Dear Members of the Campus Community,

Last month the White House released an Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. The executive order is broad in application and applies to federal agencies, the military, federal contractors, and federal grant recipients. (Puget Sound is considered both a federal contractor and federal grant recipient under the terms of this order.)

Why does this matter to us? In summary, the order provides that the federal government can cancel or deny funds to federal contractors and federal grant recipients that promote “divisive concepts” in certain diversity training programs for employees.  As part of its work in preparing to implement this executive order, the Office of Management and Budget has identified some words and phrases that may qualify as “teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts” and would be prohibited under the order, including critical race theory, white privilege, systemic racism, and unconscious bias, among others.  

Over the past several weeks we have been working with the American Council on Education, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Department of Commerce, and others to understand the impact of this order on Puget Sound. We understand that penalties could include the loss of academic research support, and potentially other forms of support as well.

Some institutions of higher education already have begun to cancel or pause diversity, equity and inclusion programs while they assess the impact of the order on their respective campuses. At Puget Sound we remain fully committed to fostering a diverse, inclusive and welcoming community, and have no plans to cease any of the training activities, events, and educational opportunities related to diversity and inclusion that we provide, whether for students, faculty, staff members or the broader community. In addition to offering a range of training programs, we are also continuing our search for a vice president for institutional equity and diversity, and will continue to support the important work of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Race and Pedagogy Institute, and the many academic, administrative, and support offices that advance the goals of our diversity strategic plan every day. 

Of note, the executive order does not prevent the promotion of racial, cultural, or ethnic diversity or inclusiveness (as defined by the order), and affirms that discussions of “divisive concepts” are not prohibited as part of a larger course of academic instruction conducted “in an objective manner and without endorsement.” 

Although we don’t anticipate any immediate loss of funding—and there is a possibility that the order itself will be repealed—this is not a time to wait and hope. In addition to our higher education professional organizations, I appreciated the opportunity to engage with legal counsel and members of the President’s Advisory Panel on Racism on this issue during our meeting earlier this month, and fully support our faculty leading educational conversations about the executive order and its potential implications. I cannot think of a more important application of our mission as a liberal arts college than fully engaging academic freedom and the exercise of free speech to explore the most pressing issues of our time. It is through honest, open dialogue that we engage ideas, develop new paths forward, and effect real and lasting change in service to others.

I know there are many things on our minds as we navigate the pandemic and myriad other concerns. I trust that, working not only together but in support of one another, we will weather this and all challenges that come our way with characteristic Logger commitment and resolve.

Thank you for everything you do, every day, to make Puget Sound a place that honors and values every individual for the unique and precious person that they are.

Isiaah Crawford, Ph.D | President