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Monday, July 30, 2018

The Upside Down of Diversity at the State University of New York

By Paul Cronkite, Jr.

SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Nationwide — Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked the State University of New York (SUNY) to reexamine its existing diversity plans to ensure these plans are furthering New York’s goals of diversity and inclusion. He requested SUNY to prepare a report due by August 15, 2018 outlining how it will expand and increase diversity representation on its campuses.

In September 2015, the SUNY Board of Trustee passed a new “sweeping” diversity and inclusion policy. The hallmark of the policy was that there would be a chief diversity officer appointed on all 64 campuses that reported directly to the campus president or provost. However, three years later not all campuses have complied with the policy.

One campus that has not complied with SUNY’s Diversity Policy is Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. In the past six years it has had five presidents, including two that were African-American men, John Williams and most recently Wayne Riley. Their appointments, however, seem to have had more to do with improving SUNY’s diversity numbers for black male presidents than selecting the best candidate for president. For example, Williams appointed in 2012 as president by SUNY’s chairman of the board of trustees served three years without a formal presidential search ever being conducted.

Enter Wayne Riley the current president who was appointed from a presidential search committee, however his last employment as a college president, at Meharry Medical College, (from 2010 to 2013) was more than five years ago and ended with an abrupt “sabbatical.” Riley’s administration is being sued by the former campus chief diversity officer for non-compliance with state and federal diversity and non-discrimination laws.

Court records describe Riley as an amateurish president who on his third day on the job issued an organizational chart that removed the chief diversity officer (a black heterosexual male) and the Assistant Vice President (AVP) for Labor Relations (a black heterosexual male) from reporting to the president. The university diversity policy and New York state law mandate the chief diversity officer report to the president, provost, or the head of the state agency. Riley then assigned the duties and responsibilities of the chief diversity officer and the AVP of Labor Relations to a female employee that he then promoted to vice president. According to court documents the female employee, Judith Dorsey, had been on the job less than 12 weeks. All of this happened with approval from the SUNY Chancellor and board of trustees.

According to anonymous sources within the Downstate administration when the former chief diversity officer informed Riley and SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, that Riley’s actions violated SUNY diversity and personnel policy and the New York State Civil Service Affirmative Action Program, Riley fired the chief diversity officer the next day… with the SUNY Chancellor’s Office approval. Since the firing of the chief diversity officer, the Director of the Office of Diversity & Inclusion and Title IX Officer, and the Director of Talent Management have resigned leaving Downstate’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion unstaffed resulting in further non-compliance with university diversity policy and New York State Civil Service Affirmative Action Program non-discrimination laws.

The non-compliance includes not using search committees to fill vacant professional and senior staff positions. Also all final reviews of personnel transactions, by the chief diversity officer to ensure that the transactions complied with university, state, and federal non-discrimination policy and laws has been suspended.

The SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson remains silent and on the sidelines as the Downstate campus president openly defies, according to court documents, university diversity and personnel policies.
To complicate matters, the New York State Attorney General’s Office has to represent Downstate in court because Downstate is a state agency. What makes this upside down is that the State Attorney General’s Office is New York State’s top law enforcement agency that is defending a state agency that openly defies laws… that the New York State Attorney General Office is charged with enforcing.

Now New York State Governor Cuomo has mandated SUNY to prepare a report due by August 15, 2018 outlining how it will expand and increase diversity representation on its campuses. Chancellor Johnson will submit a report to Governor Cuomo, that her tenure at SUNY already demonstrates, she has no intention of enforcing.

Welcome to the Upside Down of Diversity at SUNY.

Paul Cronkite, Jr. is freelance journalist. He can be contacted by email at paulcronkite9@gmail.com