UAFS boss talks about budget transparency, ongoing push for diversity committee

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 514 views 

University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley told the UAFS Board of Visitors at its regular meeting Wednesday (Dec. 4) the university would form a budget council in the coming months.

The council would add to the university’s accountability, Riley said, by giving feedback and making recommendations toward allocation of funding.

“In many ways this university has worked very informally for years. We haven’t always put together shared government structures that would allow for input before decisions are made,” Riley said.

This council is one way of forming a more formal structure for the university, she said. The council will be able to review funding, see what is working, what needs to be done and where money could best be spent.

“There are always more needs than there is money. But maybe we can identify when someone isn’t getting a piece of the pie while someone else is getting maybe two pieces or a piece and a half,” Riley said.

Riley also updated the board on the diversity, equity and inclusion committee. The committee was formed by Riley this fall to “review, unify, and strengthen UAFS’s diversity and inclusion efforts,” the university’s website states. Membership is comprised of faculty, staff, students and members of the Fort Smith community “who are engaged in or passionate about diversity and inclusion initiatives.” The committee was formed after an allegation of race discrimination was made against the university’s head basketball coach.

On Sept. 2, Riley announced that the allegation had been reported by a former UAFS basketball player. A letter by Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Williams and Tyler Allen Williams, a former UAFS student and basketball player, was posted on Facebook Aug. 31. The letter described what the Williamses called a racist act by Boone in regards to the Tyler Williams “dreadlocks” hairstyle. Williams, from Edmund, Okla., was a guard and the second-leading scorer for UAFS for the 2018-19 season.

On Sept. 11, Riley reported that the university’s EOC officer did not find substantial evidence to support the claim of race discrimination but that “the process revealed a need for better communications when addressing a sensitive matter, particularly when raised by a student.” In her statement, Riley said the UAFS athletics department “will not condone or allow a policy, procedure, or practice – conveyed verbally or in writing – to dictate the hair styles or hair lengths for its student athletes.” Riley also said she would allocate resources to hire a director of campus diversity and inclusion. The committee also was formed.

According to the job description on the university’s website, the executive director for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) will drive the development and implementation of university strategic plans and frameworks for diversity, inclusion and social equity. The position will report to the chancellor. Candidates must have master’s degree and at least five years of relevant higher education or private sector professional work experience. Three of those five years must include “demonstrated administrative skills, strategic leadership, and supervisory experience; demonstrated knowledge of social justice research; and documented evidence of a proactive role in leading initiatives that contribute to diversity and inclusion.”

Dr. Georgia Hale, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs, said Wednesday they hope to have someone in the position before the end of the spring semester.

As for the committee, members can plan and implement cultural sensitivity and heritage programs, review campus policies and practices to ensure that they are inclusive for all UAFS students, faculty, and staff and serve as resources and advocates for the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

Several subcommittees also have been formed, including ones for steering, hiring, assessment, facilities, programming, training and policies and procedures. The athletics department also has its own diversity, equity and inclusion committee, Riley said. On Nov. 5, that committee brought Jen Fry, a nationally acclaimed speaker and social justice educator, in to lead training sessions, discussion groups and workshops, a UAFS media release stated. Fry is a former Division II athlete and collegiate volleyball coach. She now specializes in training student-athletes, university administrators, staff and coaches on issues of race, inclusion, intersectionality, diversity, and equity.

Riley said the university will host more speakers and hold more workshops in coming semesters. Plans are underway for an event in early February, though details are not yet finalized.