss how the UCC can best serve the University’s multicultural population.
  • I am directing our web services, marketing, and communications teams to identify ways our current web sites can make resource information for underrepresented students more readily accessible, and to include easy access to this information in future site redesigns. 
  • I agree that the time has come to remove the name of founding Dean George Whipple from public spaces at our Medical Center. This cannot be accomplished immediately, for practical reasons of revising signage and maps, and strategic ones of thinking through how to rename spaces in ways that best advance anti-racism goals. I will seek input from URMC learners as part of the renaming process.
    • Today, the sign that identifies his former office as the George Hoyt Whipple Museum was removed, and I am directing the facilities team to empty the room so that it can be used as a multi-cultural space for students to gather. A committee of students, faculty, and staff will work with our facilities group to determine exactly how this space is used, and to create a plan for permanent displays that celebrate underrepresented medical faculty, staff, and alumni across the medical school and hospital.

Support for URM Faculty, Staff, and Students. Diversity in faculty hiring is a priority that will be addressed as part of the anti-racism plan. The hiring and compensation of healthcare workers is a process managed by the Medical Center’s human resources and finance departments, with oversight by the University’s HR and finance functions. Improving racial diversity and compensation equity across the institution is a top priority for all these departments, and we will provide more detail about their efforts as part of the plan. A priority I am pushing for is to ensure that search committees for leadership positions include advocates for diversity, and that all committee members for these searches receive mandatory anti-bias training.

I must caution that the COVID-19 crisis, in addition to shining a harsh light on health disparities in our society, has dealt a crippling financial blow to our Medical Center and the University as a whole. This has led to austerity measures that include hiring freezes in most areas, no pay increases for staff in the next fiscal year, and temporary compensation reductions for highly paid employees. We are working hard to restore financial stability, so that we will be able to move forward as quickly as possible to enhance diversity in every part of the work force.

In closing, I will note one demand that has been fully met. Last week, President Mangelsdorf and I both proudly signed the declaration that racism is a public health crisis, sponsored locally by the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group. This is a small step, but I hope a significant demonstration that leadership is not just listening but taking action. We will join you in speaking out against racism and taking actions to create a more inclusive, supportive, and anti-racist culture within our institution. Working together, in a spirit of open dialogue and constructive collaboration, we can and will do better.

Mark B. Taubman, M.D.& CEO, University of Rochester Medical Center

Dean, School of Medicine & Dentistry (SMD)