May 31, 2020

Members of the OSU community,

The primary role of police in America is to provide for the safety of all people by protecting them from criminals and to hold each of us accountable to the law. We expect police to apprehend criminals and work within the legal system to make certain that justice is blind and all are held accountable to the law.

We all have watched in horror videos being replayed over the past week showing the life of George Floyd brutally taken from him by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., while three other officers sworn to uphold the law looked on in indifference. The officer who killed Mr. Floyd was arrested and all four of the officers were fired, but the other three officers simply went home.

Sadly, this horrific event is just the latest in a seemingly endless stream of acts of violence against Black and other people of color by police who are sworn to protect and serve them.

Mr. Floyd’s death comes on the heels of the Feb. 23 fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery by armed white residents as he was out jogging in a neighborhood in South Georgia. As well, the March 13 death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her Louisville, Ky. home by police. And the reporting to police last week of an African American man threatening a white woman when in fact he was in New York City’s Central Park to watch birds and simply asked her to keep her dog on a leash.

We continually hear speeches and testimonials about how unacceptable and terrible these acts are and how our leaders feel the pain of the Black community. Yet, nothing changes much and we act as if these horrific events are singular or isolated events. But these are not one-offs. They are the product of a failed justice system that perpetuates racism in America and too often a culture of silence within police forces that protects incompetent and hateful people simply because they wear the badge. We are condemned to relive these tragedies unless we make real change a priority throughout this country.

America must be a land of personal and equal freedom, safety and opportunity for all people. And to be certain, the police exist to protect us from predators and not to control us. That attitude should be universal in this country regardless of who we are, where we live or what we look like.

But how can we expect America and all people who live here — including communities of color — to thrive in the midst of such violence and injustice? How many times must we write the same messages expressing our outrage and hurt, sharing our thoughts and prayers for those harmed, and pleading for an end to injustice? How many acts of discrimination, injury and death must occur before our country confronts the realities of the lived experiences of people of color in our society? All of this must stop and that requires action not speeches.

Policing is a local function, but our system of policing requires systematic change across the country. On Monday, I will write the National Governors Association and urge the association and other groups to develop rules, training programs and disciplinary codes for appropriate policing to be enforced throughout America and for unions to step up and support the justice system in weeding out bad officers. Most police are good, dedicated, under-paid and hard working men and women, who risk their lives every day for the well-being of all people. They deserve our thanks and respect and they should not be subject to public scorn because we are incapable of holding some police accountable to the laws of our country and communities simply because they wear a badge.  

As a university community, we must join together to ensure that all members of the OSU community  students, faculty, staff and visitors  not only feel welcomed and safe, but experience our community as a place to thrive. Each and every member of our community must know they are valued, that they belong here, and that we celebrate the rich diversity that they bring to Oregon State University. We should not tolerate anything less. 

Our new police chief, Edgar Rodriguez understands that police must be a community partner that provide a sense of safety in the university and broader community.  As we hire officers for our police force, the Office of Institutional Diversity will continue to provide training to OSU public safety officers on implicit bias, foundations of power, privilege and oppression to ensure that our public safety practices are congruent with OSU’s values regarding inclusivity and opposing oppression. University leaders also will to seek to achieve agreements with police agencies in communities where OSU operates so that we may mutually advance inclusive justice for all people. 

The novel coronavirus pandemic has made all of us look at the inequities in our society. We call people essential workers and yet we systematically pay them less than living wages and deny them critical health care and quality education for themselves and their children, and we act surprised that they are disproportionately vulnerable to death from the COVID-19 pandemic because of pre-existing conditions and that they are disproportionately people of color. When do we get disgusted enough with what we have created and say enough? 

We have a policing problem in America, but it is part of a much deeper and broader failure of this society to live up to the promise of America, which continually eludes us.

As I prepare to step down as university president on June 30, I am confident that our university and the OSU community are in the right hands with incoming president King Alexander. He and I talk often and I know he shares my personal values and leadership commitment to inclusivity, safety and opportunity for all. I know that as OSU’s next president, he will be unwavering in helping advance the work of inclusive justice and opportunity for all that must be part of life within OSU  and across America.  Together with Chief Rodriguez, he will help us move in the right direction in our little part of the world.

In closing, I ask that each of us continue to participate in dialogue, leadership and understanding as we seek to alter the direction of society. I know this will not happen overnight, but by God it needs to happen soon. 

Sincerely,                                                                  

Edward J. Ray
President