USF looks to restructure diversity with new model

At a Diversity Town Hall meeting hosted by the Presidents 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. Were 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.

Theres 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 were finding is that the office has served us well, but were 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.

Thats 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 … Heres 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.

Youre 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. Thats a mandate for me.

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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 USFs 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 DEOs 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.

Suarez-Solar presented his findings in April 2012 and after speaking with current and former HR employees including Reeds attorney, who resigned from an HR position in 2009 and wrote a letter at the time citing his concerns over race in the department found a no cause for discrimination by Lovins, yet said she should have reported prior incidents relating to race brought to her attention, but a cause finding for Drye, who Reed alleged had acted in violation of the non-discrimination policy.

As per procedure, the DEO submitted the report to USF General Counsel for review of Legal Sufficiency.

In a letter dated May 21, Senior Associate General Counsel Gerard Solis wrote to the DEO that he found the investigation troubling and legally insufficient on the grounds that the investigator had not given Drye and Lovins an opportunity to respond to new allegations that arose during the course of the investigation, that a USF policy of job renewal had been misunderstood and that insufficient weight was given comparing Reeds work to the work of other employees at the same level.

Williams said this was the first case in his eight-year tenure at the DEO he had heard of that General Counsel had found to be legally insufficient.

Im not an attorney, so I dont possess the legal knowledge to know if our investigator is right or General Counsel is right, he said. So in consultation with General Counsel, we decided to bring in a third neutral party.

According to the case file, General Counsel and the DEO agreed to consult Shirlyon McWhorter, an attorney, former judge and the DEO head for Florida International University, and agreed that her decision would be binding and final.

In a June 18 letter, McWhorter concluded the DEO investigation was legally sufficient on the basis that Reed had been qualified to do the job, similarly situated employees were treated more favorably, and the semantics issue of job renewal versus firing was irrelevant in light of the charge of discrimination.

The case was then out of the scope of the DEO and was sent to the Office of the President, where DEO cases are sent and the defendants are given a chance to appeal. The DEO has no power of enforcement.

On July 18, Genshaft designated Kofi Glover, vice provost for Human Resources and Facilities, to oversee the appeals process.

Drye, in her appeals letter dated Aug. 20, expressed serious concerns over the DEOs investigation and its legal sufficiency. She stated that McWhorters finding of Reeds qualification to do the job was based on the 17 years Reed had served in the position and that some documents were unfairly omitted in Suarez-Solars investigation, painting an incomplete picture.

In a letter sent the same day from attorney Ryan Barack on behalf of Sandy Lovins, Barack wrote (Lovins) was never provided an opportunity to produce additional witnesses or evidence to the contrary to defend herself against these false allegations. The investigation was based on partial statements, inaccurate information, and omitted or ignored facts that presented evidence that did not meet with a pre-determined outcome.

Williams said the DEO prides itself on its investigations, and with supreme confidence he said he could say it looked out for the rights of all.

Any time there are allegations of discrimination, yes, we look at them, he said. We investigate them, and that has been the hallmark of integrity in this office.

But Drye also wrote that she had concerns about the DEO having significant bias against the respondents.

Earlier in 2011, after she complained to Williams about a former DEO employee, Kirk Rascoe, about his inappropriate presentation style on diversity-related topics to university employees (six employees complained, she said), Rascoe filed a DEO complaint against Drye on the basis of race and gender, stating that Drye had made unfair complaints against him and that HR hopes to enlarge its scope by taking over the DEO office and forcing out Williams and Rascoe.

Rascoes complaint was deemed unfounded by an external investigator, but in Dryes appeals letter to the Reed case, she wrote that this complaint was used to expand the list of employees interviewed in the Reed case, and that Rascoe was also a client of Reeds attorney the former HR employee who she said stands to financially gain from the case. The basis of HR wanting to take over the DEO, she said, was unfounded.

I have had my credibility and integrity questioned, she wrote. These reports, subject to public disclosure, impugn my personal and professional reputation and potentially my employment success. These baseless accusations have been proven to be false yet the potential damage remains.

She wrote that she believes it is imperative that the University of South Florida take appropriate action to review the intent and performance of the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity so that all employees of USF are treated fairly.

Glover, in a letter to Genshaft dated Oct. 3, stated he found the investigation process seriously flawed, upon review and that he did not see the findings of the case justified.

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It is unclear how, or why, the diversity consultants who proposed the new model of diversity were contacted.

No one, specific event led to the universitys interest in developing the Chief Diversity Officer position, University Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Adam Freeman said in an email to The Oracle. USF sits in one of the most diverse areas of the United States. The university feels its very important to be progressive and innovative in maintaining an inclusive environment for learning and working. We hope to set an example that other institutions around the country will follow.

Williams, who said the new model is the future model of academia, said he did not know what the impetus of seeking the consultants was.

I have no information, zero information, as to the genesis of the presidents desire or decision to look at the Chief Diversity Officer model, he said.

Even Douglas Freeman, the Virtcom Diversity Consultant, was somewhat unsure.

He said he thinks USF might have been referred to the group after seeing its work with the United Nations and the NCAA, but said sometimes he get(s) confused over this stuff.

But the foundation of the DEO, he said, had a strong setup to take diversity at USF to the next level.

Many of the changes will be left for the new Chief Diversity Officer, who will report to the president and serve as a member of the president’s cabinet, to determine. The search is still ongoing. The DEO will continue to handle cases until a Chief Diversity Officer is hired.