116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — When a Black longtime trustee of Coe College resigned over the way he and others say he was treated after raising diversity concerns in the search for a new president, the private liberal arts institution said it held “multiple discussions” with him and urged him to stay on the board.
But that didn’t happen, said the trustee, R. Darryl Banks, in an interview last week with The Gazette, underscoring his increasing concerns about how committed the Cedar Rapids school is to improving diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.
“They never asked me not to resign,” Banks said. “That’s just a fact. They never asked me not to resign.”
Banks, who spent over 40 years on the Coe board after graduating magna cum laude in 1972, said he’s had two conversations with board leaders about a contentious October meeting at which another trustee called him a liar for raising diversity concerns in the campus’ recent presidential search process.
Though the college has said it had a “large candidate pool” to fill the president job after the previous leader retired, all three finalists advanced by the search committee were white men.
“I don't consider two conversations before I resigned with the board leadership as ‘numerous,’” Banks said. “I don't think that's a good-faith answer. I had two conversations with the board chair, and at no point in those conversations were they saying, ‘Hey, don't resign, or are you going to resign or not?’”
After one of Coe’s 50-plus trustees during an Oct. 1 meeting to pick a new president called Banks a “baldfaced liar” for airing the diversity and inclusion concerns held among minority members of the presidential search committee, Banks just days later demanded three things of trustee leadership:
He asked for a “reprimand in front of the full board of this person for what they said.” He demanded a written apology from board leaders “for the defaming of my character and my honor.” And he wanted a retraction of the accusation, “which was a fabrication.”
The board never supplied any of those. Banks said leaders didn’t respond to his outreach until two weeks later, when they said — essentially — that the case was closed and it was time to move on.
“I’ve never had a call or an opportunity to talk with them,” he said.
Banks said he also never received clarity on why he was called a liar. He said was never given a chance to share his perspective with the board, or to defend himself. Board leaders, during the meeting, didn’t admonish the offensive language directed at him.
“I have heard that this trustee apologized to the board,” he said. “I did not ask for their apology. I asked for a reprimand of the language. And, as far as I know, that never happened.”
Banks’ resignation, along with the resignation of another trustee in support of him, Alan Anderson, sparked outrage among students and alumni — some of whom protested on campus this month.
Those protests prompted a public explanation from the board, including an outline of the incident that confirmed Banks’ concerns.
Chair Carson Veach described the Oct. 1 incident as “an exchange” between two trustees during a closed, confidential meeting and reported the situation was fully reviewed “over the course of several subsequent board meetings.”
“During this exchange, one trustee used sharp language with another trustee, both of whom served on the presidential search committee,” Veach explained. “This exchange related to one board member’s assertions which were not consistent with the view of the search process held by the other six trustee members on the search committee.”
After the meeting, Veach said, a board committee looked into the exchange and determined “the matter was best resolved between the two trustees.”
“The trustee who used some sharp language to address the assertions made has since apologized for their use of sharp language to the other trustee involved and to the full board, while maintaining their opinions,” according to Veach.
But in that statement, Veach did not say the accusation against Banks was being retracted nor that the trustee who made it had been reprimanded for using the “sharp language” against a peer.
Banks and his supporters have questions about how complete an investigation was conducted into the diversity concerns. Former trustee Anderson — in his resignation letter — accused the committee of failing, “as it has done previously in my experience,” to conduct a fair investigation.
Banks said the “review” didn’t include his perspective.
“They talked to the other trustees, who happened to be all white,” he said. “They didn't talk to the other three members of color on the committee. So I'm just saying, what kind of investigation is this? You talk to the person that basically dishonored me and called me a liar. You talked to the other members of the committee. You never talked to me?”
Although Banks’ “final tipping point” was the contentious meeting and the trustees’ handling of the exchange, he told The Gazette his concerns about the campus’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion had been mounting before that.
As architect of Coe’s 2020 diversity resolution laying out goals and directives — like mandating implicit bias training for trustees; requiring incoming students take an anti-bias course; and creating a group to review building and endowed chair names to determine if any have racist roots — Banks said he expected the college to more aggressively address racial justice, diversity and inclusion.
“I have become increasingly frustrated and concerned that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the Coe community have suffered from a lack of affirmative and aggressive focus and commitment by the Board,” he said in his resignation letter.
Students issue demands
Coe’s Black alumni — along with its student senate and other members of the community — have issued a list of demands of the board and the campus administration, in line with Banks’ concerns.
They include actions specific to Banks — like publicly apologizing for the “untoward treatment” of him and reinstatement of both him and Anderson as trustees.
Alumni and students also asked the campus to:
- Create a senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion to be filled via a national search;
- Create a campus committee to address issues of bias, discrimination, racism, diversity and inclusion;
- Develop a mission statement on racial justice, diversity and inclusion;
- Immediately fully fund Coe’s DEI office and leadership;
- Allocate resources for annual anti-discrimination training for trustees;
- Create an “investment strategy that is socially conscious”;
- Make sure the board’s racial and ethnic makeup matches the Coe student population, which is becoming more diverse;
- Ensure Coe’s senior staff makeup reflects the diversity of the student body;
- Include on board agendas space for Black alumni and student leaders to present;
- And join the Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Alliance.
The Board of Trustees and Coe’s administration have addressed some of those demands, reviewing changes to the board’s makeup and committing to hiring a “full-time senior leader who will report to the president, and who will direct, advance and represent DEI initiatives of Coe College.”
In an interview with The Gazette, David Hayes — who was promoted from interim to Coe’s new president during that controversial Oct. 1 board meeting — said his campus is in the early stages of talking with stakeholders and evaluating how to structure that position.
He said Coe will move ahead with that hire “as soon as we are able.” But he doesn’t know whether the college will launch a national search or appoint someone from within.
Critics have slammed Coe for not dedicating sufficient financial and staffing resources to its diversity initiatives in the past. But Hayes countered those assertions.
“Over the last several years, Coe has made significant investments in this area, and will continue to do so going forward,” he said. “Just as all key initiatives of the college become part of our operational budget — and we try to direct as much funding as possible, balance against all the needs of the college — we will continue to do that with great attention and urgency so that we can continue to make Coe ever stronger in this area of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
To the situation on the board that prompted the resignation of Banks and Anderson, Hayes declined to comment on details.
“But I would say that we are all disappointed by the circumstances involved,” he said. “But for me, my focus is on these important conversations that we’re having on campus as we seek to implement a shared goal of making Coe as welcoming and supportive environment as possible for each and every member who chooses to call it home, whether faculty, staff or students.”
Although Banks demands are outstanding, as are some from his supporters, the former trustee said he isn’t holding his breath.
“I took to heart the last communiqué that I got from the trustee leadership that they consider the case closed,” Banks said. “If that's how they look at it, that's how they look at it. I think those kinds of decisions have other consequences.”