Always ‘SUNY’ in Brockport? Timeline of tension on campus

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BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — Conflict has been swirling on the SUNY Brockport campus. In recent weeks the college has faced scrutiny from Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, Monroe County Legislator Vince Felder, students, staff, and more.

In brief, the Chief Diversity Officer was controversially fired. Students held widespread protests on campus because of recent “racial issues.” An independent campus climate report said there is “serious and rather troubling developments taking place at the campus.” An employee filed a charge of discrimination. A diversity recruiting specialist resigned. The SUNY Chancellor described the situation as “not acceptable.”

Here’s a look at how the college got here:

November 6, 2019 — President Macpherson announces completion of independent campus climate report

In a monthly newsletter, SUNY Brockport President Heidi Macpherson shared selective findings from a campus climate report. The independent report was conducted by Curtis Lloyd, former Vice Chancellor for Human Resources at SUNY.

Lloyd interviewed 27 employees, including those in leadership positions and those who had a formal role to play in equity and diversity work, as well as others who requested to participate. SUNY Brockport’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Cephas Archie, was interviewed as part of this report.

The full report was published on October 21, but the full document was not released in its entirety until months later.

Macpherson’s newsletter used direct quotes from the report, including recommendations to pursue, but omitted much of the harsh language used to describe the tense situation brewing on campus.

January 24, 2020 — Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Cephas Archie is fired, students protest on campus

Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Archie was fired and escorted out of his work center.

News spread quickly of Dr. Archie’s firing, which led to widespread student protests on campus the night of his firing.

January 25, 2020 — Mayor Warren blasts Brockport for firing Chief Diversity Officer

One day after Dr. Archie was fired, Mayor Warren took to Facebook to blast the college’s decision.

In the Facebook post, featuring pictures of Mayor Warren and Dr. Archie, she wrote, “It’s unfortunate when the people working towards diversity and inclusion across the collegiate spectrum also face it themselves.”

January 26, 2020 — Fired Brockport Chief Diversity Officer: ‘I remain with you always in solidarity’

Dr. Archie breaks his silence a few days removed from him being fired.

In a statement sent to News 8, Dr. Archie thanks everyone who has reached out and supported him over the past few days.

At that time, Dr. Archie told News 8 that his firing was related to his performance.

President Macpherson then announced Interim Chief Diversity Officer would be Dr. Lorraine Acker. Dr. Acker was previously working as the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs.

January 27, 2020 — Hundreds attend Brockport town hall regarding Chief Diversity Officer’s controversial firing

College leaders hold a town hall forum on campus to talk about Dr. Archie’s firing. Hundreds of students attend, but TV camera crews weren’t allowed in. Video and pictures sent to News 8 by students at the college show a long line of students waiting to speak their minds at the microphone.

President Macpherson said legally she cannot answer a lot of questions as to why she fired Dr. Archie.

“I’m sorry that people are feeling confused and angry. I understand that anger I accept that anger and I think we need to move forward after that. Thank you,” President Macpherson said.

January 30, 2020 — Mayor Warren on dismissal of Brockport’s Chief Diversity Officer: ‘Larger issue’

After personally attending the town hall forum, Mayor Warren continues her criticism of the college’s decision to fire Dr. Archie.

“When you talk about the changes that need to happen with diversity officers a lot of people have CDOs in name only, but then it comes down to doing the work that really doesn’t happen,” said Warren. “So we’re talking about a larger issue, not just this particular issue, but across the board and spectrum.”

February 6, 2020 — Employee files charge of discrimination against College at Brockport

A charge of discrimination is filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the College at Brockport by an employee of the university.

Vicki Elsenheimer is the administrative assistant to the Vice President for Advancement. She filed the complaint against the SUNY school through the EEOC. 

In the complaint, Elsenehimer says “Based on the behaviors of individual and institutional racism, I believe I have been discriminated against because of my race.” She is claiming she was passed up for a title promotion because of her race.

She says in the documents that three of the four administrative assistants received title changes to executive assistant. She’s the fourth one and says she didn’t get that title. Elsenheimer says those three were white women and she is the only African American female reporting to a member of the president’s cabinet.

She says she complained to human resources and was later given the title but never received an explanation as to why she didn’t get the title change at the same time as the others. Her lawyer sent News 8 supporting documentation.

February 11, 2020 — SUNY Brockport’s Diversity Recruitment and Retention Specialist resigns

Dr. Sandra Vazquez, SUNY Brockport’s Diversity Recruitment and Retention Specialist resigned from her position.

In a letter to colleagues, Dr. Vazquez wrote in part:

“Over the years the climate has had its challenges. And more recently, the impact of the events that have occurred will make it nearly impossible to recruit and retain underrepresented employees.”

The college’s statement on her resignation:

“Our commitment to building a better Brockport is unwavering – and that includes efforts we have taken to diversify our faculty and staff. We chose to create this position which Dr. Vasquez filled to add to our Human Resources team in December, as our students deserve to see themselves represented in those who teach and support them. That work will continue to move forward and we will engage the entire college community to help accomplish it. We wish Dr. Vasquez well in her future endeavors and thank her for her years of service to our students and campus.”

February 13, 2020 — SUNY Brockport students protest against ‘racial issues’ on campus

Students on campus protest the college’s decision to fire Dr. Archie. The demonstration began with a sit-in at the student union, and from there, students marched through campus to the administrative building.

At one point during the protest, students made it to the seventh floor of the administrative building where President Macpherson met with them in small groups. She also addressed the whole group, committing to changes for the campus.

“I recognize that there have been several attempts in the past to bring about a more inclusive and diverse environment and yet we haven’t been able to do everything we’d like to do,” President Macpherson said.

February 13, 2020 — SUNY Chancellor: Brockport situation ‘not acceptable,’ visit forthcoming

State University of New York Chancellor Kristina Johnson described the tension on the SUNY Brockport campus as “disheartening” and “not acceptable” in a letter to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren.

Johnson, who was replying to a February 5 letter from Mayor Warren, said the issues resolving the climate at Brockport are “of great concern.”

This letter arrived on the same day that students were protesting on campus.

February 14, 2020 — SUNY Brockport diversity specialist on resignation: ‘My support system is gone’

Dr. Vazquez speaks out after her resignation. She worked at the college for 12 years and was also a graduate of its Educational Opportunity Program.

“With what I’m charged to do, with what’s happened in the at the college at this point, I just don’t feel I could be successful at recruiting underrepresented and marginalized individuals but more importantly it just doesn’t align with the ethics and morals that I have,” Dr. Vazquez said.

She said she’d been feeling this way over the past year, but the firing of Dr. Archie was a tipping point.

“As I continued to do a lot of the policy work and strategic plan work with Dr. Archie, who we all know is no longer here, and after his firing and my move or transition to HR, there became a lot of thoughts of how successful am I going to be? My support system is gone,” she said.

Dr. Vazquez was there on Thursday as students protested. She said she’s proud of them for speaking their minds.

February 17, 2020 — Brockport’s Chief of University Police wanted to ‘dig up dirt’ on fired Diversity Officer, says lawyer

Dr. Archie’s lawyer, Andrew Burns, says the University Chief of Police, Daniel Vasile, was trying to “dig up dirt” on his client by contacting a former colleague.

Brockport officials say they received an anonymous email from someone who claimed to have information and “because of the nature of the allegations” the voicemail was shared with Vasile. Officials say Vasile “did look into this allegation,” but President Macpherson ordered the chief to cease the inquiry shortly thereafter.

The person who was contacted by Vasile, Dr. Sabrina Lewis, a former colleague of Dr. Archie at the Houston Community College, said in a statement “it was obvious to me Chief Vasile wanted me to provide him with disparaging information and dirt regarding Dr. Archie and I told him if so, he had the wrong person to use as a witness.”

February 18 — SUNY Brockport report: ‘Climate and culture have deteriorated at the campus’

October’s campus climate report is released in full. In this report, Curtis Lloyd, former Vice Chancellor for Human Resources at SUNY interviewed 27 employees, including those in leadership positions and those who had a formal role to play in equity and diversity work, as well as others who requested to participate. Dr. Archie was one of those interviewed for this report.

“My assessment of the climate and working environment at Brockport has revealed some serious and rather troubling developments taking place at the campus,” Lloyd wrote in the opening statement of his report.

Before diving into the specifics of the report, it should be noted that Lloyd also included in his opening statement: “I found no evidence that students are being negatively impacted by the climate created by employees and administrative processes.”

Lloyd continued in his executive summary: “There is a breakdown of trust across functional operations and it includes both the faculty and administration. I am unable to offer any thoughts as to why or how the climate and culture have deteriorated at the campus, but I can say it is crucial that this matter is addressed as quickly as possible.”

He also mentioned the duties of the Chief Diversity Officer and recommendations for the position. Lloyd wrote, “I heard from many employees that Brockport has a serious need for a good CDO at this critical junction.”

The President is praised in part of the report, including comments from employees such as, “things have changed for the better since Macpherson arrived,” and “the President has many supporters.”

On the same day that News 8 obtained a copy of the campus climate report, News 8 also obtained a open letter sent to President Macpherson by faculty and staff members of color.

“The structural and systemic racism we have observed and experienced is deeply rooted and goes beyond particular personalities and distressing anecdote,” the letter said.

It continued: “This negligence trivializes persons of color and the great potential within each of them. There is no shortage of evidence of these biased practices from our collective years at The College.”

February 20 — Monroe County Legislator calls for investigation into SUNY Brockport: ‘Something is wrong’

Monroe County Legislature Minority Leader Vince Felder, a 2001 SUNY Brockport graduate, called on SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson to investigate “the series of events that have broken the trust the college’s administration had with the community.”

“The diversity issue at SUNY Brockport must be treated as the crisis it has proven to be and must be dealt with in a way that produces sustainable and verifiable results. The lack of persons of color in any meaningful senior management positions is unacceptable. Consider this:

  • 100% white cabinet
  • 100% white police department
  • 100% white HR department
  • 100% white reporting complaint structures
  • 100% white policy committee
  • 100% white shared governance task force

The African-American male Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Archie, was not part of any of the listed structures. The College President has since made the interim CDO part of her cabinet. This is a case of too little, too late.”

He said students of color need to have role models at the very top.

“They should be able to come to a campus that has role models on the campus at every level of the institution that look like them and can relate to them so they can see themselves and it motivates them to do better.”

Felder also called for Dr. Archie to be reinstated pending the results of the investigation.

March 5 — SUNY Chancellor visits Brockport

Today, SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson will visit the campus to speak with President Macpherson, her cabinet, faculty, and staff. After that, Johnson will hold a press conference at 11:20 a.m.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that Dr. Archie was not interviewed for the campus climate report, which is not true, and the story has since been updated to reflect that correction.

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