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Leadership without representation: ASU battling lawsuit, seeking to diversify

Professor Nicholas Alozie filed a civil lawsuit against ASU in U.S. District Court after not being selected for an dean position in the College of Integrative Arts and Sciences. How suit claimed ASU created a culture where minorities couldn't succeed in obtaining leadership roles.

Leadership without representation: ASU battling lawsuit, seeking to diversify

Professor Nicholas Alozie filed a civil lawsuit against ASU in U.S. District Court after not being selected for an dean position in the College of Integrative Arts and Sciences. How suit claimed ASU created a culture where minorities couldn't succeed in obtaining leadership roles.

When ASU professor Nicholas Alozie applied for a dean position in 2014 he said he was doing it for two reasons: because he was well-qualified for the job and because he had dedicated his life to creating a “level playing field for women and minorities.”

He didn’t receive the position. Duane Roen, a white male professor, was instead named the dean of the College of Integrative Arts and Sciences. Less than two years later Alozie filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against ASU, claiming he wasn’t selected because the University was systematically preventing African Americans from acquiring higher leadership positions.

His lawsuit, which is pending in U.S. District Court, is the latest of more than a dozen racial, disability and sexual discrimination suits against ASU in the past decade; a University where the rapidly growing student body is also becoming more diverse, but minority representation for employees is growing at just a third of that speed, according to employment data from the Office of Institutional Analysis.

“This is the biggest discrimination case I have seen against ASU in the last 25 years,” Alozie said. “This is the very first time somebody has come up talking about systematic discrimination against African Americans, so it’s not just about how I was railroaded out of this job.”

Universities are often broken up into individual colleges — business, liberal arts, engineering, etc. — and each are led by an academic dean that oversees all of its affairs. At ASU just over 94 percent of the 19 deans are white, according to the employment data.

Every college serving ASU undergraduates has currently a white dean and Alfredo Artiles, a Latino man, is the dean of the Graduate College and the only non-white person currently leading an ASU college as a dean.

Alozie said repeatedly in his complaint that it is particularly difficult for African Americans to obtain these dean positions at ASU.

“I did not make a complaint in court that ASU simply discriminated against me,” Alozie said. “I made a complaint in court that a culture has developed and that culture is enabling exclusion. So it’s very easy for people to be excluded.”

The total number of African-American administrators — including deans, vice-presidents and other leaders — decreased from a peak of nine in 2003 to three in 2013, the last year for which data was available from the Office of Institutional Analysis.

University Provost Mark Searle acknowledged there is a racial disparity in ASU’s college leadership and that it doesn’t reflect the student body, which is comprised of 35.3 percent minority students, compared to 6 percent minority deans.

“On the deans’ level, I think we’re certainly not representative of the population at this point, we only have one minority dean and six women,” Searle said. “Obviously the number of women should be closer to 50 percent and there needs to be more minority leaders to truly be representative of the population.”

Searle said this disparity is partially a result of there not being enough qualified minority candidates.

He is one of five administrators who are defendants in Alozie's lawsuit, along with ASU and ABOR, but he declined to speak about ongoing court cases. He said the University is making significant strides toward increasing inclusion at all levels of the leadership, but that progress isn’t a direct result of litigation.

“I think among the deans we’re making inroads and looking forward to the two searches (for new deans) we have this year to make sure that we have every opportunity to try to hire women and or underrepresented groups into those positions,” he said. “... Generally no, I don’t believe (litigation) was motivation at all, I believe we’ve been driving to build a more diverse and inclusive leadership core for many, many years.”

Other Title VII cases against ASU

There are three discrimination cases currently pending against ASU in U.S. District Court, including Alozie’s; the other two claim sexual and disability discrimination.

Over the past decade ASU paid $854,000 to plaintiffs in nine of these discrimination cases, according to an investigation by The Arizona Republic.

“... claims are routinely settled for reasons other than whether the case has any merit,” then-ASU spokesman Mark Johnson told The Arizona Republic in 2015. “They often are resolved on the basis of cost; that fighting a claim would be more expensive than reaching a settlement.”

In 2013 former ASU employee Joyce Kievit won a settlement of $141,000 after suing the University for race discrimination, sex discrimination, age discrimination and retaliation, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

Kievit, who left ASU in 2007, didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.

According to court documents, Kievit, a tri-racial woman of Native American, African-American and Caucasian descent, claimed she was denied promotions and raises due to her race and gender. 

She said she was given poor performance reviews because of her race, a complaint Alozie also made in his case.

“I was treated as a person of no value,” Kievit said during her deposition when describing the review process, according to court records.

Alozie said he received his first bad performance review after he filed a complaint to the Office of Equity and Inclusion about not being picked for the dean position.

“That was the very first time I got my first bad evaluation in 25 years at ASU,” he said. “Instead of renewing my 12-month contract, they decided they were not going to renew me. They gave me a conditional contract because they decided I could not perform anymore.”

The State Press requested documents in January 2017 relating to this complaint and the following OEI investigation, but the University denied them four months later, stating the information wasn’t a “record to be made public” under University and ABOR policies.

After going through OEI, Alozie filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and eventually filed a civil suit in Maricopa County against ASU for Title VII, retaliation, First Amendment and 14th Amendment violations, according to court documents.

The EEOC's involvement with Alozie's case has ended, according to University spokespeople. The specific reasoning behind the ending is unknown, as the University and Alozie both declined to provide any investigation documents.

The EEOC could not be reached for comment.

Alozie declined to comment on the specifics of the case, which was eventually moved to District Court because his claims involved federal law. However, he said he was willing to speak about the institution as a whole.

“I have given everything I could give as a human being to this institution, but for some reason the market has refused to work for me as it has refused to work for other African Americans,” Alozie said.

Alozie also contacted the NAACP’s Arizona chapter in September 2016 about his complaint and experiences with ASU.

NAACP Arizona State Conference President Charles R. Fanniel the next day sent a letter to the Arizona Board of Regents, Governor Doug Ducey, the U.S. Department of Education and elected officials that outlined his concerns over Alozie’s complaint, according to documents obtained by The State Press.

“The NAACP is concerned with Dr. Alozie’s charges of systematic exclusion of African Americans in higher level academic administrative positions at ASU,” part of the letter read. “The accusations of institutional racism and retaliations against an African American scholar and administrator at the university are significant and of interest to Arizona’s African American Community.”

ABOR was contacted several times for this story, but spokespeople referred all questions to the University.

Fanniel said he wasn’t able to speak about specific cases, but he said the NAACP has dealt with several complaints involving ASU in the past.

“We always receive complaints, there’s ongoing investigations all the time,” Fanniel said. “We’re just not at liberty to speak about those publicly.”

Looking ahead to a court date slated for fall 2017, Alozie said he hopes his efforts and will resonate with individuals from beyond the University.

“If I can go to court and establish that ASU has systematically discriminated against blacks, you know what that means?” Alozie said. “It means the Department of Education has an interest in this, the NAACP has an interest in this now. That’s why, in my belief, they are fixated on getting (the complaints) dismissed.”

The dean selection process

Alozie’s lawsuit claims the lack of diversity in ASU’s leadership can be attributed to a culture where minorities are unable to advance; he said ASU has a “practice, culture and policy of not employing a competitive application process for high-ranking positions.”

Searle said the process is fair, and the inequity in leadership is a result of not having enough highly-qualified minority applicants.

“The difficulty is, is in finding said individuals,” Searle said. “We’ve been making progress in doing that but we still have a ways to go. Because you need people who are senior enough in their careers to be able to take on these roles and the real growth sometimes in some areas has been lagging.”

On average, the 19 current deans have a salary of $303,000 and have been in the position for an average of 5.5 years, according to the employment data.

Selection for a new dean position can take roughly six months and is spearheaded by an appointed committee of nine to 12 people, Searle said.

“The process involves a search committee appointed by myself, consisting of faculty members from the unit,” Searle said. “The senate president appoints a faculty member from outside the academic unit as an arbiter making sure there’s fairness in the process.”

After a list of potential candidates has been formed, they are brought in for at least two rounds of interviews. Background and reference checks are also made, Searle said.

At the end of the process, Searle said he informs ASU president Michael Crow of his decision and offers the candidate a position.

President Emeritus Lattie Coor, who was the ASU president before Michael Crow, said the dean hiring process back then was similar to how it’s handled today — a committee was formed, appointed by either the provost or the president. He also said the process encouraged a diverse pool of applicants.

“Committees are given and they’re drawn from a variety of backgrounds,” Coor said. “The requirements for the kind of candidates they pursue have built into them — even when I came in here — elements of diversity … especially in the establishment of the pool.”

The University also enlists the help of outside companies that specialize in hiring, Searle said. These companies, called “executive search firms” actively recruit qualified people to apply for open positions.

“In some cases we have a pretty good idea of what the candidate pool might look like and so forth and have a good sense of what the market is,” Searle said. “In other cases we don’t. And it’s hard. So it’s a good opportunity to use a firm to help us.”

Searle said these firms are not always used and the decision is made on a case-by-case basis.

“Sometimes we use a search firm and other times we don’t,” he said. “In any event the search committee, either with or without the help of search firm, generates a list of candidates. Obviously people can apply, the position is always advertised, but often times with dean positions you have to go out recruit people, get them interested in the job otherwise they may not put their name in the ring.”

ASU has more than 20 executive search firms on contract, and the University mandates that these companies be “aggressive” in finding qualified minority candidates.

“Supplier shall be aggressive in identifying qualified women and ethnic minority candidates who meet the requirements of the position,” according to a list of mandatory services on the website. “Every effort should be made to identify highly qualified women and ethnic minority candidates with the potential to become one of the final group of candidates for the position.”

Georgia Musgrave left her position as an assistant dean in the W.P. School of Business in 2011 to lead strategic initiatives for the Duffy Group, a Phoenix-based executive search firm.

The Duffy Group has a contract with ASU, and most recently assisted in recruiting for leadership positions in the athletic department and the W.P. Carey School of Business, Musgrave said.

She said from her experience at ASU, there is a clear trend of universities striving to have more diverse leadership.

“I think diverse candidates and the push for that has always been top of mind and from the best I can tell, there’s a lot of efforts going toward that,” Musgrave said. “But we know just by nature that these are important issues, because it fits the demographic of the University.”

Coor, the former ASU president, said he saw this drive from universities to represent the population they serve stemmed from the cultural changes of the 20th century.

“Major forces were at work in my view: the aftermath of the civil rights movement, which was co-mingled with the response to the Vietnam War, had created a much greater heightened sense of awareness of the failure — of major institutions, of colleges, universities and others — to actively, proactively reach out and ensure that the population of those entities mirrored the population as a whole,” he said.

Looking forward, increasing diversity

Searle, the University Provost, said ASU has implemented several leadership initiatives in the past few years to encourage current employees to navigate through the ranks of the University's top administration.

Minu Ipe, the senior knowledge enterprise architect for ASU, piloted the Advanced Leadership Initiative in January 2016.

It is seemingly one of the more diverse leadership programs the University has put on in recent years and is designed to highlight talent and increase networking between those who are poised to achieve higher positions in the University, Ipe said.

Ipe said ASU officials nominated nine individuals to participate in this first iteration — three men and six women, with only one white man.

“This is an incredibly diverse group,” she said. “There is also diversity in terms of the fact that they come from different units across the institution, and diversity in terms of the fact that out of the nine individuals, three are staff and six are faculty.”

Tiffany López, a latina woman and the director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute, was a member of the first cohort. She said representation was increasingly important for the success of a campus.

“If you don’t have campus leaders who understand and represent and come from the communities we’re serving, you are going to not be able to go as far and as fast as you aspire to go,” she said. “We know that.”

Ipe said the group was not chosen based exclusively on diversity, but the fact that the diverse group of candidates were chosen by top ASU leadership is an indicator that there’s a conscious effort to diversify leadership at all levels of the University.

“While we … as the organizers of the program cannot take any credit for the fact that we have a really diverse group, what struck me when we got our nomination was that these are the individuals that ASU’s leadership picked, which means the people who are making the selections really value and appreciate diversity,” she said.

Nadya Bliss, the director of the Global Security Initiative at ASU who is also a participant of the Advanced Leadership Initiative, said the environment fostered in the program was beneficial to her progress within the University’s ranks.

“Getting that immersion to all aspects of ASU in such a compact environment and also a very personal environment where we could ask a lot of questions … I thought that was quite nice, and helpful in many ways,” she said.

Ipe, who has worked at ASU for 14 years, said she believes the development of leadership has changed rapidly throughout Crow’s leadership.

“I think ASU is a completely different institution because of President Crow’s vision,” she said. “In the last, I would say, five years or so, ASU internally has focused on developing leaders in a much more conscious way than we did in the past.”

The hiring methods resulting from Crow’s vision have resulted in a movement toward the establishment of a more diversified, consciously sourced leadership, Ipe said.

“So we are now in a place where I think we have an opportunity to shape how other higher education institutions are thinking about this,” Ipe said. “We could always be doing a lot more, but ... I think we are at least moving forward in very, very productive ways right now.”

In Crow’s 2015 book “Designing the New American University,” he said the institution should be predicated on “inclusiveness to a broad demographic representative of the socioeconomic diversity of the region and nation, and, through its breadth of functionality, maximization of societal impact.”

While Alozie said he is optimistic that his case might result in change for the University, he said he is unsure whether a change in culture will follow suit.

“My ideal thing that will come out of this is for ASU to look inward,” he said. “... No one has ever come to me and called me the ‘n word.’ That is not what we are talking about anymore. We are talking about institutional discrimination now.”

Clarification: The status of Nicholas Alozie's complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been added to this story to include the most up-to-date information.

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