Diversity dominates senate debate
By Matt Kelly
“Achieving progress is everybody’s job,” said Marcia D. Childress, who chairs the Faculty Senate, in initiating a discussion about the Presidents’ Commission on Diversity and Equity and the faculty’s role in fully embracing diversity.
Diversity and equity initiatives took up most of the time at the Dec. 2 meeting.
“This is not just the University leaders making this happen,” Childress said. The diversity process is a step-by-step transformation of the University over the long term.
Professor Michael J. Smith, one of the authors of the diversity and equity report, said the University has to change its recruitment practices to be able to hire more minorities.
Gene D. Block, vice president and provost, said broader searches yield more diverse candidates. However, “our capture rate is low, and we need to find out why,” he said
While successful in hiring women and attracting a diverse range of undergraduates, Block said the University should do more to recruit diverse graduate students and set aside additional money for spousal hiring to encourage diverse faculty to sign on. Block said money did not
appear to be the issue for those who refused posts at the University.
Smith also suggested faculty and student exchanges with predominantly black colleges, and curriculum changes that reconfigure “non-Western requirements” and new courses on racial and diversity issues.
“We need a bottom-up push,” he told the faculty senators. “Don’t wait until you get the memo on this.”
Angela M. Davis, co-chairman of the diversity commission, called for an integrated approach on the commission’s 20 recommendations. Davis, associate dean of students and director of residence life, called on the University to expand the first-year student experience, getting students involved in dialogues to draw them out of their “comfort zones.”
University President John T. Casteen III said the diversity report was not to be read and set aside. “The issue is when and how to implement it,” he said.
The report recommended naming a diversity officer, but Casteen said care must be taken in the title given to the post.
Several people interested in the position told him if “diversity” in the title, they will refuse it.
“It is demeaning,” Casteen said they told him, and it would marginalize the job.
Diversity is not “pie in the sky,” Casteen said. “There is no commitment in it that is not feasible.”
In other business, Director of Athletics Craig K. Littlepage addressed the decision to decline invitations to play in bowl games during U.Va.’s exam schedule. Littlepage said the Atlantic Coast Conference had been informed of U.Va.’s decision before the Nov. 27 game against Virginia Tech, though no public announcement was made before the game.
Casteen blamed the academic calendar, which carried exams over a weekend this year. He said he had not only received abusive correspondence about the bowl decision but had fielded complaints that the semester runs too late for students to find seasonal work.
Childress, in her report, also reminded faculty members that they are the front line in recognizing students who might be suffering from depression. Students may have difficulty asking for help, she aid, citing a memo to faculty members describing signs of depression in students’ behaviors.
|Letter to the Editor
Inside UVA’s coverage of the Charter Initiative has been regrettably one-sided. This letter is meant to set the record straight. What concerns many employees is that the Charter legislation includes language that makes possible the creation of a “two-tier” labor force. Sections 23-38.112-114 of the legislation explicitly authorize chartered institutions to implement inferior benefits for all “new” (i.e. post-charter) employees. That would demoralize and threaten the well-being of our employees, thereby undermining their ability to fulfill the University’s mission. There is no reason that some employees should be made to pay a price for the alleged greater good of the Charter.
These concerns are not idle ones. While U.Va. undoubtedly wants to do better by its employees, recent experience suggests that its reform efforts often have negative if unintended consequences. For example, many employees at the Medical Center — especially clerical staff, cleaners, and support personnel — have done worse under codified autonomy than they would have done had this reform never been implemented. Indeed, in the current fiscal year alone, 46 percent of Medical Center employees have been awarded less than the 3 percent raise mandated by the state. Meanwhile, the leave system that was implemented in the aftermath of codified autonomy is less generous than the one it replaced.
During the first, experimental phase of University decentralization in the 1990s, moreover, U.Va. outsourced hundreds of cleaning and dining hall jobs to contractors who pay low wages and offer no benefits. That may have been good for the bottom line, but it hurt hundreds of employees. It also led, not insignificantly, to systematic nondelivery of services (at least in the cleaning of buildings), because low-bid contractors often can generate a profit only by cutting corners.
If the Charter Initiative is passed in its current form, those most likely to pay a price in terms of lost compensation are employees in jobs that lack “market power.” At U.Va. and elsewhere, such jobs tend to be filled by women and African-Americans. For this reason among others, the Virginia branch of the NAACP and the editorial board of the Staunton News Leader oppose the Charter Initiative.
I urge employees to educate themselves about the potential risks of the Charter Initiative.
Jeffrey J. Rossman
Assistant professor of history
|Mr. Rossman’s views are based on mistaken assumptions. Comparisons between the hospital’s recent move to codified autonomy and the University’s aim in obtaining Charter status have in common the desire for flexibility and freedom from state
They do not, however, hold in common specific plans for implementation. Mr. Rossman is blending the hospital and the University into one operating entity, a common error but one that confuses the issue.
One outcome of codified autonomy at the hospital was the introduction of merit-based pay increases. The Medical Center is in fierce competition with other hospitals. It is offering very competitive compensation packages to employees with highly sought after skills and to those who perform at the highest levels. As a result, more than 50 percent of Medical Center employees received well above 3 percent increases this year. While U.Va. is not ruling out a merit-based performance model, the charter agreement does not specifically propose such a model.
The flexibility sought through the Charter proposal would allow the University to offer benefits suiting an academic institution. Rather than “explicitly” authorizing “inferior benefits” for post-charter employees, the Charter proposal reserves the University’s right to alter current plans, which could result in the creation of superior benefits or the retention of current ones. Furthermore, Mr. Rossman assumes that by remaining a state-run entity the level of benefit coverage will be better than what can be offered under Charter.
This simply is not the case; University employees know full well that benefits can — and do — change under the state. In their dependence on state legislators and the budget process, state employees do not
receive any guarantees, written or otherwise, that their salaries, benefits, or retirement will not change. The intent of the Charter proposal is to institute a funding model that will result in more, not less, stability at the state’s academic institutions.