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Keep Political Games out of Lakeland

LFA President Tobin F. Terry’s remarks delivered at the September 29, 2022 Lakeland Board of Trustees meeting regarding the approved motion from the September 1, 2022 meeting to form a trustee-only committee to review the words “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” as they appear in Lakeland policies and documents.

Dr. Beverage, Chairperson Vitaz, and Board of Trustees:

Hello, again. My name is Tobin Terry, President of the Lakeland Faculty Association, Professor of English, Lake County father of three.

When I addressed you during the September 1 Board meeting, I urged you to reject a motion to omit the words equity, inclusion, and inclusivity from the College’s Strategic Plan.

In that meeting, I heard that many of you support the principles of equity, inclusion, and diversity but that you have reservations about the words themselves because of their status as political lightning rods.

Let us remember, as Trustee Frager reminded us, that these words have actual, technical, dictionary definitions. They are not legalese whose meaning is open to interpretation.

I explained in my previous remarks that Lakeland’s institutional accreditor, The Higher Learning Commission, mandates a commitment to equity, inclusion, and diversity, as do accreditors for our individual academic programs of study. 

These are the industry-standard terms for an educational institution’s commitment to meeting the needs of all students, and there are no synonyms.

Efforts to distance Lakeland from these terms jeopardize our accreditation. Without accreditation, a Lakeland degree has no value—our graduates won’t get jobs; our enrollments will evaporate. 

There are those who seek to vilify words and values that have long been a part of Lakeland’s legacy and that embody the best of who we are and what we have to offer. These people wish to use the College and our most vulnerable students to start a culture war, but Lakeland and our students are not pawns to be sacrificed in someone else’s game of political chess. 

We are here to show our support of continued commitment to equity, inclusion, and diversity, not to promote partisan politics. You know who we are. You’ve visited our classrooms and offices; you’ve commended our dedication to student success. Our only agenda is ensuring the success and well-being of our students and protecting Lakeland’s ability to continue serving the community.

In the last meeting, this Board voted to form a committee to review these terms in Lakeland’s policies, but I urge you and everyone here to consider what work such a committee could possibly do. Our accreditors require us to use these exact words, and they already have definitions. There is nothing to discuss.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are Lakeland’s Legacy

LFA President Tobin F. Terry’s remarks regarding the motion to remove the words equity and inclusion/inclusivity from the Lakeland Community College Strategic Plan at the September 1, 2022 Lakeland Board of Trustees Meeting 

Dr. Beverage, Chairperson Pro Tem Frager, and Board of Trustees:

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today regarding item 8A of the agenda. My name is Tobin Terry. I am a resident of the Headlands community here in Lake County. I have three children, all of whom I hope will one day be Lakers. I am also a faculty member at Lakeland. I teach English, and I serve as co-chair for that department. I am also the president of the Lakeland Faculty Association.  I have prepared my message beforehand out of respect for your time. 

For more than 50 years, Lakeland has served the people of Lake County and the surrounding areas as an open-access educational institution dedicated to improving the lives of its students and the wider community. There is a legacy at Lakeland that defines equity as the practice of accounting for the differences in each individual’s starting point when pursuing a lifelong goal, and working to remove barriers to equal opportunity. A legacy that defines inclusion as the practice of including and integrating all people and groups, especially those who are disadvantaged, have suffered discrimination, or are living with disabilities. This is a legacy that you helped to create, and one that we nurture together. 

Employees in every area of the college applied for and accepted their positions with an understanding of the unique challenges that community college students face and with a commitment to support and empower all Lakeland students on their paths toward success. 

I am deeply troubled by the discussion surrounding the terms equity and inclusion during the May 5 Lakeland Board of Trustees meeting, including the tabled motion to remove or replace these terms from the College’s strategic plan. 

In the Board of Trustees meeting on April 7, the Board commended the faculty, staff, and administrators who came together to hold an early graduation celebration for a terminally ill American Sign Language student. This ceremony was an act of equity: a recognition of the unique needs of an individual and an accommodation offered in response to those needs. 

I am sure you remember when, at the May 5 meeting, a Phi Theta Kappa officer who earned national recognition for her service project, began to cry when talking about her time at Lakeland and with PTK coming to an end. She was empowered to speak, to pursue innovative ideas, and to represent our institution and community as a result of our PTK chapter’s dedication to equity, diversity, and inclusion. 

We owe these principles to first-generation college students, who account for 45% of community college students but 75% of college dropouts; We owe it to our students who speak English as a second language, including those recruited by our athletics program; We owe it to low-income students who depend on scholarships and Lakeland-provided services such as the Cares Cupboard and the Emergency Grant Fund.

There’s a difference between simply not discriminating against historically disadvantaged groups of people and actively working to empower those people to succeed against obstacles beyond their control. The most powerful and nonpartisan educational entities in the state and the nation demand the latter of us: 

The Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC) has affirmed the importance of equity-minded teaching practices and its commitment to helping colleges improve minority student outcomes. 

Accreditation Criteria 1c of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), Lakeland’s accrediting body, states, “The institution’s processes and activities demonstrate inclusive and equitable treatment of diverse populations.” 

The Ohio Transfer Module, which guarantees that our credits transfer to other Ohio institutions of higher education, requires special attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The Ohio Department of Education’s (ODE) Strategic Plan  includes Equity as the first of its three core principles, stating, “Ohio’s greatest education challenge remains equity in education achievement.” 

The United States Department of Education published a 95-page report offering data highlights and “promising practices” for Advancing Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education

The words equity, diversity, and inclusion are not inherently political. With the collaboration of this administration, our faculty, our staff, and you, the Board of Trustees, Lakeland stands above nearly all two-year colleges in the nation for student success, and is a shining example of the definition of these terms, as it has for been over half a century, while supporting the humane and ethical core values that they represent. 

The words and their meanings have not changed;  they are monuments to a legacy of excellence and prosperity built on the foundation of the will of the people of Lake County. 

We should be strengthening our commitment to these core values, not running from it. We should honor our legacy of upholding these principles, and we cannot be afraid or ashamed of these words and the ethical systems and behaviors that they stand for. As an open-access community college, we must commit–in industry-standard terms–to including a diverse range of perspectives and providing support based on students’ needs. 

I implore you to preserve our collective legacy by preserving in the strategic plan the values that you and I and my colleagues and the people of Lake County embody.

Thank you for your time, your attention, and your leadership.

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