May 20, 2022
To our Middlesex Community:
The decision to rescind the invitation to Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, was wrong for many reasons and on many levels. It was wrong because, through shortcomings in our process and procedures, we failed to meet the promise of our mission to, “work together in an atmosphere of mutual trust and shared responsibility.” It was wrong because as an educational institution committed to finding the “promise in every student,” we recognize that an open exchange of viewpoints is absolutely vital to student development and intellectual excellence. Most of all, it was wrong because it was disrespectful to Ms. Hannah-Jones and the important work she does, suggesting both that we do not value that work and that Middlesex wavered in our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In response to this matter, the full Middlesex Board of Trustees announced that it was “committed to understanding, in full, the events leading to the decision” and was “initiating an independent review to determine the facts and draw the necessary lessons.” A review task force was convened and charged with developing a statement of work and selecting legal professionals in a competitive process to conduct the independent review. The task force selected Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP, a top-ranked law firm with extensive experience working with educational institutions , to conduct the review. The task force met weekly from December through the first week of May with the purpose of facilitating the document discovery and interview process and monitoring the review’s progress.
Saul Ewing presented their findings in a report to the Middlesex Board of Trustees on May 6 and today, the Board has released the firm’s “Summary of Findings” which can be found here.
We have full confidence in the independence, objectivity, and thoroughness of the report. Saul Ewing’s review was exhaustive and included interviews with nearly 30 people (many more than once) and the analysis of thousands of related documents including emails, calendar entries, and phone records. The work did take longer than we anticipated which can be directly attributed to the comprehensive, in depth and iterative nature of Saul Ewing’s process including multiple interviews and follow-ups with key individuals.
In light of the findings and two days of discussion following Saul Ewing’s presentation, the Board agreed to the following:
- Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion: While we have made important strides over the past year on our DEI initiatives, this matter was a significant setback that undermined trust in our community and suggested that Middlesex had wavered in our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. As a Board, we reaffirm unequivocally our shared goals of creating a more inclusive, welcoming and supportive environment for all students–regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, ability or socio-economic background. By October 15, 2022, we plan to release a progress report to our community on the status of our commitments as outlined in our DEI statement.
- Event/Speaker Policies: It has become commonplace for educational institutions to establish more formal processes around events and speakers. As such, we have directed the school administration to develop clear, formal and detailed event/speaker approval policies as well as specific criteria addressing when, if ever, it is acceptable to rescind an invitation. We believe that this approach will allow us to provide access to a diversity of viewpoints while adequately preparing for and addressing risks associated with events and speakers.
- Board Governance: This matter has clearly demonstrated to us that Middlesex lacked effective transparency and communication between administrators, the Board of Trustees and the greater community. As a result, we have committed to an in-depth review of our current by-laws, review of our committee structure and the selection and evaluation of Officers, Members, Committee Chairs and the Board Chair, among other topics. An already established task force will review these internal processes and make recommendations for improvement based on best practices. We expect their report to be completed by early fall.
This episode in the school’s history was not reflective of who Middlesex is or who we want to be. We are committed to doing better, to learning from our mistakes and truly focusing on what remains a vital part of our mission–to find the promise in every student and to value the rich diversity of belief and experience each of us brings to this School and community.
Thank you each for your commitment to and support of our school and community.
Middlesex School Board of Trustees