UM associate provost considers Norfolk post

His diversity job is being terminated June 30 amid budget cuts

April 25, 2010|By Andrew Katz, Capital News Service

College Park — — A popular diversity official at the University of Maryland is considering applying for the presidency of a historically black college in Virginia, nearly six months after the announcement that his position would be terminated amid budget cuts.

The university publicized plans in November to replace associate provost for equity and diversity Cordell Black with a part-time administrator, effective June 30. The final decision fell to Nariman Farvardin, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, and spawned immediate protest, including a large November rally in support of Black's reinstatement.

A lack of transparency and the unknown fate of the organizations he supervises were the most unsettling things about the situation, said Amber Simmons, president of the Black Student Union. Black oversees the Nyumburu Cultural Center and offices of LGBT Equity and Multi-ethnic Student Education.

"We work directly with those offices, so there was just a lot of panic about not knowing what was happening," said Simmons, "and you're always going to fill in the blanks with the worst-case scenario."

As a tenured associate professor in French literature, Black, 66, can stay on the faculty or pursue opportunities outside College Park. He has turned down offers in Pennsylvania and Oregon but is considering applying for the presidency at Norfolk State University in Virginia.

Black said he would probably write a "letter of interest" and apply when Norfolk formally announces the opening, likely in May. An uncle at that university holds a "prominent" position and favorably "threw my name into the hat" for the search committee "to give me a foot up," he said.

The search committee could not confirm Black as a candidate, as the process is in the beginning stages, said Regina Lightfoot Blue, of the Norfolk communications and marketing team.

Black has served in several positions since coming to Maryland in 1979, including as interim chairman of the French and Italian department, assistant dean in the College of Arts and Humanities and assistant vice president for academic affairs.

Over the years, he established universitywide compliance with state and federal statutes and developed strong ties with the major ethnic groups on campus.

Simmons, 20, said Black has been "a huge resource" for funding and a staunch voice for a more tolerant student body — something a part-timer would have difficulty continuing, she said.

A faculty salary guide published in May 2009 by the Diamondback, the university's independent student newspaper, reported Black earned $163,585.51 that year. Black said his replacement would save the university about $12,000.

Black said he was told the substitute may be temporary until the budget situation improves, but that he's still unsure why his position was axed.

"The claim consistently is budget, but then there's some fluctuation about his need to choose his own staff or a need for fresh blood," Black said of the provost. Repeated calls to Farvardin's office went unreturned.

Black, of New Carrollton, said his removal could not have resulted from poor performance, because his evaluations do not "show any shortcoming."

His supporters have speculated that one reason behind the dismissal concerns the flagship institution's dwindling African-American student representation. According to the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment, first-time black enrollment stood at 9.2 percent in fall 2009, down from 13.8 percent in 2008. During the same span, total black enrollment declined to 10.9 percent from 11.6 percent. Statistics for the current semester show the total black head count fell to 10.6 percent.

Black has no immediate family to tie him to Maryland — he had no children during his 40-year marriage to his wife, Lola, who died from cancer in 2008 — so he will spend his time after June job-hunting. But as he prepares to leave behind the quaint office with outdated green carpet and plain white walls, he does not "go away with my head hanging down."

The Detroit native said it was the way his beautician-mother and father, who worked two jobs, raised him and his three siblings that ingrained in him the importance of an education and the "drive to fight any kind of bigotry."

He graduated in 1967 from Wayne State University in Detroit with a master's degree in French literature after chronic asthma and severe bronchitis kept him out of Vietnam. After a few brief teaching stints and the realization that there was little "clout" in the field without a doctorate, he enrolled at the University of Michigan.

After earning his doctorate in 17th-century French literature in 1978, Black said he was in contention for the only two positions in his specialty: one at Stanford University and the other in Maryland.

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