Opinion » Shredder

Smell that controversy!



Something stinks at Cal Poly, and I'm not talking about the about-to-bloom corpse flower located in the Tropical House in the Horticulture Unit adjacent to the Poly Plant Shop. It could pop any day now and will only be open for about 48 hours. No, I'm talking about Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong's decision to hire Paulette Granberry Russell as the university's new vice president of Diversity and Inclusivity. If hired, she could remain in the position for years.


Cal Poly vetted Russell in 2017 for a similar job that at the time went to someone else. She was head of Michigan State University's Title IX Office, which might suggest she's qualified for the Cal Poly job. After all, Title IX is the law that covers sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other sex-based discrimination, and the Title IX office is in charge of protecting women's rights, investigating sexual assault complaints, and holding perpetrators accountable. A noble endeavor, no doubt! Here's the thing, though. Russell headed up MSU's Title IX office while Larry Nassar was sexually assaulting female student athletes, which went on for two decades!

Nassar, you'll recall, sexually abused more than 250 women and girls, including gymnasts such as famed Olympian Simone Biles. According to critics of Russell's hire, her MSU Title IX office "investigated" allegations against Nassar and cleared him of any wrongdoing! Is she complicit or incompetent? Either way, the Cal Poly community ain't having it!

A petition with—last I checked—3,100 signatures, condemned the hire and demanded Armstrong explain why he circumvented normal hiring procedures, kept the hire confidential under the guise of it being an "emergency search," and seemingly ignored Russell's connection to the Nassar scandal.

"WE DEMAND THAT THE OFFER TO RUSSELL BE RESCINDED AND A NEW SEARCH CONDUCTED WITH APPROPRIATE SHARED GOVERNANCE, CONSULTATION WITH STUDENT STAKEHOLDERS, AND ADEQUATE VETTING OF CANDIDATES," the petition screamed in uncharacteristic all caps. I mean, hey, Cal Poly faculty who usually don't go in for the screaming version of the written word wrote this! So screamy! They must be hopping mad!

Armstrong defended his decision by arguing Russell didn't have anything to do with the scandal, didn't get fired, and was unaware of Nassar's behavior, and that her Cal Poly "emergency hire" was necessary "to help maintain continuity of leadership and momentum for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at a time when the social justice movement in our country demands leadership."

Is Armstrong tone deaf, completely unaware, or merely obtuse? How is it "leadership" for Armstrong to ignore the university's goals of shared governance with faculty, staff, and the student body? Does Armstrong really think that, considering her connection to Nassar's scandal, Russell will impress the social justice movement? How is Russell going to provide "leadership" if she gets hired through the back door, carrying with her the taint of the biggest collegiate sexual scandal in U.S. history? Leadership? More like leadershit.

"We have grave reservations ... about Russell's previous history," the petition intoned. "Her office inadequately investigated, clearing [Nassar] and enabling his continued abuse. The second issue is Russell's role in the larger history of Title IX enforcement at MSU, which was clearly a broken and hostile system that enabled Nassar's behavior for years."

Oh snap!

It's almost as if Armstrong, who worked at MSU prior to being hired as Cal Poly's president (nepotism much?), didn't care that the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights found in 2015 that MSU's handling of sexual assault cases on campus broke the law.

According to the Lansing State Journal, "Federal officials said MSU failed to promptly address two sexual assault reports and did not have proper procedures and policies in place for handling those reports."

This all sounds really, really bad, right? So Cal Poly will undoubtedly reconsider this controversial hire, right? Wrong. New Times asked Cal Poly Spokesman Matt "Non-Answer" Lazier if the petition would hold sway.

"There is no question that the incidents of misconduct that occurred at Michigan State University were alarming and abhorrent," Lazier said, working really hard to create a credible ethos while still covering Armstrong's ass with a circus-tent-sized smokescreen. "We understand the concerns that have been raised and believe it is fair and reasonable to raise them. However, it is unfair and unethical to consider an innocent individual to be guilty by association—and therefore un-hirable—because they were employed by the university at the time the scandal occurred."

Dude, I would totally agree if she was, say, head of the MSU janitorial staff, but she was in charge of the freaking Title IX Office whose job is to deal with sexual assault, abuse, and discrimination on campus! She was in charge!

In addition to the faculty petition, there's also a student petition circulating on change.org with more than 10,800 signatures. Considering Cal Poly's reputation for racism, its history of inadequate investigation of rape and sexual assault, and its general whitewashing and under-the-rug sweeping of anything that might negatively affect its lily-white reputation, does the university really need another administrator with a history of favoring her institution over those victimized under the supposed protection of that institution? Δ

The Shredder is very disappointed. Send comments, suggestions, rants, and unhinged personal attacks to shredder@newtimesslo.com.


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