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Cal Poly resolution tackles workplace culture issues

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A resolution brought before the Cal Poly academic senate on Jan. 24 calls for an independent review of the recent departures of minority Cal Poly staff members and the establishment of a policy to conduct exit interviews for employees who decide to leave Cal Poly.

Over the course of 18 months, 11 African-American staff members and administrators left the university, a loss of 26 percent of Cal Poly’s African-American staff and administration. African-Americans made up just 2 percent of staff members and 4 percent of administrators in 2015, according to the Cal Poly Fact Book.

The academic senate resolution—authored by mathematics professor emeritus Harvey Greenwald, mathematics professor Paul Choboter, and Associate Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics Camille O’Bryant—intended to shed more light on the issues underlying Cal Poly’s workplace for underrepresented employees.

“Campus climate and diversity have been a difficult problem for Cal Poly for many years,” Greenwald said. “[The resolution] is a call for cooperation between faculty, staff, and administration to try to make progress on what is admittedly a very difficult process.”

Ashley Eberle, a steward for the CSU staff union, Academic Professionals of California, presented findings to the academic senate based on interviews with staff members of color who had recently left Cal Poly.

“Without exception, staff members tell me that Cal Poly is a challenging place to be a person of color,” Eberle said at the senate meeting. “Those who left have described the culture here ranging from ‘unsupportive,’ ‘unstable,’ and ‘threatening.’”

Underrepresented staff members struggled to find community at Cal Poly and felt demoralized seeing their friends and colleagues depart, she said. Staff members also shared feeling “underappreciated,” “undervalued,” and “exhausted” from “hearing rhetoric about how important diversity is, but not seeing many actions that support actual diversity among faculty and staff.”

“Many staff members of color felt they alone were responsible for supporting students of color, while white people on campus got a free pass for remaining unaware of multi-cultural and identity issues,” Eberle said. “Despite willingly doing this challenging work, they did not feel supported.”

Eberle said the administration’s alleged lack of support “took many forms.”

“Staff of color described examples of having their perspectives and ideas ignored in meetings and conversations with white administrators,” she said, “watching white colleagues rise to leadership positions while they stagnated, and feeling a disconnect between the university’s public support of diversity and its lack of respective value for contributions and ideas from staff of color.”

The resolution requests a third-party review of the recent staff departures and the introduction of an exit interview policy to provide better accountability going forward.

“I’m really surprised to hear that we need to actually say that Cal Poly develop a protocol for conducting exit interviews,” one senator said. “That really is shocking that we don’t actually have that protocol in place.”

Keith Humphrey, Cal Poly vice president for student affairs, told senators that the administration was in the process of developing the exit interview policy. He didn’t mention the request for outside review.

“We have committed to hiring a third party to conduct exit interviews. I think that’s an important thing for all faculty and staff who leave Cal Poly,” Humphrey said.

To close the meeting, a senator commented that Cal Poly’s workplace issues weren’t confined to employees of color.

“I’ve never seen a campus climate like this,” he said. “It doesn’t have to do with black or white. It has to do with the very nature of what it is to work at Cal Poly at all levels. This is a necessary resolution.”

The academic senate will vote on Feb. 14 to move the resolution to a “second reading.”

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