October 26, 2016
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Cornell Revamps Minority Ed Office

BY MAX SCHINDLER, The Cornell daily sun

ITHICA, NY -  The Office of Minority Educational Affairs will be dissolved July 1 and replaced by the new Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, Day Hall has just announced. An OMEA administrative assistant will be fired as part of the restructuring, but the University will hire a new assistant vice provost and two associate deans for the new office, according to Barbara Knuth, vice provost and dean of the graduate school.

As part of OMEA’s reconfiguration, OADI will report to Laura Brown, vice provost for undergraduate education, instead of Knuth.

Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 said the administration will try to fill the new positions with people already working for the University.

“We needed to look for somebody from the inside — somebody we knew,” he said.

Changing focus

Knuth said the new office will be “how we recruit and support an academically diverse student body.” In a shift from OMEA’s primary mission of recruiting minority students, OADI — the new office — will focus on providing academic support for minorities.

“This arrangement recognizes that you come to Cornell to be a successful student,” Hubbell said, identifying an “achievement gap” in the academic performance between students of color and white students. 

Despite the shift in focus, Brown stressed that recruiting underrepresented minorities will be a major part of OADI. 

“The new person in this office will have direct relations with admissions,” she said.

Budget structure

Brown did not specify the difference between OMEA’s current budget and the projected budget for OADI. She said, however, it is “likely” the new office will have additional resources.

Although the University has repeatedly called for administrative staff reductions to save money, Knuth said the three new money, Knuth said the three new positions would increase payroll costs.

In a letter dated March 3, Knuth described the mandate for the three administrative positions.

She said the assistant vice provost for OADI would address academic success and support for undergraduate students.

The associate dean of students for intercultural programs would “tie student life and student organization support much more closely to the Dean of Students Office,” Knuth stated in the letter. The office would be based at 626 Thurston, where the administration is planning to relocate several diversity programs.

The third position, an associate dean for inclusion and professional development, would provide academic support to graduate and professional students.

Although the OMEA currently operates the Minority Financing Commission, which funds various student organizations on campus, it will not transfer this role to OADI. Instead, Hubbell will oversee the MFC and he said it could become part of the general Student Assembly Finance Commission.  

“We still have to figure it out — how we organize the MFC is up for consideration,” Hubbell said.

626 Thurston

Day Hall will spend $1.2 million on renovating the previous Alumni Affairs office, at 626 Thurston, to host a wide array of multicultural programs, including the Asian & Asian American Center, African Latino Asian Native American student programming board and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center.

Prior to the recession, the University planned to renovate parts of Willard Straigth Hall for minority groups’ office space, which would have cost $10 million. After the financial crisis hit, however, the University nixed the plan.  

“Budgets are not being reduced, but [the 626 Thurston renovation] is not a $10 million investment,” Knuth said.

Students React

Some students described the move to 626 Thurston as an administrative attempt to isolate minority groups from the rest of the community. 

“Don’t put all the minority groups together. … There needs to be respect for the individual groups and their autonomy,” Andrea Carter ’12 said. 

In response, Hubbell said the administration was not trying to homogenize minority groups. 

“Was this move done under the guise of fiscal austerity or because you see this as beneficial to minority groups?” Alyssa Clutterbuck grad asked following the administration’s announcement.

Specifically, students said they were skeptical of the appointment of new administrative positions.

Co-President of Black Students United Zach Murray ’11 said it was unclear what the purpose of creating three new positions was. Additionally, he said he worried about their potential to implement successful diversity initiatives.

“With OMEA, it was clear that the previous directors had a harder time getting their agendas through. How can we believe that these three administrators will be any more effective?” he said.

At the meeting Friday, students referenced current concerns in the minority community. For example, the University is enrolling fewer students in government programs, such as New York’s Higher Education Opportunity Program and the Education Opportunity Program. Although HEOP offered 85 slots for financial assistance, Cornell only enrolled 56 students in the program.

“Considering the declining number of HEOP students and an all-time low of black students, what’s the mandate of OADI?  Will there be more interaction in the recruitment process?” Murray asked.

In light of the new administrative positions, students questioned the lack of plans to increase lower-level staff, many of whom interact directly with students.

If students are missing documentation relating to MFC funding or support services, lower-level staffers may be more willing to help them, said Melanie Berdecia ’12, president of La Associación Latina.

STORY TAGS: Black News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American News

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