Education

Resigned University of Iowa diversity head telecommuting, can job hunt 'during working hours'

TaJuan Wilson 'must be available for consultation, if needed'

TaJuan Wilson
TaJuan Wilson

IOWA CITY — For the next five months — or until he lands a job outside the University of Iowa — the campus’ short-lived head of diversity, equity and inclusion will telecommute for his “special assignment” and be allowed to “job search during working hours,” even while continuing to earn his $224,000 salary.

A settlement outlining details of TaJuan Wilson’s resignation from the long-vacant post of UI associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion was signed Aug. 9, a week before the university announced his departure and just six weeks after he started June 28.

The agreement — signed by Wilson, UI President Bruce Harreld, Board of Regents Executive Director Mark Braun and Kayla Reynolds, with the Office of the Attorney General of Iowa — indicates Wilson will retain his salary and be paid for “accrued but unused vacation.”

He also will keep the $25,000 in moving expenses UI gave him to relocate from the Medical University of South Carolina, where he was assistant professor and executive director of student programs and diversity. He also can use up to $7,500 “to attend professional development conferences while still a university employee.”

When the university announced Wilson’s resignation Aug. 15, officials said he’ll be working for about five months with Peter matthes, UI Vice president for external relations, “on initiatives that support the university’s work to become a more inclusive and equitable campus.”

The settlement indicates he’ll voluntarily resign from the University of Iowa once he secures employment outside UI, “but in no event later than January 31, 2020.”

Consulting work or other “part-time work that is not substantially comparable to his current position” does not count, according to the settlement.

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While on his special assignment, Wilson is classified in the UI directory, he will work remotely and be allowed to look for a new job “but must be available for consultation, if needed,” according to the settlement.

The agreement stipulates it is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing by the university, the state or the Board of Regents.

And Wilson, 33, in signing it committed not to sue UI, the state, the regents or any of their employees or representatives for any alleged violation — including of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Iowa Wage Payment and Collection Law or the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the settlement.

With Wilson’s resignation, the university is changing the structure of its Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The three units that make up that division — the Center for Diversity and Enrichment; the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity; and Diversity Resources — now will report directly to Montse Fuentes, the new UI provost and executive vice president.

Fuentes started the same day as Wilson, although Fuentes signed his employment offer letter months earlier.

A message from Fuentes, along with her photo, now graces the home page for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Division, touting its “unwavering commitment” to the issue as a “core value that guides everything we do.”

Wilson was hired after a yearslong search to replace former diversity head Georgina Dodge, who left in 2017 for a similar job at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University. Dodge since has moved on to the University of Maryland, where she’s vice president of diversity and inclusion.

Two interims served in Dodge’s stead, including Lena Hill — who left the 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 was the second interim diversity head until Wilson’s hire.

For its help with the search, the UI paid consultant Isaacson-Miller $103,592, including $21,593 for travel and advertising expenses. An agreement with the firm stipulated that if a UI hire it evaluated and recommended left for any reason other than death or disability, it would reopen the search for no additional fee — so long as it started within three months.

Wilson’s resignation triggers a free search, according to UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett.

Asked whether the campus plans to take up Isaacson-Miller on that opportunity, Bassett said, Iowa’s “immediate priority is continuing the momentum” of its new diversity action plan — unveiled in April following a campus wide climate survey that found, among other things, a lower percentage of underrepresented minorities felt they belonged on the UI campus.

“Then next steps will be evaluated,” she said.

Wilson, who in a statement said the job “is not the right fit for me at this time,” did not respond to The Gazette’s request for an interview.

“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 the statement released earlier this month.

UI officials did not answer questions from The Gazette about what specifically prompted Wilson’s resignation; what UI-related work he’ll be doing in the coming months; and whether he was the search committee’s first choice for the job.

Braun, the Board of Regents executive director, did not receive any email communication about Wilson’s resignation, according to board spokesman Josh Lehman, who did not provide more clarity about how the university alerted the board about the high-profile departure.

In response to The Gazette’s request for communication about Wilson between his hire and resignation, the UI provided 22 emails, most of which involved answers to media questions and recirculated announcements of his resignation or hire.

Only one email came from Wilson himself — sent to Vice President Matthes on June 29, the day after he started, thanking him for a warm welcome to campus.

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“I’m excited to be here and I look forward to working with you and Laura as we strive toward our DEI goals,” Wilson wrote.

Months earlier on April 17 — a week after Wilson accepted the university’s job offer — Vice President Shivers emailed Susan Klatt, assistant vice president and director of treasury operations and financial, to pull “two budget requests for the division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

When Klatt responded with, “sorry to hear that,” Shivers provided more clarity, explaining she didn’t want the requests to impact those Wilson might have once he “assesses his needs.”

“What if he would prefer a different position than the data analyst, and I inadvertently wrapped up 90K in a way that he would have chosen something different?” Shivers wrote. “I’m sensitive to the budget and don’t want to tie his hands and impact his ability to secure something he really needs.”

UI spokeswoman Bassett explained Shivers had requested funding for an assistant to the new vice president and a data analyst, but wanted to make sure the positions reflected his priorities.

“So she asked that the requests be removed until he arrived and had time to assess the organization and determine his vision for moving forward,” Bassett said.

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

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