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USF looks to restructure diversity with new model

Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 14:12

At a Diversity Town Hall meeting hosted by the President’s Office last month, USF President Judy Genshaft extolled about diversity — a prided component of USF.

“People look to us to lead the way and see how we conduct ourselves,” she said. “We’re role models. Diversity enriches us and makes us stronger. Our students learn to live and work with people different from themselves.”

But changes, she said, were coming to diversity at USF.

After speaking with consultants CEO Douglas Freeman and Fred Smith from Virtcom Consulting, a “diversity focused, profit driven,” New York-based company that focuses on “inclusion-based business opportunities,” the university was looking to change its existing diversity model at USF, which strives for equal opportunity in the workplace, and to create a Chief Diversity Officer position.

Gone are the days when diversity was simply about compliance, Freeman, who was present at the Town Hall, said.

Now, failing to monetize diversity is a “missed business opportunity,” he said. USF needs more “return on investment.”

“There’s a new wave hitting the nation, and we want to be up with the nation and the world with what they see is growth in the area of diversity,” Genshaft said at the meeting.

Later, when addressing the Faculty Senate, she said the role the Chief Diversity Officer would greatly differ from the role of the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (DEO), the office that handles investigations into complaints of discrimination and harassment based on race, gender, sexuality, religion and several other categories for university employees.

“What we’re finding is that the office has served us well, but we’re ready to go to another level,” she said.

The Chief Diversity Officer would have a greatly expanded role, Freeman said. He or she would have “a budget and investments” and would look to find diverse suppliers and vendors to provide the university with “more bang for the buck,” in addition to engaging in community outreach and research on diversity.

“That’s the reality of our large public institutions — they are under so much (financial) stress,” Freeman said. “One of our specialties as an organization is to look at diversity differently ... Here’s the reality of diversity. It has to find new ways — sometimes money, sometimes other resources — to help.”

The complaints and compliance portion that the DEO housed, Freeman said, would still exist, though that was a more basic understanding of diversity.

“You’re building on the compliance and investigation piece with the new model, not getting rid of it,” he said.

Genshaft told the senate that the complaints would not go through the new Diversity office, but through a new, separate office, such as an “office of compliance.”

Ted Williams, associate vice president for the DEO and associate dean for diversity initiatives in the College of Medicine, said he was not interested in pursuing the Chief Diversity Officer position, as it would force him to give up his “avidity for medicine,” but is on the search committee for the new position. Though he did not know where the compliance duties — which fall under the “equal opportunity umbrella” of the DEO — would be housed, he said it was an important element that would not be tossed aside.

“The evolution in academia of the Chief Diversity Officer is the wave of the future,” he said. “So long as the rights of all individuals are still protected and equality of opportunity is still the order of the day for every member of the university community, I have no problem with this evolving model. But the rights of every individual must still be protected. That’s a mandate for me.”

* * *

Since January 2011, the DEO has processed 167 complaints of discrimination based on “race, color, marital status, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, genetic information, sexual orientation or gender identity,” of which 25 have been investigated and four have been found to have “cause” for violation of USF’s non-discrimination policy.

When a complaint is filed with the DEO, the process of investigation is often long and complex.

In one such case in October 2011, the DEO’s role at the university was brought into question.

Juanita Reed, an employee in Human Resources (HR), lost her job and filed a complaint to the DEO based on race and color against her supervisors Sandy Lovins, now vice president for Administrative Services, and Theresa Drye, associate vice president for HR.

In her complaint, Reed stated that as an African American woman, she felt that she was  “non-renewed or forced to resign based on (her) race.” She said she also felt other African American employees in HR were being “forced out” of their positions.

In its determination letter from the case, the DEO wrote that because “the DEO works closely with both Human Resources and Administrative Services,” the case was referred to an external investigator for impartiality — it went to Eduardo Suarez-Solar, an attorney with Integrated Employer Resources and Consulting, who Williams said the DEO had consulted with several times in the past.

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