Students challenge Provost to increase funding for Pan-African and LGBTQ programs, address discrimination in tenure process

Provost Todd Diacon stands up and leaves after a question is directed at him during an open forum held by students to address the race issues at Kent State in the Governance Chambers on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.

Provost Todd Diacon stands up and leaves after a question is directed at him during an open forum held by students to address the race issues at Kent State in the Governance Chambers on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.

Matthew Merchant

Alleged racial discrimination in the faculty tenure process was one of three concerns raised in a student-led forum on Wednesday in the Student Center Governance Chambers.

More than 100 students, faculty and administrators gathered to present their grievances and experiences toward, not only the tenure process, but also the creation of a new LGBT studies program and funding for the Department of Pan-African Studies.  

The students, many of whom are members of on-campus organizations, created an unofficial group that is advocating for various minority and racial issues at both academic and administrative levels of the university.

Group members invited university President Beverly Warren, Provost Todd Diacon, James Blank, the dean of the College of Arts and Science, and other members of the administration to attend. Only Diacon was present.

University Spokeswoman Emily Vincent confirmed 18 administrators attended, including four vice presidents, one member of the Board of Trustees, one college dean and three associate provosts.

New LGBT Studies Program

Trey Walker, a sophomore communication studies major, opened the forum by announcing the creation of a Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.

The center, officially announced in a joint statement Wednesday morning by Blank and associate professor Molly Merryman, would integrate LGBT Studies and Women’s Studies programs. The center has yet to be finalized.

Blank appointed Merryman to take the lead in creating the center after she submitted her letter of resignation as coordinator of the LGBT studies program onMonday. She cited the program’s lack of funding as her reason for resigning. She then rescinded her letter after the statement’s release.

According to the statement, the center will aim to bring Kent State “to the forefront of gender and sexuality research” and create new courses and a curriculum on interdisciplinary understanding of gender and sexuality.

Walker said he was angry about a lack of funding going to important minority programs.

“If we don’t have support from our institution, our university, to allow us to find and grow as individuals, then we are going to be lost,” he said 

Pan-African Studies funding

KSU students host forum on discrimination, tenure decision from on Vimeo.

Students at the forum also advocated for more funding for the Department of Pan-African Studies and the Center for Pan-African Culture housed in Oscar Ritchie Hall.

“When we’re talking about the Department of Pan-African Studies, I think sometimes we do it a major injustice because it is so much more than a department,” said Matthew Vinzant, a senior communication studies major and one of the leaders of the group. “Literally it is the Pan-African Culture Center on campus. It is our de facto home. This is the de facto home of African-American students on campus.”

Other students vocalized their concerns about the presence of racial tensions and microaggressions on campus.

Marvin Logan, a senior Pan-African Studies major and executive director of Undergraduate Student Government, said administrators suggested he distance himself from the Pan-African Studies department and certain student groups when he was elected. He said administrators also asked him to change his appearance.

“A week has not gone by where I haven’t had some kind of racist action or some kind of experience,” said Logan, who is also a columnist for The Kent Stater.

Dwain Ross II, a junior communication studies major, said he is not treated the same way as his peers because of his skin color.

“I go to a school where I walk down the hallway and I hear whispers or get insulted just because of the color of my skin, or if I complain too much,” said Ross, who claimed he would have left the university if not for his PAS professors. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t born with white privilege.”

Tenure Process Allegations

Amanda Paniagua, a graduate art history major and columnist for The Kent Stater, said she might not earn her degree because the university administration denied her academic adviser tenure status.

She claimed Diacon, who oversees the process, denied tenure to assistant professor Navjotika Kumar on the basis of racial discrimination.

“The university has declared war, as far as I’m concerned,” Paniagua said. “My adviser has been like a mother to me, and my academic pursuits no longer have a place at this university. I’m publically asking the administration present, and asking President Warren, to be bold and demand that Provost Diacon give this woman her job back that she has rightfully earned. I’m continuing to gather student support because you’ve declared war, and we’ve come to fight.”

Aaron Hayes, a senior political science major, requested at least $150,000 from the university in order to hire a director for the Pan-African community center. Hayes spoke on behalf of the entire student group.

He also requested that Amoaba Gooden, chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies, work with Diacon and Blank in order to secure funding to fulfill the request.

Gooden said she would discuss it with both Diacon and Blank, but Hayes wanted a “yes or no” answer.

“I cannot answer your question in a yes or no fashion,” Diacon said, who could not guarantee funding for the position at the time. “What I can say is I am always willing to work with Dr. Gooden and students.”

Hayes then challenged Diacon about whether Kumar would be granted tenure. He said he could not reply to the question.

“It’s a personnel matter and following the policies of the state of Ohio and of Kent State, we’re not allowed to comment publicly on personnel matters. That’s not my rule. That’s the state of Ohio and Kent’s rule,” he said.

Some in the audience asked for the exact policy, but Diacon reiterated that it’s university policy not to comment.

“Let me say that I’m here to listen, and I’m not here to engage in a dialogue,” he said, as he prepared to leave the forum for a meeting.

“Your provost everybody,” Paniagua yelled out as Diacon walked out.

Contact Matthew Merchant at [email protected].