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Diversity questions still linger

In October, black faculty and staff raised concerns about the status of minorities in many university departments.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001


TAMPA -- While allegations about racial discrimination at the University of South Florida have focused on the women's basketball program, black faculty and staff complained five months ago about serious problems in other areas.

They include the promotion and hiring of African-Americans, the recruitment of black students, and the absence of any organization at USF to advise the president on minority concerns.

"It is our perception that instances such as the allegations leveled ... against the women's basketball program are not mere aberrations," members of the Black Faculty and Staff Association wrote USF President Judy Genshaft in October. "These instances appear to permeate the working environment at USF at all levels."

At a news conference Friday in which she announced the resignation of athletic director Paul Griffin, Genshaft reaffirmed her commitment to racial diversity at USF.

"The University of South Florida will not tolerate discrimination," she said. "We are fully committed to diversity in all aspects of university life, and we will fulfill that commitment."

As evidence, she noted her recent decision to require USF supervisors to report all claims of discrimination to the university's equal opportunity office.

In the past, administrators had the discretion to do their own inquiry, a policy that was roundly criticized after Griffin ordered an in-house inquiry into allegations of racist behavior by women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters, who was later fired by the university.

Genshaft also is creating a diversity and equal opportunity office that will be headed by an associate vice president.

Dr. Marvin Williams, an associate dean of medicine and a past president of the Black Faculty and Staff Association, calls those changes a good start.

But while progress has been made in the recruitment of black students, USF has done little to improve hiring and promotional opportunities for black employees, especially faculty, Williams said.

The letter to Genshaft lists a number of academic departments without a single African-American professor on a tenure track. They include mathematics, chemistry and biology.

The College of Engineering, according to the association, hasn't hired a black tenure-track professor in more than a decade.

Williams is not blaming the problems on Genshaft, who just arrived in July.

He was on the presidential search committee that helped select her. He said he believes diversity is important to her.

But words must be matched by action, he said.

"She must hold the feet of her administrators to the fire," he said.

Griffin certainly felt the heat in recent weeks, a period in which he and Genshaft spoke repeatedly about his future.

She insisted Friday that his resignation was voluntary, the product of "mutual agreement."

But she acknowledged that the problems in the women's basketball program were becoming a growing concern to supporters, both inside and outside the school.

"This was a painful decision, but we have to do what's best for the institution," Genshaft said. "It needs to be very clear across the university that we will not tolerate any kind of discrimination."

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