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UCR's Growing Frustration

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Lively give-and-take airs concerns over faculty hiring and graduation rates

By Chris Levister –

UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White has a warm, informal style. He’s liked and respected by faculty, staff, students and the community.

So when members of the UCR Black faculty and staff invited him to a meet and greet January 28, he came fully prepared to drive home his message that diversity and multicultural competence are essential components of the university’s academic excellence.

“You know things aren’t as bad as they seem,” referring to the paucity African-American faculty and staff members and the university’s much maligned retention and graduation rates among African-American students.

Armed with statistics from fall 2002 freshmen, White’s speech started out as a treaties ensuring those gathered, that when it comes to long festering concerns such as hiring more African- American faculty and staff and graduating more Black students – his administration takes such concerns seriously.

White highlighted high freshman retention rates but admitted six year graduation rates remain troubling. For example he said in the fall of 2002 92.8% of African-American freshman students were retained while six year graduation rates were 73.9%.

He compared the graduation rates at UCR with similar institutions nationally with large diverse populations.

“Our graduation and retention rates are not bad compared to other institutions around the country.

“This is a national problem – that said, there’s still a lot of work to do.”

He said the university actively promotes leadership development and training for faculty and staff and the Blue and Gold program, which guarantees low-income students’ tuition and standard fees covered by grant or scholarship support.

For nearly an hour more than 100 faculty, staff, students and members of the community packed the living room of longtime professor of psychology Dr. Carolyn and husband Phillip Murray. They thrust and parried, confronting each other’s assessment of the problem while challenging each other to meet in the middle.

Several guests, some addressing White from an overflow balcony, queried him on topics that ranged from the impact of the budget crisis on nano technology and stem cell research to the university’s efforts to recruit and retain diverse faculty, staff and student body.

Murray complained that the underrepresentation of Black faculty at UCR which now total 25 or 3.5% of 708 ladder rank faculty (source UCR) is largely due to the fact that many highly qualified potential candidates are “ignored” and “overlooked”.

That brought a muscular defense from Dr. Yolanda Moses, professor of anthropology and the UCR’s Associate Vice Chancellor, Diversity, Excellence and Equality.

“We’re leading an expanded campaign to diversify and retain faculty and staff through a wide range of multicultural and affirmative action education as well as training and leadership programs.”

She pointed out that in the past five years the university made significant strides in hiring and retaining women and minority academic staff, plus steady progress in diversifying administrative staff.

The discussion grew intense when professor of accounting Dr. Waymond Rodgers, the sole African-American professor in the School of Business, accused the administration of ignoring complaints that three highly qualified candidates who applied for faculty positions at the prestigious school were discouraged and subsequently withdrew their applications.

“How long before you take seriously that there exists a pattern of blatant harassment and administrative misconduct in the School of Business,” Rodgers asked.

“Recruiting and oversight commissions charged with bringing in the richness of diversity look the other way. How long should we wait? It’s been 17 years. How long does it take to get desired results? When do you say these so-called development programs are not working and finally when do you go to those affected by the lack of action for advice,” said Rodgers.

But if at times a wonky clash of ideas, the discussion nonetheless proved civil and substantive.

"It was a healthy exchange," said Murray.

"The message heard is we will be vigilant, vocal and hold the administration accountable. We’re saying with one voice that the implementation of diversity programs and services does not mean the work is done. I think the chancellor got the message."

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