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Latin Chamber takes CSN to task for lack of Hispanic staff

Diversity of student body outpaces employee diversity

Updated Friday, July 20, 2012 | 11:40 a.m.

The Latin Chamber of Commerce says the College of Southern Nevada is not doing enough to ensure staff and faculty diversity and has expressed frustration that similar complaints dating seven years have not led to progress.

On June 21, the chamber delivered a letter to Jason Geddes, chairman of the board of regents for the Nevada System of Higher Education. According to the letter, the chamber since 2005 has repeatedly approached CSN about increasing its number of Hispanic hires to better reflect the diversity of the student body.

“Specifically, it is our contention that CSN has engaged in a continuous pattern of gross employment neglect and possibly outright discrimination against Hispanic persons,” the letter states.

The letter was signed by Otto Merida, president of the chamber; Javier Trujillo, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors; Daniel Tafoya, chairman of the chamber’s education committee; and Thomas Rodriguez, vice chairman of the chamber’s education committee.

According to the Nevada System of Higher Education Diversity report, in 2010, 16.8 percent of all full-time employees at CSN were Hispanic. In 2010, Hispanics made up 6 percent of full-time faculty and 16 percent of full-time administrative, executive and managerial positions at CSN.

Systemwide, according to the report, roughly 10 percent of all full-time employees are Hispanic, and Hispanics make up 4.6 percent of full-time faculty systemwide and 7.4 percent of full-time administrative, executive and managerial positions.

According to CSN’s data, Hispanics made up 21.9 percent of all students in Fall 2011 and 25.1 percent of all students in Fall 2010.

CSN, as the largest institution in the system, serves, by far, the most Hispanic students. In 2009 and 2010, more than 10,000 Hispanic students attended CSN, more than double the next largest Hispanic student population: about 4,000 at UNLV.

The CSN administration has expressed support for becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution, a federal designation often accompanied by increased funding for degree-granting, not-for-profit community colleges and undergraduate schools with a full-time student population that is at least 25 percent Hispanic.

CSN staff deferred comment on the letter to the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Renee Yackira, executive director of government relations with the Nevada System of Higher Education, said Geddes forwarded the letter to the Nevada System of Higher Education’s legal team, which is investigating the claims. Yackira said a report was expected early next week.

Crystal Abba, Nevada System of Higher Education vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, said one reason the system is collecting and distributing the data for its diversity report is because administrators want to hold the campuses accountable and make the information available to the public.

“I’ve been with the Nevada System of Higher Education for 10 years, and this is something that the (cultural diversity) committee and board of regents take very seriously, and they hold institutions accountable. When reports come to the board, they ask: ‘What have you been doing to make this better?’” Abba said, adding the cultural diversity committee would request specific faculty recruitment plans to address diversity.

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who was on a Hispanic community advisory board for CSN and received a copy of the letter, said she had seen limited progress from committees.

“I do believe this is an issue that is pressing for the entire (higher education) system as a whole,” Flores said. “Even when you look nationally at the diversity of campuses across the country, you see problems. Nevada is no exception. I’ve had personal interaction with the College of Southern Nevada. I was on the advisory council, and to be quite frank, we haven’t met for the last year or even two years because it was a series of meetings that didn’t result in anything. Promises were made and things did not get done. It’s definitely a problem of priorities.”

Click to enlarge photo

Lucy Flores

The letter from the chamber addresses administrative positions and said a second letter was forthcoming on faculty.

According to the systemwide diversity report, every school in the system increased its percentage of minority faculty between 2000 and 2010 by at least 2 percentage points, except for CSN, where the percentage stayed relatively flat, rising from 21.1 to 21.4 percent.

The chamber offers two examples of failed opportunities for CSN to promote diversity in the upper ranks of its staff.

Vitaliano Figueroa was director of student activities at CSN from 2005 until this past month. Figueroa now is vice president of student affairs at Valley City State University in North Dakota.

The chamber contends Figueroa was twice passed over for dean’s positions at CSN in favor of non-Hispanic candidates.

Figueroa did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The second example used is Edith Fernandez, who served as temporary director of student success initiatives for student affairs from September to June. Her employment was then extended on another temporary contract as director of community engagement services for student affairs. CSN staff said Fernandez could have remained on the temporary contract, but she chose to leave.

“I’m looking for a permanent situation and stability for my family,” Fernandez said.

Her last day is today.

“As a result, CSN will lose another highly qualified Hispanic employee and Dr. Fernandez will, like other Hispanic educators who have worked at CSN, likely be forced to leave the state of Nevada to find employment commensurate with her high academic credentials,” the letter said.

Fernandez, a native of Las Vegas, has a doctorate in higher and postsecondary education, academic affairs and student development. She said she had hoped to stay at CSN, but the position was labeled as temporary from the start. Fernandez added she did not think her case was an example of discrimination but agreed the Nevada System of Higher Education needed to do more to increase faculty and staff diversity.

Finally, the letter takes issue with the hiring of Constance Brooks as director of government affairs and diversity initiatives. The position was not advertised and was filled as a presidential appointment.

The position carries a base pay of $100,000, which has been reduced by systemwide temporary pay reductions and furloughs. It is the combination of three previous positions: director of government affairs (last held by James Capos at a salary of $98,000), chief diversity officer (last held by Larry Mason at a salary of $135,039) and diversity manager (last held by state Sen. Ruben Kihuen, who resigned to pursue a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, at a salary of $64,933).

Earlier this year, CSN appointed a Hispanic, Santos Martinez, as vice president of student affairs. The letter acknowledges Martinez’s hiring but says more needs to be done to match student demographics with those of faculty and staff.

“As far as Constance Brooks, I have nothing negative to say about her. She is doing a great job,” Flores said. “I disagree with how the chamber used her as an example there. That said, I think we do need to be more transparent about the hiring process, especially because it’s tax dollars we are talking about.”

The letter also includes an appendix with a rough chronology of similar complaints that the chamber says it has made to CSN dating to 2005.

The chamber’s letter concludes by pointing out the state demographics. Hispanics already make up half of Clark County elementary school students and a quarter of the state population. Those numbers are only expected to grow in coming years.

CORRECTION: This version clarifies that CSN offered to extend Edith Fernandez's temporary contract but that she is seeking a permanent position. | (July 20, 2012)

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