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Husch Blackwell Update

This summer, President Anderson engaged the law firm of Husch Blackwell to conduct an independent review of personnel issues and racial climate concerns connected to the departure of Black Student Life staff and student employees, as well as student-conduct disciplinary issues. The investigation was recently completed, with the following findings and recommendations:

  • No Student Life staff or student employee was subject to an adverse action, including termination, because of race. Among the termination cases reviewed, the terminations were supported by misconduct or performance concerns. When job performance was an issue, performance concerns had been communicated to the employee (in performance evaluations and otherwise) and were not adequately addressed. Normal institutional processes for termination, including a human resources review for staff employee matters, were followed prior to the terminations.
  • No Student Life employee was subjected to racial harassment in violation of the University’s Anti-Harassment Policy.
  • Student Life employees, irrespective of race, expressed concern about being stressed and occasionally overwhelmed with their challenging work. There was concern that the important work done by these professionals is unappreciated by the broader University community. There are unique issues for Student Life employees of color, as they described feeling burdened by the exceptionally difficult work of student affairs professionals in general, the historic challenges facing black professionals in the workplace, and the burdens of students and their professional colleagues who relied on them in navigating institutional issues unique to students of color. It bears noting that this burden is not unique to Trinity: “The hard reality is that POC in student affairs are often expected to not only maintain their workload and the needs of their colleagues, but also must contend with what’s happening outside of the institution—all while supporting their marginalized students. POC student affairs professionals must maintain a reputation of excellence while always needing to remain visible and accessible to the campus community.” Jonathon Higgins, “Addressing Burnout in Higher Ed Professionals of Color” (Nov. 28, 2017), https://www.presence.io/blog/addressing-burnout-in-poc-higher-ed-profess....
  • There is no evidence that the University’s student conduct process is disproportionately harsh to students of color. Data for over 1,500 student conduct cases was reviewed and the information is remarkable for the restrained, even-handed way in which the University has handled student conduct cases. Sanctions appear to be consistent on the whole, and Trinity students are rarely subject to severe sanctions. When severe sanctions (i.e., suspension or expulsion) are meted out, there is no evidence that the University has disciplined students of color in a disproportionate or systematically harsh way.

While Husch Blackwell’s review did not conclude that the University engaged in race discrimination, they did suggest several areas where the University can improve. These include the following recommendations:

  1. Adopt An Updated Anti-Harassment Policy. The University should craft a new anti-harassment policy. The policy should set clear behavioral expectations for students and employees, provide clear guidance regarding how to make a complaint, ensure that all investigations of complaints are handled by appropriately trained professionals, and provide robust options for non-investigatory, non-adjudicatory resolution of complaints, including options centered on restorative justice. Trinity’s compliance officer and Title IX coordinator will revise the policy appropriately and transparently in cooperation with campus stakeholders. 
  2. Independence and Resources for the creation of a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. A review of peer institution organizational structure of DEI offices and departments confirms that an emerging best practice is to ensure that the institution has a chief diversity officer who reports directly to the president, and that the diversity and inclusion office be appropriately staffed and resourced. President Anderson has initiated an audit of the administrative structure to ensure integration of this new role. In the interim, Courtney Balderas, Director for Student Diversity and Inclusion, reports both to Vice President for Student Affairs Sheryl Tynes and President Anderson. 
  3. Continue to Monitor University Affirmative Action Plans. The University should continue to regularly monitor progress towards its Affirmative Action Plan goals. Human Resources will continue its work in support of the University’s Affirmative Action Plan and look for ways to strengthen this program consistent with this recommendation.
  4. Finalize and Implement Results of Compensation Study. The University’s staff compensation study is designed to bring consistency to compensation practices  and other human resources processes. Human Resources has been charged with bringing the compensation study to  completion as soon as practicable so that the University can begin implementing the findings of that study. 
  5. Limit Use of Search Waivers. Because informal hiring and promotion processes can potentially contribute to inequitable hiring and promotion decisions, search waivers in the hiring process should be used sparingly and subject to a written policy and process that requires the approval of a member of the University’s senior leadership team. Under the guidance and direction of Human Resources’ leadership, Trinity implemented new criteria and requirements for all position searches last year and has been charged with evaluating this recommendation with respect to search waivers. 
  6. Add Objective Criteria to the Performance Evaluation Process. For each position subject to performance review, the University should consider the extent to which objective measurements of performance can be included in those reviews to minimize the potential for bias. Human Resources has been charged with developing an implementation plan for this recommendation.
  7. Make Supervisors Accountable for EEO Goals. The University should consider evaluating supervisory employees, in part, on their contributions to the University’s EEO goals, a practice that aligns with adding objective criteria to the performance reviews of all employees. Human Resources has been charged with developing an implementation plan for this recommendation.

Efforts are underway on each of these recommendations, which are also mirrored in the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. In addition, the more than 140 recommendations produced by the Task Force  are currently being prioritized by a small project management workgroup of faculty and staff. The prioritization of this additional work will be completed by the end of November, and ready for implementation by the appropriate offices and individuals beginning in the Spring semester.