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Cal Poly students, faculty petition to rescind job offer to recently appointed VP for Diversity & Inclusion

Paulette Granberry Russell was appointed on July 1
Posted at 6:16 AM, Jul 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-06 23:33:16-04

Two online petitions are quickly gaining signatures calling for Cal Poly to rescind the job offer made to Paulette Granberry Russell for the position of Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion.

On July 1, Cal Poly announced Paulette Granberry Russell had been appointed to oversee the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion. Her start date is August 31.

More than 2,100 faculty members, staff and students who have signed a petition as of Monday afternoon are demanding Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong rethink the decision to hire Russell.

The faculty petition, which was posted Sunday, says Russell oversaw Michigan State University's Title IX office when former MSU doctor Larry Nassar abused more than 250 women and girls over the course of 20 years.

"We're concerned that this particular hire will not create the environment that we want to support at Cal Poly," said English Dept. Professor, Brenda Helmbrecht.

A separate petition has been set up by Cal Poly students and has gathered more than 7,900 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

"I was just horrified because this is quite possibly the worst person you can hire to join Cal Poly," said Jasmine Till, Cal Poly Student and ASI Secretary of Diversity and Inclusion.

Nassar is serving decades in prison for sexual assault and possession of child pornography in Michigan. Hundreds of athletes have come forward over the last three years saying Nassar abused them under the guise of treatment, including reigning Olympic champion Simone Biles and six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman.

Michigan State University, where Nassar worked for decades, agreed in May 2018 to pay $500 million to more than 300 women and girls who said they were assaulted by Nassar.

The faculty-written letter identifies Russell as a "highly controversial choice" and cites "grave reservations" about both her history at MSU as well as "irregularities" and a "lack of transparency" in the hiring process at Cal Poly.

The letter alleges President Armstrong conducted the search largely in secret "without transparency, oversight or extensive consultation with campus stakeholders."

Before coming to Cal Poly in 2011, Jeff Armstrong spent 10 years at Michigan State University as dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and professor of Animal Science.

The petition asks Armstrong to issue an official, public response no later than July 12.

On Monday, Cal Poly released the following statement to KSBY News:

We are aware that some have voiced concern about Cal Poly hiring Paulette Granberry Russell — specific to her being employed by Michigan State University at a time when that university faced a national scandal.

There is no question that the incidents of misconduct that occurred at Michigan State University were alarming and abhorrent. 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 unhirable — because they were employed by the university at the time the scandal occurred.

To be clear: Paulette did not engage in misconduct and was not complicit whatsoever in the Larry Nassar scandal as some members of the campus community have alleged. Major investigations by the U.S. Department of Education, the NCAA, the Michigan State Attorney General, and Michigan State University looked thoroughly at the incidents of criminal misconduct on MSU’s campus. All of these investigations established that Paulette had no connection with the criminal activity and did not take part in any wrongdoing.

Paulette continues to be employed in good standing by Michigan State University, even as many individuals who were implicated either directly or by association were dismissed or asked to resign.

If Paulette’s integrity and credibility were in question, she would not have remained employed by MSU through the many investigations that were conducted. If her integrity and credibility were in question, Michigan State’s current president would not have publicly praised her accomplishments just last week, saying: “Paulette’s impact on our institution will benefit Spartans for generations to come. Because of her work, MSU has gained many strengths and broadened its institutional commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

If Paulette’s integrity and credibility were in question, she also would not have been elected by the board of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education in 2019 to serve as the group’s current president—the first woman of color to hold that esteemed position.

The health and safety of our campus community members is a primary focus for Cal Poly — including as it relates to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX matters.

Cal Poly thoroughly and critically reviewed Paulette Granberry Russell’s background and history and confirmed that Paulette had no connection to past misconduct issues at Michigan State University.

Paulette was a finalist for the vice president for diversity and inclusion post in 2017, when Cal Poly first elevated the position to the President’s Cabinet level. Cal Poly ultimately chose Jozi De Leon as its first vice president for diversity and inclusion, but Paulette was a strong candidate who was under serious consideration at that time. As a finalist, Paulette was fully vetted and her professional experience was viewed favorably by the search committee (which included representation from students, faculty and staff) and by President Armstrong.

When President Armstrong was informed this spring that Jozi intended to retire in June, he wanted to move quickly with an emergency hire, to help maintain continuity of leadership and momentum for the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion at a time when the social justice movement in our country demands leadership for OUDI and our campus community.

Given Paulette's impressive qualifications; the fact that she has already been through the interview process on Cal Poly's campus; and that she was supported by the search committee and the campus community during a public campus forum (Jan. 23, 2017), she was a known entity. With this in mind, President Armstrong moved forward with an emergency hire of Paulette to quickly provide ongoing leadership for OUDI.

Emergency hires occasionally occur in special circumstances such as this and are allowed for under our guidelines and written into our policies for these very situations — when there is an urgent need to make a quick hire.

Paulette has more than two decades of professional experience and accomplishment in diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education — and will offer our campus the benefit of her extensive knowledge and expertise. She is a woman of integrity and accomplishment. She deserves to have the same opportunities and level of respect that we all hope for ourselves. We are confident that Cal Poly will find Paulette to be an exceptional leader and valued addition to our campus and ask that the campus community give her that opportunity.

The petition comes on the heels of the creation of a public Instagram account @shadesofcalpoly. The account posts anonymously submitted stories of discrimination, racism and sexual assault involving the university and its affiliated organizations.