Ethnic Studies Climate in Question
Ethnic Studies Climate in Question
September 24, 2004 2:53 PM
An independent consulting firm has recommended the dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, Tomas Almaguer, who became dean in 2000, be placed on leave for up to one year.
The Diversity Matters report was not part of a formal personnel review process and was not intended to assess the dean’s job performance or productivity, according to Jan Gregory, a CFA member.
A formal performance review of an administrator is undertaken by the university administration and college faculty. It occurs every five years. Almaguer is due for his formal performance review this fall or spring.
During the spring of 2003, CFA filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the dean. This action was prompted by regular complaints from faculty within the college since the dean was hired, according to sources in CFA.
The settlement between CFA, which represented the faculty of the College of Ethnic Studies, and the university administration called for an “assessment of the climate of the College in regard to race and gender” instead of an investigation, according to the report.
Jim Okutsu, the associate dean of Ethnic Studies, also declined to comment
The services of Diversity Matters cost $10,000 and were paid for jointly by the faculty union and university administration, according to Nina Fendel, regional staff coordinator for the CFA.
In their report, the team stated that the dean’s “Micro-management style is not conducive to collegiality and is a major factor in the high level of conflict between the dean and many faculty.” In addition, the report stated, “The dean is perceived as culturally insensitive and divisive.”
The report continued, “Given the numerous incidents detailed during the assessment process … any reasonable person would conclude that an investigation of sexual harassment is warranted.”
“We worked hard to make sure we put everything that was relevant into the report and all of us worked on it and agreed with it,” said Linda Gonzalez, one of the Diversity Matters consultants.
Calls to the SF State provost’s and president’s office were not returned.
Jan Gregory, faculty rights panel chair and CFA member, and Marilyn Verhey, dean of Faculty Affairs and Professional Development, responded to the report in an Aug. 17 letter to President Corrgian, proposing a “formal performance review process begin in fall 2004” to evaluate Almaguer.
• Bring in “an experienced consultant in conflict resolution to help faculty develop healthy strategies.”
The president of the university can ultimately determine personnel matters like retention and dismissal.
“The university has agreed with all of the recommendations” in the Aug. 17 letter, said Verhey in a phone interview. “The administrative review committee for the dean is being constituted and the Academic Senate is going to be involved, working with the faculty [of Ethnic Studies] to develop a leadership group.”
When asked why CFA and Academic Affairs did not recommend Almaguer take a six- to 12-month administrative leave, as the Diversity Matters report suggested, Verhey said, "The report is advisory. Diversity Matters’ advice, along with our responsibility to uphold the University’s administrative review processes, was considered by CFA and Academic Affairs in making our recommendations."
CFA and SF State agreed to mediation rather than an investigation because “an investigation is oriented towards a violation of the law that would lead to a successful lawsuit,” said Fendel. She added both parties wanted to avoid a lawsuit that could drag on for years and instead undergo a more constructive process.
“This is a very tricky situation when you have a polarized college with some people who feel they are treated very poorly and others who feel they have been treated very well,” said Fendel. “We are continuing to get complaints since the report came out which concerns us greatly. We are setting up meetings with faculty in the college to answer questions about the situation, and to assist faculty."
Some faculty members in the college said the working atmosphere has not changed since the report was given to the university administration.
“I haven’t seen anything better,” said Marlon Hom, chair of the Asian American studies department. “It’s business as usual for the people who are in power.”
Dorothy Tsuruta, chair of the Black studies department, wrote in an e-mail to [X]Press, “The report was fair and accurate, and the Black studies department – along with faculty and staff in every department of the College of Ethnic Studies – respects the report and find the problems identified in the report are continuing, and in fact have escalated beginning with the first week of the fall semester.”
Other faculty in the college did not think the report was fair or accurate.
“The report confused department politics with college politics,” said Joanne Barker, assistant professor in the American Indian studies department. “[The problems] were generalized too quickly as a college wide problem.”
Barker, who was hired in 2003, said that there is perception in the college that new hires are “in the dean’s pocket” and that many in the American Indian studies department are “pro-dean.” However, she said the problems in the college “are old political and ideological perceptions” that pre-date the dean.
The report, she contended, did not reflect her experience teaching in the department. She said the report was the product of the biases of the Diversity Matters consultants, one of whom, she felt, asked leading questions about the college climate.
“I’ve spent an hour with the folks doing this study and I see nothing that indicates they heard anything I said,” said Clay Dumont, an associate professor in Sociology who is affiliated with the American Indian studies department.
Dumont, who also had not seen the report before speaking for this story, said the union must have sent the report to “disgruntled” faculty members.
“[The report] doesn’t reflect those of us who respect the dean,” said Dumont.
“The dean came with an agenda for this college to take a lead place in the country,” said Rafael Diaz, director of the Cesar Chavez Institute and professor in the Ethnic Studies program.
Diaz, who works almost exclusively off campus at the institute, said he was not interviewed for the report and had not seen the report before speaking for this story. But he said that many of the junior faculty members he works with are enthusiastic and enjoy their work in the college. The report, he said, is not accurate in its depiction of a climate of distrust or internal conflict.
“[Almaguer’s] personal style can be abrasive,” he said. “I think he’s wanted change and he has ruffled some feathers.”
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