A Message from the President

President's Update to the Campus Community
February 7, 2018

By now, most of you are aware of the “captured” Snapchat post created by three of our students. My guess is that you are also aware of my statement, which is on the University’s website (found below), issued in response to that post soon after I first learned of the incident.

Since last Friday, February 2, there has been a lot of activity and inquiry about this moment in our life together. There was a KCRG news report on Saturday evening, an article in the Telegraph Herald, and, of course, a lot of social media. Predictably, much of what is being reported is accurate, some of it is wildly inaccurate; some of what is being said is helpful and other comments are hurtful and destructive. That is the world of social media. Since that time, my colleagues and I have met with the three students who originated the incident, many students, student leaders, and members of our faculty and staff. The three students responsible for the post have been interviewed by the Belltower, appeared before a meeting of the Black Student Union, apologized both privately and publically, and are in the process of taking responsibility for their actions and learning from them.

It is also the case that our community is moving from initial disgust, disappointment, hurt and sadness into a period of inquiry and discernment. During this period of sense-making and action-taking, there have been references to last year’s “black face” incident with claims that I “…only administered a slap on the wrist” to the students involved, and that the outcome will be the same for our present situation. These claims are emphatically untrue, and disregard the intensive investment of time, energy and passion of our faculty and staff members. As I shared with the leaders of both the Student Government Association and BSU, our Mission informs a restorative justice approach to much of our life together. Various federal laws such as FERPA rightly do not allow me to publically discuss personal matters about students, faculty or staff members, whether those personal matters are grades in a specific class or matters of discipline.  I can say, however, that in matters like these, members of our faculty and staff are intimately involved in the corrective and restorative process, and that I lean closely on our Board of Trustees for guidance, discernment and direction. Our Board is comprised of men and women from all walks of life, various ethnicities, and experts in their respective fields including attorneys, judges, student development professionals, ministers, physicians, and leaders of business and other non-profits. All of the actions I take and decisions that I make, ultimately, exist under the scrutiny of our Board—as they should be. The events of last year and, now, this year are no different. Candidly, our Board is enthusiastically supportive of our approach and, in fact, looks forward to the day when we can publish our convictions for a much wider audience, as we believe our way of being best leads to accountability, maturation, growth and reconciliation.

Finally, as we move through this time, I want our community to know that I am appointing a small Task Force comprised of faculty, staff, and students to do the following:

  1. Provide an inventory (with assessment of strengths/opportunities for growth) of our curriculum and how we address cultural competency;
  2. Provide an inventory (with assessment of strengths/opportunities for growth) of our co-curricular programming and how we address cultural competency.
  3. Concurrently, I will also initiate an independent legal review of our faculty and staff policy handbook and our Student Handbook to identify strengths and deficiencies, and to recommend any corrective and strengthening policies. 

Though item #3 will take longer, I hope to have items # 1 and #2 on my desk no later than Monday, March 5, 2018. Once that information is available, I will post for public review on our UD intranet site, and then host two feedback sessions in early March. I anticipate that we will learn a lot together during this process and, ideally, find constructive ways to strengthen our community life together in a multitude of different ways. 

Jeffrey F. Bullock, Ph.D.

Statement Addressing Snapchat Incident on the campus of the University of Dubuque
February 2, 2018

Among other guarantees, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives those of us who live in America the right to exercise free speech. Most of us take that right for granted much of the time. We’ve never lived in another place or even travelled to another country where the right to express our thoughts has ever been questioned. That right is a blessing—and it is a responsibility. Citizens who strive to make America a better place for all of her people have a duty to exercise that right—responsibly. 

It is also the case that the right to free speech protects the right to express offensive speech, even when it is degrading, harmful and wrong to do so. I am saddened to share that, recently, three young undergraduate students did precisely that. Only hours ago, I was made aware of a Snapchat story that was “captured,” and is now making the social media rounds throughout this campus and, most likely, beyond this campus. Along with Interim Dean of Students, Mike Durnin, I have met with these students, and I’m sure I’ll be meeting with them and others many more times to come. There will be significant consequences for the choices these students have made. All speech has consequences.

As we know, this is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that an incident like this, in this case one which belittles Black History Month, happens here—or in Dubuque, or in Iowa, or in America. Social media amplifies all of our voices, even those that are best left muted. And, having gone through something like this before, I can assure all of you that our campus will go through this moment—together. The students involved in this incident are now experiencing their share of public humiliation and shame. Other students are experiencing anger, dismay, irritation, and a deep hurt. All of these emotions, and others, are very real and very raw and are the consequence of what, in my religious tradition, is known as sin. Yes—sin. It is sinful to intentionally do something or say something that hurts, denigrates or disrespects another human being even when our American Constitution protects the right to do so.

That is why it is important to state, unequivocally, that the University of Dubuque is a faith-based organization of teaching and learning. We believe that there is a better way to live in this world, to learn in this world, to love in this world, and to lead in this world. We also understand that, in many respects, the path we choose is the more difficult one to walk. We know that we are all human and fallible in our ways and in our interactions with each other. And even as we ceaselessly work to experience forgiveness and reconciliation, we will also never tire of learning—together, because this side of eternity, we are broken human beings in need of the kind of redemption that, in my opinion, can really only be learned and experienced in a faith-based organization of teaching and learning.

I invite all of you to join with me on this walk to a better way. We will learn from this moment and, by God’s grace, we will lead from this moment. After all, the world in which I reside is desperately yearning for leaders who can show all of us a better way to be in relationship, one with the other.

Jeffrey F. Bullock, Ph.D.