Education

Iowa State paying administrator to stay away and not sue

Deal similar to one UI had with its chief diversity officer

Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Friday, July 31, 2015. (The Gazette)
Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Friday, July 31, 2015. (The Gazette)

For the second time this academic year, a public university in Iowa is paying an administrator to stay away and look for other jobs as part of a legal agreement to quit.

An agreement that was reached in December but only recently made public shows that Iowa State University is paying former senior admissions official Consuela Cooper to telecommute until June 15 or until she finds a new job, whichever comes first.

In addition to paying her salary, the school agreed to let Cooper continue using its time and equipment and to pay up to $5,000 for a private outplacement firm to help with her job search. The agreement says she “must be available” during work hours for any necessary video meetings, and phone and email communications.

After Cooper resigns, she will be paid for unused vacation and never again “seek or accept employment with the university at any time in the future,” the agreement shows. Under the deal, she cannot sue ISU.

Cooper’s deal is strikingly similar to one that caused considerable controversy last fall at the University of Iowa involving TaJuan Wilson, its former associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.

While the details of their personnel cases are confidential, both are African Americans in their 30s who were hired to work in a university system trying to diversify staff and student bodies.

Their settlements allowing for extended, paid job searches are among the only ones of their kind out of dozens reached in the six years since an Iowa executive order began requiring such deals with state or university employees to be posted online.

The agreement directed Cooper to create an out-of-office message for all emails. A message sent to her account by the Associated Press directed inquiries to another employee, saying she had “recently changed roles within the university and am no longer serving within the Office of Admissions.”

“Go Cyclones,” it adds.

Cooper, 38, didn’t respond to the inquiry. A phone number linked to Cooper doesn’t accept incoming calls.

ISU spokeswoman Angela Hunt declined to comment on the agreement, which was signed by President Wendy Wintersteen and states it’s not an admission of “any wrongful acts.”

Until her resignation, Cooper will be a special assistant to the associate vice president for enrollment management. She joined ISU in 2018 as its senior associate director of recruitment, earning $86,000 in the most recent fiscal year, a state database shows. Her role included overseeing strategic initiatives to recruit students to enroll at the campus in Ames. Cooper previously worked at the University of Houston.

Under an agreement signed last August, Wilson stepped down from the chief diversity officer position he had moved to Iowa weeks earlier to take. He said that he quickly learned the job was simply “not the right fit for me at this time.”

The agreement allowed him to keep his $20,000-monthly salary until he found a comparable job or Jan. 31, when he ended up leaving the UI’s payroll. The university also agreed not to collect up to $25,000 in relocation expenses.

Like Cooper, Wilson was named a “special assistant” without clear job duties. Wilson recently started as chief diversity officer at Georgia Southern University.

Asked whether such agreements are a good use of university funds, Iowa Board of Regents spokesman Joh Lehman responded, “Each situation is unique and could require different approaches to reach a resolution.”

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