Changes to UO's diversity office blasted
Dec 28, 2012 (Menafn - The Register-Guard - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --The pillars of Eugene's Native American, African-American and Hispanic communities said at a gathering Thursday that they are disheartened by the University of Oregon's decision to gut its former Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity -- and, in the process, shed three highly regarded minority education leaders.
The contracts of Emilio Hernandez, Carla Gary and Tom Ball, who each were assistant vice presidents, will be discontinued. The three were moved this month from their prominent offices at Johnson Hall to fourth-floor digs in Pacific Hall. Their old phone lines are dead, and the university switchboard had no forwarding numbers for them. They can opt to stay in the university's employ through December 2013.
Longtime minority community leaders Carmen Urbina, Arbrella Luvert and Twila Souers were among those who said they felt blindsided by the university's decision to discontinue the contracts. They were among student, faculty, alumni and community representatives who met at the Many Nations Longhouse on campus Thursday night to strategize a response.
"These are broad, sweeping, massive changes to make," said Tana Atchley, secretary for the Oregon Indian Education Association. "It's really disrespectful that they would go in and do that without consulting the tribes."
The changes to the office are part of a larger restructuring, according to Yvette Alex-Assensoh, who was hired in the fall as vice president of the office, which recently was renamed the Office of Institutional Equity and Inclusion.
The university is shifting to a "distributed model" of leadership on matters of equity, inclusion and diversity, in which promoting those values will be everyone's work, Alex-Assensoh said in an e-mailed response to a request for comment. And the protected "identities and markers" will be addressed instead of a narrower focus on race.
"Accountability for these issues is distributed throughout the university rather than being the sole responsibility of one person or an individual as, indeed, was the case previously," Alex-Assensoh said in her e-mail.
She also wrote: "I hope to engage faculty and staff to embrace diversity throughout the hiring process, from writing of job descriptions to placement of advertisements, interviewing and actively recruiting diverse candidates."
But Henry Luvert, president of the Eugene-Springfield chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is skeptical.
"What do they call the waste material that a bull puts out?," he said. "It's not going to work. If there wasn't buy-in before, why, all of a sudden, are all these different departments going to have buy in?"
The Oregon Indian Education Association last week launched an online petition, which has garnered 144 signatures, including those of 45 faculty members, said Chixapkaid Pavel, an education studies professor.
Pavel said the nine Oregon tribes plan to demand a meeting with UO President Michael Gottfredson. Urbina said the Hispanic community was willing to "align messages." Luvert said the NAACP education committee wants to get involved. And Native American Student Union representative Ada Ball described planned student protests.
"Whoever is making this decision, it will make them uncomfortable," Ada Ball said.
Many of the 20 leaders gathered said they felt disrespected by the university's decision to act without first giving a heads-up to the communities that will be affected.
Souers said Eugene Native Americans are "stunned" by the unannounced realignment. "Before, when there were changes, there were meetings and discussions," she said.
Bob Garcia, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw, said the university didn't consult the university president's Native American Advisory Board about the restructuring.
Former UO President Dave Frohnmayer created the advisory board in 2006 and was "pretty wonderful" about asking its opinions on diversity issues, Garcia said.
"When President (Richard) Lariviere took office, he visited tribal lands. He made outreach efforts to try to understand issues. I was able to take him on a tour of some tribal lands," Garcia said.
But Gottfredson, the current president, has not reached out, he said.
"It's unfortunate they got off on the wrong foot right now on at least some issues. I don't know if that was the intent or a lack of thought," Garcia said.
Alex-Assensoh wrote that the changes in her office "are well thought-out and, where any consultations needed to be done, I made sure that they were done."
The leaders said Hernandez, Gary and Ball created a presence on campus that helped students and faculty to come to campus and to thrive. All three hold doctorates.
"Tom Ball is an example for leading life in a good way and also excellence in academia. He's been instrumental in pushing people toward their goals in higher education," said Se-ah-dom Edmo, vice president of the Oregon Indian Education Association.
Pavel credits the work of Ball and the others with creating an attractive draw for many Native American faculty and students in the past three years.
"We made the decision to move our families here because of that presence," he said. "We could feel like we were a part of the University of Oregon community."
Lindsey Watchman, coordinator for Native American recruitment at the UO, said tribal leaders are calling and he doesn't know what to tell them about the departure of Ball and the others.
"I've been promoting this as a Native-friendly campus," he said. "Now I'm going to have a hard time doing that."
Four or five leaders said the changes without consultation made them feel vulnerable.
"Is the UO a safe place for Native students to come now? It has pretty big implications," Atchley said.
Urbina said it breaks her heart that "we're taking five steps backward ... It's not, once again, going to be as safe at the university in the skin that we're in."
___ (c)2012 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.) Visit The Register-Guard (Eugene,
Ore.) at www.registerguard.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
Copyright (C) 2012, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.