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Regents chairman says investigation finds no wrongdoing in CSN’s hiring practices

Latin Chamber of Commerce had complained of college’s ‘unacceptable record’ of hiring, promoting Hispanics

Updated Friday, July 27, 2012 | 4:58 p.m.

The College of Southern Nevada’s hiring practices, despite coming under fire by the Latin Chamber of Commerce, are in line with state policies, the Nevada System of Higher Education’s chairman said in a letter this week to the Latin chamber.

In the letter dated Thursday, Jason Geddes, the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents chairman, said an investigation “determined that the recruiting and hiring procedures followed by CSN are in compliance with Board of Regents’ policies and legal requirements.”

Geddes’ response comes more than a month after the Latin chamber expressed “serious concerns with the College of Southern Nevada and its unacceptable record of hiring and promotion of Hispanic employees,” in a letter to the chairman in June.

“(O)ur investigation concluded that there have been no complaints of discrimination at CSN and we have found no evidence of discrimination with regard to the issues raised in your letter,” Geddes wrote of the investigation conducted by Brooke Nielsen, the Nevada System of Higher Education vice chancellor for legal affairs.

Geddes acknowledges it is clear the Latin Chamber “is not satisfied with the efforts made by CSN with respect to diversity, especially within the Hispanic community,” and suggests a meeting between himself, College of Southern Nevada President Michael Richards, Latin Chamber of Commerce executives, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich and Regent Kevin Page.

The Latin Chamber’s letter, first reported by the Sun’s Jon Ralston, indicates the organization has been complaining since 2005 about the under-representation of Hispanics among staff and faculty at CSN.

Javier Trujillo, chairman of the board for the Latin Chamber of Commerce, said he appreciated Geddes’ efforts on the matter and welcomed the opportunity to meet with the chairman and representatives of CSN.

“The important thing to remember though, is that we have been holding meetings now for seven years. … This is not something that has happened overnight, it’s been in the making over years,” Trujillo said, citing past meetings with former and current administration. “I’m glad Geddes took some steps to look into these concerns and that we can reinitiate that conversation and come together. … The most important thing for us is that (the hiring process) is transparent and all candidates have an equal opportunity to apply and be considered.”

Geddes’ letter cites data from CSN showing that 38 percent of the college’s 1,148 employees are minorities and just less than 16 percent are Hispanic.

At CSN, which is the largest school in the Nevada System of Higher Education, Hispanics made up 21.9 percent of all students in fall 2011 and 25.1 percent of all students in fall 2010.

The chamber argued that more of an effort should have been made to retain two Hispanic administrators who had recently left CSN. Vitaliano Figueroa accepted a position as vice president of student affairs at Valley City State University of North Dakota after, the letter claims, being passed over for advancement at CSN. Edith Fernandez, who served as interim director of student initiatives at CSN until recently, left in search of a more permanent position.

“I believe that the NSHE shares the same goal as the LCC with respect to diversity and we should support each other in this effort,” Geddes wrote to the chamber. “The Board of Regents supports a number of statewide NSHE initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion in our institutions. Please note that while I believe it is important that the System continue to work with community leaders to find ways to better serve their specific interest, we must comply with Board of Regents’ policies and law, which prohibit preferential treatment of any minority or protected group over another.”

Nevada System of Higher Education declined to release details of the investigation, citing attorney-client privilege and privacy concerns.

“While I cannot discuss confidential personnel information, based on this investigation, I am confident that claims of gross employment neglect and possibly outright discrimination against Hispanic persons are unsubstantiated,” Geddes wrote.

In its letter, the chamber said that instances in which the college president appoints a new employee instead of going through the entire employment posting and application process deprives the institution of the opportunity to consider all qualified candidates, including Hispanics and other minorities. It used as an example the hiring of the new director of government affairs and diversity initiatives.

“We welcome the chance to sit down and talk about our concerns, and look more into process that (CSN President) Richards has used in which some job candidates go through the whole search process while others he appoints,” said Trujillo, who had not seen the letter by Friday afternoon but was briefed on its contents. “We are talking about taxpayer-funded positions here, and we are talking about transparency.”

CSN said it also wanted to “work together” with the chamber on the issue.

“As the most diverse higher education institution in the state, CSN is dedicated to being an inclusive college reflective of the community we serve,” the college said in an email statement. “We share many strategic goals with the Latin Chamber and are hopeful that we may work together to benefit Hispanics and other under-represented minorities. Together, we stand a better chance of achieving more for our community.”

The 2010-2011 Diversity Report by the Nevada System of Higher Education points out that the percentage of full-time faculty belonging to minority groups increased from 13.9 percent in 2000 to 18.8 percent in 2010 systemwide.

“To reflect the statewide population distribution of 40.5 percent minorities, work still needs to be done to increase the number of full-time minority faculty,” the report states.

At CSN, 20 percent of the faculty belongs to a minority group, and 6 percent are Hispanic.

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