Education

Resigned UI diversity head asks, 'Are we operating with integrity?'

'Is diversity reflected at the senior leaders table?'

TaJuan Wilson
TaJuan Wilson

IOWA CITY — In one of two PowerPoint presentations that former University of Iowa diversity chief TaJuan Wilson created while on special assignment, he posed a question to the UI: Would his successor be “a direct report to the university president?”

Toward the end of that 37-page report, Wilson reflected on UI diversity efforts, possibly shedding some light on what motivated him to abruptly leave after only six weeks on the job.

Among a list of 18 “questions to consider” he made in the report, Wilson asked: “Are we honest about where we are, and are we operating with integrity and transparency?”

Wilson, 33, resigned from his position as UI associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion on Aug. 9, 2019, just weeks after he began. Under a settlement with the Board of Regents, he stayed on in a special assignment that wraps up Friday.

The deal allowed him to continue earning his $224,000 salary. It let him work off site and look for another job “during working hours,” although he had to be available for consultation if needed. So far, the UI has paid Wilson $185,559.85, a total that includes salary, benefits and moving expenses.

Wilson sent two PowerPoint presentations — one 17-slide report on sexual assault prevention efforts at Iowa’s peer institutions and the other on diversity efforts among that peer group — on Jan. 12 to UI Vice President for External Relations Peter Mathes.

He compiled the reports during his roughly five months as “special assistant to the vice president for external relations” — a position created for Wilson after his abrupt resignation.

Wilson has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

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Adding context to the question he posed in his report about who a future diversity leader would report to, the UI recently amended its organizational structure by directing the diversity leadership to report to Provost Montserrat Fuentes — who started the same day as Wilson.

“Does organizational accountability exist?” Wilson asked in his presentation. “Is diversity reflected at the senior leaders table?”

Wilson’s assignment was to “research, collect, analyze, organize, and disseminate information” on academic health centers and other institutions that have implemented diversity strategies. He also was asked to complete a literature review of “messaging campaigns focused on ending sexual violence and sexual harassment.”

He was to summarize key findings and provide a list of ways the campuses were gauging success using charts, graphs and other tools to “facilitate data interpretation.”

Wilson’s presentations, provided Thursday to The Gazette, did not specifically mention academic health centers, and they didn’t include numbers or any specific findings of the UI peer campuses’ progress on their diversity efforts.

Most of his presentations included language pulled from the other campus’ diversity and sexual assault prevention webpages.

UI officials have not said where Wilson was working remotely. In November, his Facebook page had him living in Camden, Ark.

Under the settlement, the UI would continue to employ Wilson until he found another job — but no later than Jan. 31.

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Georgia Southern University earlier this month listed him among three finalists to become associate vice president for inclusive excellence. The school has not announced a hire.

After Wilson resigned from atop the UI diversity division, officials said they wouldn’t replace him immediately, or potentially at all.

But Provost Fuentes has announced the UI will begin looking for a new leader in April.

The announcement of a search comes as the Board of Regents this week released a new human resources report showing minority faculty resignations across its three campuses are at their highest levels in at least five years.

Of the 137 total faculty resignations across the three public universities in fiscal 2019 — also the highest in at least five years — 51 were minorities, or 37 percent.

In fiscal 2017, when minority resignations were at their lowest in five years, 15 faculty identifying as a minority resigned — or 11 percent of the 133 total.

The UI reported 26 minority resignations last year, or 32 percent. That was the campus’ highest minority resignation total and percentage in at least five years.

The UI’s Fuentes last week updated goals and progress on her campus’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan.

The campus is integrating diversity and equity practices into faculty recruitment in four academic departments; tapping a “Distinction through Diversity Fund” to recruit and retain outstanding minority tenure-track faculty and undergraduates; and using a “Staff Diversity Opportunity Program” to help hire diverse talent.

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

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