Diversity efforts stem from suit
When University President Dave Frohnmayer released the third major revision of the University’s diversity plan Sunday, he said thousands of people have contributed to the effort.
But four years after the University settled a racial-discrimination lawsuit that required the creation of an administrator to oversee diversity efforts and the implementation of the diversity plan, a federal court may retain ultimate jurisdiction over the University’s efforts.
A little-known stipulation of the late-spring 2002 settlement, in which the University agreed to hire a vice provost of institutional equity and diversity and to fulfill other diversity measures, gives the U.S. District Court of Oregon jurisdiction over the matter for six years. It also provides that the court can relinquish jurisdiction earlier if it becomes “satisfied that the objectives of this Agreement have been attained.”
Former University employee Joe Wade sued the University in June 2001 for racial discrimination, and settled with the University in 2002.
An aide to U.S. District Judge Thomas Coffin said his office could not comment on the case because it was still in the judicial system and because there was a possibility of pending jurisdiction.
Wade’s lawyer for the case, Suzanne Chanti, also declined to comment, but said that jurisdiction in this case means that either party may reopen the case if it is unsatisfied with the execution of the settlement’s provisions.
The University “did not request intervention from the federal court,” according to a statement from spokeswoman Mary Stanik.
The University maintains that it created the position not because of the lawsuit but because of interns’ recommendations, a consultant’s feedback and a survey on the campus diversity climate, according to a written statement from John Moseley, senior vice president and provost.
“At the same time, we were involved in the settlement of the lawsuit … part of that settlement did state that we would establish such a position,” according to the statement.The provision of the lawsuit creating the position was intended to prove to Wade that the University would follow through with its plans, Moseley previously told the Emerald.
“That’s just flat not true,” he said. “You don’t have to listen to me; there are third parties who will say that’s not true.”
Wade said he has no intention of becoming involved again, but encouraged anyone who feels unsatisfied to do so.
“It does not take Joe Wade to go and say, ‘Hey, people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do,'” he said. “I hope that if anyone can see if the institution is not following through on commitments that they’ve made as a result of the settlement … they should feel free to go take issue with it.”
First provost learned of settlement after hiring The University didn’t mention the lawsuit during discussions with Gregory Vincent, the first person hired as vice provost for institutional equity and diversity, Vincent said.
“I learned about (the lawsuit) in the paper,” he said.
Vincent left the position for the University of Texas in 2005 shortly after the release of the heavily criticized first draft of the Five-Year Diversity Plan.
Vincent said he asked Moseley for an explanation when he learned that the creation of the position was a provision of the lawsuit.
“I was initially concerned. When I talked to … Moseley I was satisfied with his answer. Largely because I thought he had been candid about so many things,” he said. “I really believe that the lawsuit was not the driving factor (in creating the position). I believe they independently said ‘We’re going to do this, this is the right thing to do.’
“After I asked Dr. Moseley about it, and he gave me an answer that I found satisfactory, I thought, ‘You know what, we’re here now, let’s get the ball rolling.'”
Neither Martinez nor any of the members of the Diversity Advisory Committee, which compiled the recent revisions to the plan, responded to questions about whether they knew about the lawsuit or settlement prior to working on the plan.
The initial case created the need for the diversity plan Wade said that the University has been creating plans and committees to address diversity related issues since 1991, but little had changed.
“In general I would say – without having any anger or hostility about anything – I would say the proof is in the pudding,” he said. “It’s really interesting that it seems just about this time every year – mid May, early May, something happens all at once. There’s this fervor about doing something about all these diversity related issues, but then it dies over the summer. Instead of building on what was learned, you start all over again.”
Charles Martinez, the current vice provost for institutional equity and diversity, is currently out of the country and could not be reached for comment, but he previously told the Emerald that he is committed to improving diversity on campus.
The University Senate will vote on whether to approve the current diversity plan at a May 24 meeting.
Wade, who had worked at the University from 1972 to 1999, first sued the University in 1996, alleging that it had discriminated against him through its hiring practices. He settled that case, and sued again in 2001 because he alleged that administrators retaliated against him.
Wade applauded current work on the plan, but said such focus on the plan wasn’t exactly what he had in mind when he sued the University.
“I’m not trying to be critical of anything along those lines. I’m simply saying that we’ve had other reports, and we’ve had other people try to write documents to highlight the real life situations,” he said. “So our problem is not to identify what the problems are, it’s to come up with some feasible solutions to address these issues.”
Wade said it’s important to stay the course with diversity efforts regardless of resistance.
“It’s not an easy thing to actually get something accomplished,” he said. “Because you are going to have people who are going to disagree if they feel threatened by what you’re trying to do.”