The University of Maryland’s former interim chief diversity officer criticized the school’s leadership at a meeting of the Black Faculty and Staff Association on Tuesday.
Roger Worthington, who resigned from his post this summer and returned to the college of education faculty, spoke at an emergency meeting for the association in the Nyumburu Cultural Center, as organizers called for the president’s office to release the findings of an external review of campus diversity efforts.
“Unless I get the kind of real backing to do this work, I can’t be effective as a leader in this role,” he said. “I’m a better, more effective member of the community as a full professor with a full voice where I can come forward and work together with you without [The Office of] Strategic Communications saying, ‘Here is what you can say and here is what you can’t say as an administrator.’”
University spokesperson Jessica Jennings said the office “partners with all administrative units and university leadership to provide media relations guidance.”
Worthington said the report from the external review, which he called a “major endeavor,” was delivered to the office of university President Wallace Loh in June.
University policy allots “no more than one-year, and ideally no more than six months” for such reviews. This one began last semester, according to Jennings.
“The next step in the process is a meeting to gather stakeholders to review recommendations and discuss what is actionable, feasible and appropriate to adopt,” Jennings wrote in an email. “The process will move forward according [to] university policy.”
Solomon Comissiong, BFSA president, said officials may be hesitant to release the results of the external review because it could reflect unfavorably on this university. If the results were positive, he said, they would have been released a “long, long time ago.”
Comissiong said he talked to people interviewed during the external review — which included the full spectrum of students, faculty and staff members — and the responses were candid and detailed.
“Because I know what was said when I was being interviewed, because … students who I work closely with told me what they said, I believe that is the reason why it was not released.” Comissiong said.
Worthington said he is working with an external consultant to complete the final report on the campus climate survey, which was commissioned last year and sent out in January. The preliminary results of the survey indicated that some minority respondents felt unsafe on campus.
The university said that new diversity-related initiatives were to be released in response by the end of the spring semester, but those have yet to be announced.
“The clearest, most definitive, most convergent set of findings from that campus climate study is that there are racial tensions on this campus that have been longstanding that still need a great deal of attention,” Worthington said.
Loh signed the recommendations from his diversity task force on May 3, which set up a policy for punishing threatening conduct, and set up a campus diversity survey for every two years. The task force was commissioned after 2nd Lt. Richard Collins, a black Bowie State University student, was stabbed to death on the campus in May 2017. Sean Urbanski, a white former student at this university, is facing first-degree murder and hate crime charges in the killing.
Collins’ death came after several hate bias incidents on campus, including the hanging of a noose in a campus fraternity house and of white nationalist posters in a handful of locations on the campus.
In an open letter to Loh sent to The Diamondback, the BFSA expressed concern regarding Worthington’s resignation. He is the second person to resign from the position in the last two years. Kumea Shorter-Gooden, who became the university’s first chief diversity officer in 2012, resigned from the post in January 2017.
“The turnover of two Chief Diversity Officers in such a short period of time has us concerned that the job of CDO at the University of Maryland may be tainted and cause anyone of similar stature and reputation hesitant to consider coming to UMD,” the BFSA wrote in the letter.
Although Worthington was hired amid controversy — he was initially part of the search committee for the position and wasn’t required to interact with student leadership in the same ways as other candidates — the BFSA praised him for his work and the path he set for the ODI.
In his email to the community Monday, Loh announced Cynthia Edmunds as the new interim chief diversity officer, with plans to launch a national search for the new position of vice president for diversity and inclusion.
Edmunds is an assistant to the university president, and the acting chairperson of the Equity Council in the president’s office, according to the office website. She has held the interim chief diversity officer position in the past, prior to Worthington’s hiring.
Several people who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting likened the university’s handling of the external review with officials’ response to the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair, who suffered heatstroke at a team workout in May. The university accepted “legal and moral responsibility” for McNair’s death in August, following ESPN reports that indicated the football program had a toxic culture.
Erica Puentes, co-founder of ProtectUMD, the UMD Social Justice Coalition and former PLUMAS president, said during the meeting that the failure to release the external review continues a trend of inaction from the administration. To a roomful of applause, Puentes called for the resignation of Loh and Provost Mary Ann Rankin.
“We aren’t going to move forward if we continue under the same leadership,” she said.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story said the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is working to complete the final report on the campus climate survey. Former interim chief diversity officer Roger Worthington is working with an external consultant to prepare the report. This story has been updated.