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An image of a page of the RE-Center report ripped into pieces.

Greenfield Community College leaders are facing criticism for not sharing an uncomplimentary DEI report by consultants. Administrators say the report was inaccurate.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | rawpixel | DOC SOURCE

The faculty and professional staff union at Greenfield Community College voted no confidence in the college’s president and provost last week after administrators neglected to share the results of a scathing diversity, equity and inclusion report by a consulting firm. The report was based on an unfinished assessment of the college’s DEI work after administrators of the small Massachusetts community college ended the firm’s work early without informing the campus community.

Greenfield administrators said they didn’t share the report when they received it because it contained inaccuracies and that students and employees weren’t informed of the severed partnership because they were still waiting on certain data from the firm. But the report was ultimately leaked to a number of employees, who were disturbed by its conclusions about the state of DEI on the campus and the administration’s lack of transparency, The Greenfield Recorder reported.

“Responses ranged largely from horror to disgust to outrage,” said Trevor Kearns, president of the Greenfield Community College Professional Association, a chapter of the Massachusetts Community College Council, which represents professors and staff members such as academic advisers, mental health counselors and student affairs staff.

College administrators hired the DEI-focused consulting firm, RE-Center Race & Equity in Education, last year with input from faculty and staff members to assess its campus climate and racial equity “blind spots,” Kearns said. Of the 1,544 students enrolled at Greenfield in fall 2023, 27 percent were students of color, according to college data.

Consultants started interviewing members of the president’s cabinet and others, including human resources staff, department chairs and campus police and security officers in spring 2023, according to the firm’s report. Student interviews were planned for the future. Then the fall semester rolled around, and employees heard nothing more about the process. A professor on the college’s DEI standing committee asked for an update on the progress of the partnership at a February meeting of the College Council, which includes faculty, staff and administrators.

The college president, Michelle K. Schutt, revealed then that the college had ended its relationship with the consulting firm because of “difficulty in scheduling and progress,” according to the minutes of the meeting. But the firm was still scheduled to share data it had gathered. Schutt later wrote in a letter to the campus community that the firm wasn’t “the right fit.” The report says administrators quashed the partnership in November of last year.

Kearns said the news was especially disappointing because there was a sense among employees that Greenfield administrators had neglected DEI on campus, and employees were eager to see Schutt prioritize bringing in consultants after she was hired in 2022.

“Everybody who cares about these issues and who knows that we need to improve at the college and do a better job of supporting students with marginalized identities—everybody was really excited for this to happen.”

“We’re like, finally, we’ve got traction,” he said. “We got some professionals in here.”

Meanwhile, rumors had started circulating on campus that RE-Center had produced an unshared report about the state of the college’s DEI work. The union made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out more about the report this spring, which was denied.

Karen Phillips, vice president for administration and finance records access officer, said in her May response to the FOIA request that the “unsolicited” and “self-serving” materials RE-Center had produced were “merely opinions and are not factual or complete,” so releasing them “would taint the deliberative process that is ongoing as the College seeks to continue its important DEI work through alternative means.”

(The union also requested information about how much the college had spent on RE-Center’s services, and she answered that the institution prepaid the firm $60,000 out of the total anticipated cost of $112,900.)

College leaders, however, agreed to show union members a redacted copy of the report, but by that time, a full, unredacted copy had already been leaked to Kearns and others. He called an emergency meeting earlier this month and distributed the report to members.

They weren’t pleased. An online voting process that ended Tuesday yielded decisive votes of no confidence in Schutt and Provost Chet Jordan. Out of the 78 union members who voted, 73 voted no confidence in Jordan and 67 voted no confidence in Schutt, about 94 percent and 86 percent, respectively, Kearns said. (Jordan did not respond to a request for comment.)

Schutt said in a statement that she has “enormous respect for our faculty and staff.”

“My goal is a workplace environment that acknowledges contributions, works collaboratively to address challenges, and builds relationships,” she said. “I hope to continue working collaborative [sic] with our faculty and staff around the values we share.”

In a letter to the campus earlier this month, she also said the college is in the process of hiring a vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, reporting directly to the president, and it is searching for “a partner who can support us in hosting facilitated campus-wide dialogues this fall” about racial equity and communication issues “that have come to the surface as we resolve this issue.”

The Board of Trustees also released a statement following the no-confidence votes stating that it “supports the College’s DEI efforts” and that board members will undergo DEI training.

“The Board has heard the President’s response to the concerns of the college community and her plan to address these concerns,” the statement read. “We support the President’s plan.”

Kearns said he’s unclear what that plan is, and the next steps that have been shared, such as hiring a DEI officer, don’t feel like enough “to address any of the deeper issues at the college.”

He noted that the full board was only made aware of the report at a June 10 board meeting, and “they did not look happy.” Further, some members raised concerns about not having seen the report earlier.

Some students are upset, as well, though most are no longer on campus, since the semester ended in May, Kearns said. He heard from a nursing faculty member that nursing students, some of whom remain on campus because their pinning ceremony is on Saturday, delivered a petition to the dean of nursing asking that the president not attend their ceremony. Kearns believes the nursing students’ action is connected to the issue.

The Report and the Response

The RE-Center report, obtained by Inside Higher Ed, detailed a number of concerns, including differing definitions of “race” and “equity” among members of the president’s cabinet, problems with campus leaders’ transparency and communication, and a lack of “shared vision” about plans for a DEI office and director.

The report also didn’t mince words about administrators’ decision to end the consultation process early.

“Beyond this partnership, if the work has been paused and does not progress through this moment in time, it is the sole accountability of the leadership team to answer to the community how a team can be so deeply committed to this work and be so unwilling to risk anything or redistribute any power,” the report read. “GCC students, faculty, administrators, and staff, particularly BIPOC and those from historically excluded identities, deserve better.”

The report also detailed several fraught exchanges between administrators and RE-Center consultants, including an incident in which a white cabinet member allegedly used “the n-word in its entirety” four times in an interview with two RE-Center employees while discussing the use of the word in a campus play and art show earlier that year. The report said one consultant, a Black woman, felt “stunned” by the encounter and that “racialized harm had occurred.” The cabinet member, when questioned later by consultants, allegedly acknowledged that using the word was “wrong.”

Schutt responded to the report, including this particular incident, and the accusations of burying it, in her June letter to students, faculty and staff members.

“In this instance, I want to acknowledge that I could have done a better job of communicating with our community earlier and with more details about the discontinuation of the relationship with the DEI consultant and next steps,” she wrote. “While I recognize that not all will agree with our decision not to release the document, I fully expect to be accountable to themes the College community shared about the challenges we face in this area.”

She wrote that campus leaders ended the partnership with RE-Center because its “consulting model and approach was not the right fit for GCC at this time.” She also said the report RE-Center produced wasn’t the information campus leaders requested.

“Our team hoped to benefit [from] the information collected by the DEI consultants and use the thoughtful reflections provided by the GCC community in our going forward work (either with another consultant or an incoming DEI leader),” she wrote. “Unfortunately, instead of sharing the information in the requested format, the DEI consultant offered a document that included incomplete and, in some places, inaccurate information.”

She defended the administrator who used a racial epithet as having used the term in reference to an on-campus art installation focused on perceptions of race in America, which included a piece of art with the full slur in its title.

The administrator “questioned how to address the use of this word in art and literature in a college setting where there are issues of academic freedom,” Schutt wrote. “In no instance was the word used as a slur or directed at any individual.” The administrator “expressed regret at using the full title of the artwork” and “subsequently proactively sought out coaching and additional resources regarding this topic.”

A National Issue

Shaun Harper, founder and executive director of the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center, said it’s a common problem that college and university leaders pay outside professionals to produce campus climate reports and subsequently ignore or hide unflattering results.

And too often, they don’t get called out on it. By the time these reports are finished, the student activists who demanded them have in most cases moved on to other issues, making the findings easy to sweep under the rug, he noted.

“I think that is terribly dishonest,” said Harper, who is also a professor of education, business and public policy at USC. “And it is offensive to the students, faculty and staff who very generously invested their time into the process, expecting that something’s going to be done with the feedback and the input that they offer.”

He added that he hasn’t heard of RE-Center, but it’s also not uncommon for administrators to quibble with negative reports’ phrasing or claim findings are inaccurate or have methodological flaws.

“In some instances, perhaps that is true … but I can tell you right now that even when we furnish incredibly credible reports with evidence to institutions, too many of them do the same thing,” he said.

Kearns said the debacle with the report reflects a broader lack of transparency at the college. He said the point of the process was to uncover areas for growth, so why hide the findings? He also believes administrators would not be in such hot water if they’d been open about the partnership ending and shared alternate plans to continue the work RE-Center had started.

“My members are extremely upset about what’s in the report. And they should be. I am, too,” he said. “I’m also upset about the deception.”

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