Education

University of Iowa diversity head who resigned is reviewing diversity programs elsewhere

TaJuan Wilson is working remotely, is to summarize his research

TaJuan Wilson
TaJuan Wilson

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa’s former diversity head who resigned last month after just six weeks on the job has been assigned — as a “special assistant” — to research, collect, analyze and organize information on how other institutions are addressing issues of diversity and to prepare presentations on his findings.

TaJuan Wilson, 33, is telecommuting for this work — meaning he’s not on the UI campus, where he started June 28 as associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion following a national search that cost the university $103,592 in consulting fees.

He’s continuing to earn a base salary of $224,000 in his special assignment, even though he resigned from the diversity director post that landed him that pay.

Also, he was allowed to keep $25,000 in moving expenses, even though his offer letter required repayment if he left within a year.

A settlement agreement with Wilson stipulates he can continue in his campus role until Jan. 31, when he must resign. He’ll leave sooner if he finds a comparable job before that time, according to the settlement.

The UI is letting him look for another job while on the clock although he “must be available for consultation.” Wilson, additionally, can use up to $7,500 of UI money to attend professional development conferences while on the UI payroll.

As for his assignment over the next four months, Wilson has been charged with completing “comprehensive literature reviews” of institutions and academic health centers that have implemented diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.

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Wilson is then to prepare summarizing presentations using charts and graphs to facilitate data interpretation, along with metrics to gauge success.

Wilson also has been asked to review literature around messaging campaigns focused on ending sexual violence and sexual harassment and to present a summary of his key findings and success metrics.

UI officials have not said where Wilson is located and doing this UI work.

Over the summer, the UI changed the reporting structure for its Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, with the division’s three units — the Center for Diversity and Enrichment, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, and Diversity Resources — now reporting directly to Provost Montse Fuentes.

She started the same day as Wilson, although she was hired earlier and signed Wilson’s offer letter of employment months ago.

Wilson was hired after a yearslong search to replace former diversity head Georgina Dodge, who left in 2017 for a similar post at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University.

Two interims served in Dodge’s stead, including Lena Hill, who left UI in May 2018 to become dean of the college at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. UI Vice President of Student Life Melissa Shivers covered the post for Hill until Wilson was hired.

In searching for a permanent replacement, the UI paid consultant Isaacson-Miller $103,592 per an agreement that stipulated if a UI hire it produced left for any reason other than death or disability, it would reopen the search for no additional fee.

Although UI officials have not confirmed any plans to relaunch the search, Isaacson-Miller on Aug. 30 sent Shivers a letter agreeing to conduct another diversity director hunt “for no additional professional fees.”

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“We will, however, bill you monthly for customary out-of-pocket costs, including travel, advertising, video conferencing and candidate expenses, which we pay directly to the candidates to preserve confidentiality,” the recent letter stated.

Wilson has not responded to requests for comment from The Gazette. When he resigned, Wilson said the job “is not the right fit for me at this time.”

“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,” he said in a statement released at the time.

UI officials have not answered questions from The Gazette about why Wilson left.

When asked last week at Iowa’s Board of Regents meeting whether board President Mike Richards agrees with steps the university took in settling with Wilson, he declined to comment. He said the board had “quite a bit of communication” on the topic but those discussions aren’t public because it’s a personnel matter.

Board Executive Director Mark Braun is responsible for signing off on any settlements.

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

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