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Compliance should remain important in diversity model

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012 12:12

USF exemplifies diversity in the Tampa Bay community.

Its multicultural student, faculty and staff body, its varied schools of thought and its inclusive nondiscrimination policy set it far ahead of the rest of the region.

But the cloudiness surrounding the creation of a new position at USF, a Chief Diversity Officer, who would sit on the President’s cabinet, is a confusing step for a university that prides itself on diversity. The position would in part replace the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (DEO), which handles discrimination complaints for university employees.

According to a diversity consultant contacted by the university, the new position would be multifaceted. With “a budget and investments,” a vision to find diverse suppliers and vendors for the university with “more bang for the buck,” and engagement in community outreach and diversity research, it seems as if the overall premise of employee diversity and fairness gets lost in the shuffle.

The consultant stated that compliance issues were a more preliminary understanding of diversity and that in today’s world, not capitalizing on diversity was a “missed business opportunity.”

While the position sounds ideal for corporations where the bottom line trumps all, it seems inappropriate at a university.

What is more important at universities are the compliance issues and ensuring that diversity is alive and workplace discrimination is handled effectively, ensuring that all university employees are respected.

Both the consultant and USF President Judy Genshaft have assured that compliance will remain, even with the implementation of a new model of diversity, but where the compliance portion will be housed remains uncertain.

It should not be swept under the rug, as doing so would be a huge disservice and injustice to employees.

The DEO has received 167 complaints in the past two years. While only four have resulted in “cause” findings for violations, there is clearly a need for this institution on campus. Regardless of whether there is a problem or not, when one perceives he or she is being unfairly treated or is being harassed based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or any other factors, one should have a secure place to turn to where one’s voice will be heard.

In times of budget cuts, innovative thinking and creative ways to save money across borders are always welcome. Yet USF should act with much caution as possible to ensure it is still protecting the important need for diversity and equal opportunity in the workplace.

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