Professor calls on USC to improve racial inclusion and respect

October 25, 2017

At the ceremony for his installation as a chaired professor, Shaun R. Harper gave a charge to the university

By Matthew C. Stevens

USC Rossier Dean Karen Symms Gallagher (left) and Provost Michael Quick (right) presented Shaun R. Harper (center) with his new chair. Photo by Brian Morri/211 Photography.

Shaun R. Harper was installed as the Clifford H. & Betty C. Allen Chair in Urban Leadership at the USC Rossier School of Education in a ceremony held on Tuesday.

Harper, who came to the University of Southern California in July to launch and direct the USC Race and Equity Center, also holds a joint appointment at the USC Marshall School of Business. From 2003 to 2005, Harper was an assistant professor of clinical education at USC Rossier and executive director of the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EDL) program. He went on to direct the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, which he founded in 2011.

Harper’s return to USC is a key piece in the university’s overall strategy to advance equity, said Provost Michael Quick.

“We are a university that has been pushing forward on issues around diversity and inclusion for a number of years,” Quick said at the ceremony. “One of the best ways we have shown that is to say, ‘Let’s bring the leading voices on issues of equity and race to this university to help lead us forward.’”

Quick announced that Harper has also been named a Provost Professor, one of only 18 faculty members at USC to hold that designation. In this capacity, Harper’s efforts will span the entire breadth of USC, said Quick, “to work at the fringes of disciplines, to bring disciplines together and to mash them up in new ways.”

Harper is already delivering on that promise, mobilizing more than 100 professors across USC’s 19 schools to be affiliates of his center. Meanwhile, with a staff of six, the center oversees virtual USC Equity Institutes as well as the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates (NACCC), a quantitative survey instrument that will be annually administered at hundreds of colleges and universities across the country.

Juxtaposing honor and respect

At the installation, Harper expressed his gratitude to the provost and USC Rossier Dean Karen Symms Gallagher while also acknowledging the support of his fellow faculty members.

He also paid homage to mentor Walter Allen, the Allan Murray Cartter Professor of Higher Education at UCLA. Allen—no relation to Cliff and Betty Allen—was the first black holder of an endowed title that Harper had ever met.

“In many ways,” Harper said, “Walter, you gave me license to study our people and the racism that persistently disadvantages us and to do so with rigor, courage and great responsibility…. I am, because you are.”

By tracing his academic roots all the way back to his earliest observations of racism as a 5-year-old in southern Georgia, Harper explained how he continues to subscribe to a principle taught to him by his family.

“Our stance has always been that disrespect for one of us affects all of us,” he said. “One of us cannot enjoy respect while knowing the others are suffering.”

Thus, he said that he cannot fully celebrate the honor of an endowed title while also knowing how few black professors occupy tenured faculty positions at Rossier, Marshall or any of the other 17 schools at USC. He reminded the audience of the overwhelming majority of faculty members of color who participate in his center’s campus climate surveys who share “horrifying, heartbreaking stories of disrespect.”

“I hope these words inspire us to become the most racially diverse, racially inclusive and racially respectful university in the country,” he said. “That would engender even greater gratitude than I feel right now.”

After the ceremony, Walter Allen offered his own reflection: “It is wonderful to see Dr. Harper back here at USC in a position that will allow him to continue to exert influence over the field and over the country in the quest of equity and opportunity.”

You can view a video of the installation of the ceremony on USC Rossier’s YouTube page or below. The Clifford H. & Betty C. Allen Chair in Urban Leadership was created in 2007. Clifford H. Allen (2014–2011) served as the head risk management administrator for the Los Angeles Unified School District for more than 20 years.