September 30, 2014

Changes in University of Oregon diversity office

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) – Leaders of Eugene's Native American, African-American and Hispanic communities are questioning the University of Oregon's decision to restructure its Office of Institution Equity and Diversity.

The contracts of three assistant vice presidents were discontinued and the office has been renamed the Office of Institutional Equity and Inclusion. Tana Atchley of the Oregon Indian Education Association said at the meeting Thursday night that it was disrespectful to make the changes without consulting tribes.

“These are broad, sweeping, massive changes to make,” said Tana Atchley, secretary for the Oregon Indian Education Association. “It's really disrespectful that they would go in and do that without consulting the tribes.”

The vice president in charge of the new office, Yvette Alex-Assensoh, told The Register-Guard the university is shifting to a “distributed model” in which matters of equity, inclusion and diversity will be everyone's work rather than the sole responsibility of an individual.

The protected “identities and markers” will be addressed instead of a narrower focus on race, she said.

“Accountability for these issues is distributed throughout the university rather than being the sole responsibility of one person or an individual as, indeed, was the case previously,” Alex-Assensoh said.

The Oregon Indian Education Association last week launched an online petition, which has garnered 144 signatures, including those of 45 faculty members, said Chixapkaid Pavel, an education studies professor.

Pavel said the nine Oregon tribes plan to demand a meeting with UO President Michael Gottfredson.

Longtime minority community leader Twila Souers said Eugene Native Americans were “stunned” by the unannounced realignment. “Before, when there were changes, there were meetings and discussions,” she said.

Bob Garcia, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw, said the university didn't consult the university president's Native American Advisory Board about the restructuring.

Former UO President Dave Frohnmayer created the advisory board in 2006 and was “pretty wonderful” about asking its opinions on diversity issues, Garcia said.

“When President (Richard) Lariviere took office, he visited tribal lands. He made outreach efforts to try to understand issues. I was able to take him on a tour of some tribal lands,” Garcia said.

But Gottfredson, the current president, has not reached out, he said.

“We're taking five steps backward,” said Carmen Urbina, a minority community leader. “It's not, once again, going to be as safe at the university in the skin that we're in.”

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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