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UO Diversity Office Debacle

Yvette Alex-Assensoh
Yvette Alex-Assensoh

A recent Register-Guard article about restructuring the University of Oregon’s Office of Equity and Inclusion set off a firestorm among students, many of whom were gone for break when they heard the restructuring involved ending the contracts of three popular administrators. 

The blog UO Matters, which often takes the school to task for its administrative issues, said that while the R-G’s story focused on “complaints from local minority leaders about lack of consultation. My view is very different. This office has been horribly mismanaged for years.”

There was a rally on campus in support of the administrators on the first day of winter classes led by UO Native American student body representative Ada Ball. Ball writes in a statement that “Native American students were dismayed to learn that Vice President Dr. Tom Ball at the UO was told his contract would not be continued on account of restructuring of the Office of Equity and Inclusion.” She wrote that the Native American students “had to learn about this through their community without any announcement from the UO.”

The contracts of Emilio Hernandez and Carla Gary will also be discontinued. Black Student Union Co-director Olivia Manwarren said of Gary, “She has been a strong and tireless advocate for African-American students in and outside of the Black Student Union. Dr. Gary makes the UO feel safer for us as students, and makes us feel welcome here on campus.”

UO Matters has taken the UO to task for what it calls “administrative bloat” and cites a recent Wall Street Journal article that put the school as the “fourth highest of 72 public ‘high research category’ universities in the percentage of total spending that goes to administration.”

Yvette Alex-Assensoh, vice president of the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI), responded to questions from EW via email. She writes that “since I arrived on campus in August 2012, I have been carrying out my work that has been cut out for me, yet I have also been on a virtual listening tour, whereby I have actively engaged in active discussions with all of my staff at OEI, numerous people on campus, in the community and around the state (or out of town).” She continues, “Fortunately or unfortunately, the current misunderstandings have created a heightened focus on the office and issues of equity and inclusion.”

When asked if Gary, Ball or Hernandez might be retained under the new structure, Alex-Assensoh writes that “I cannot discuss the status of the administrators because it involves personnel issues. Employment law and decency toward my colleagues prevent me from offering any comment at this time.”

Alex-Assensoh scheduled a student town hall meeting for 3 pm Jan. 11 in the Ben Linder Room of the EMU and she writes,  “We are also looking forwarding to hosting a series of community-related forums to invite input on the next phase of the strategic planning for inclusion and equity. Any updates to the meeting places will be noted on ‘Around the O.’” “Around the O” is the UO’s newly launched internal news service, operated by the Strategic Communications Office.

Earlier this month Provost Jim Bean posted on the “Around the O” blog that the R-G story “claims that the UO has decided to ‘gut’ the former Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. Nothing could be further from the truth.” 

About 50 students attended the rally and march organized by Ball on Jan. 7 and delivered letters for UO President Michael Gottfredson. They are recommending that the UO “create an Office of Native American Affairs with a director position at the assistant vice president level that reports directly to the president, with the responsibility of budgetary authority of the Many Nations Longhouse and the position of leadership for the UO Native Strategies initiative.”