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Education

New University of Iowa diversity head resigns after seven weeks

TaJuan Wilson believes UI 'has the potential to be on the right path'

TaJuan Wilson
TaJuan Wilson

IOWA CITY — Just seven weeks after starting as the University of Iowa’s long-sought associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion — a high-profile post guiding what UI touts as a top priority — TaJuan Wilson “has chosen to resign” and take a temporary job elsewhere on campus while he hunts for a job.

“Coming to Iowa was a leap of faith for me personally and professionally,” Wilson, 33, said in a statement. “I have great respect for the university and the work being done in diversity, equity and inclusion, and believe Iowa has the potential to be on the right path.

“This opportunity will be wonderful for the right person, but it is not the right fit for me at this time,” he said.

Wilson did not immediately respond to The Gazette’s request for an interview Thursday.

Wilson officially arrived on campus June 28 from the Medical University of South Carolina, where he was assistant professor and executive director of student programs and diversity.

He will spend the next five-and-a-half months working with Peter Matthes, UI vice president for external relations, while he “pursues a new opportunity,” according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication.

UI officials did not clarify whether Wilson is looking for a different job on campus or at another institution or entity.

Wilson to receive same pay

While the university said Wilson will spend the next five months “on initiatives that support the university’s work to become a more inclusive and equitable campus,” officials would not clarify what specific work Wilson will be doing or where on campus he’ll be working.

Wilson was hired at an annual salary of $224,000, and UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett said his pay will stay the same but would not clarify whey Wilson’s temporary stint was set at five-and-a-half months.

“We have no other information to share,” Bassett said.

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Wilson’s offer letter, which served as his contract with the university, agreed to pay him — in addition to salary and benefits — $25,000 for relocation expenses.

“If you leave within the first year of employment, you must repay 100 percent of the $25,000 transition allowance,” according to the April 11 letter, which Wilson signed that day.

It praised Wilson’s talents and scholarly accomplishments in offering him the job.

“Based on your background, expertise, skills and your superb interactions during your interviews, you emerged as an outstanding candidate,” according to the letter, signed by incoming Provost Montse Fuentes.

Wilson’s hire, which was announced days after he accepted the job in mid-April, came two years after his predecessor — Georgina Dodge — left for a similar job at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University. She was named vice president of diversity and inclusion at the University of Maryland in March.

During the UI’s extended national search to replace her, it filled the post with two interims — first Lena Hill, who left in May 2018 to become dean of the College at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, and then UI Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers, who served a dual role for more than a year.

Search agreement speaks to short tenure

The university hired consultant Isaacson-Miller to search for a chief diversity officer — paying the firm to date $103,592, which includes $21,593 for travel and advertising expenses. An original agreement estimated Isaacson-Miller’s fee at $66,666 — or one third of the hired candidate’s salary.

That agreement stipulated that if a UI hire evaluated and recommended by Isaacson-Miller left for any reason except death or disability within a year, the firm would reopen the search “for no additional professional fee” — so long as the search starts within three months.

The university would, however, be responsible for expenses and “an additional 11 percent of the original fee to cover additional indirect expenses.”

In response to a question about whether the UI plans to reopen the search to replace Wilson, Bassett said its “immediate priority is continuing the momentum of the action plan, then next steps will be evaluated.”

New structure for diversity offices

In the meantime, Bassett said, directors of Iowa’s Center for Diversity and Enrichment, Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, and Diversity Resources will lead the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

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With that change, the university is instituting a new reporting structure “to bring clarity to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on campus.”

Those three units will report directly to Executive Vice President and Provost Fuentes, who started the same day as Wilson.

“TaJuan provided the campus with a fresh look at our action plan and valuable feedback regarding our implementation plan,” Fuentes said in a statement. “I’m thankful for his thoughtful contributions.”

UI President Bruce Harreld, who made the final hiring decision approved by the state Board of Regents, said “strong collaboration between the provost and the three directors, along with deans and other campus leaders, is crucial to executing the goals of the (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Action Plan.”

Climate survey found diversity challenges

Days before announcing Wilson’s hire in April, UI unveiled a new diversity action plan guided by an expansive campuswide climate survey that found — among other things — a lower percentage of underrepresented minorities felt they belonged at the UI, compared with white students.

More than half of responding Asian students reported experiencing blatant or subtle discrimination on campus in the past year, as did 45 percent of underrepresented minorities and 40 percent of international students, according to the climate survey.

Although the vast majority of student respondents said the UI is a welcoming campus, a higher percentage of minorities than white students rated the UI climate as “somewhat or very hostile,” while a lower percentage reported being satisfied with the overall UI climate.

• Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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