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State comptroller's report finds most complaints by group of African American faculty and students unfounded

September 16, 2003

After reviewing hundreds of documents and interviewing or corresponding with dozens of TBR members, University officials, students and other individuals, the state's Comptroller's Office of Research released a report last week stating that African Americans at APSU were not disproportionately affected by position reductions at the University and that closure of the African American Cultural Center for two months in summer does not disparately affect African American students.
September 16, 2003

After reviewing hundreds of documents and interviewing or corresponding with dozens of TBR members, University officials, students and other individuals, the state's Comptroller's Office of Research released a report last week stating that African Americans at APSU were not disproportionately affected by position reductions at the University and that closure of the African American Cultural Center for two months in summer does not disparately affect African American students.

The Office of Research report also found that while Dr. Sherry Hoppe did not offer "a distinguished record of teaching and research experience in a university environment"a reference to complaintants' suggestion that Hoppe did not meet the qualifications advertised for the position of APSU presidentthat qualification was listed as "preferred" in the job description, not "required." Therefore, analysts disagreed with complainants' suggestion that Hoppe did not meet the qualifications advertised.

The analysis and report came in response to a request from the General Assembly's Black Caucus in May 2003. The Office of Research was charged with analyzing the validity of allegations voiced by a group of African American students and faculty since the reduced schedule of the African American Cultural Center was announced. The group voiced its complaints to the Black Caucus at a public hearing in Nashville on May 6.

Though the report found largely in the University's favor, analysts did find areas in need of improvement.

Retention rates of African Americans are lower at Austin Peay than at any other TBR university. Only 68.6 percent of African American students are retained after one year.

Austin Peay's African American graduation rate is lower than most other four-year universities in Tennessee. For African American students who entered in 1996, the graduation rate was 24.6 percent.

The report also suggests more might be done to recruit and retain African American faculty and staff and to elevate them to higher positions in the University. Between July 2001 and June 2003, 45 African Americans left the University, compared to 142 Caucasians and four Hispanics. African Americans hold 44 percent of the jobs classified as service or maintenance, while only 18 of 263 faculty positions were occupied by African Americans.

The Office of Research agreed with the group's complaints that merging the affirmative action officer's position with that of the general counsel, while more financially efficient, might discourage students, staff or faculty from coming forward with grievances.

"Although Richard Jackson, the person presently holding this position, appears to be experienced and knowledgeable of affirmative action issues, the two functions appear to structurally conflict with each other and possibly should be separate," the report says. "No matter how objective a person actually may be, it is not possible to appear objective if he/she, in fact, also serves as legal counsel to the university's president."

Still, upon examining major complaints by the group of African American faculty and students who requested the review, members of the Office of Research found little validity in the allegations.

Analysts noted that a review of reports submitted by the African American Cultural Center has been "very limited" during the summer. The director is "usually absent" during the month of July, says the report, and no formal programs are offered. "Although the students may be inconvenienced some by not having a place to gather, the student center and other locations are available to accommodate such activities for this amount of time."

Regarding the wisdom of moving the African American Studies minor to the history department, University officials said that supervising faculty of that minor would report to the dean of the College of Arts and Letters for programmatic purposes and to the history department for administrative purposes. In response to concerns about tenure requirements for the director of the African American Culture Center, Austin Peay administrators said that tenure terms of the Office of Enrichment Programs would continue to apply, with history department tenure requirements applying only to the time since the transfer.

Suggestions made by members of the Comptroller's Office of Research included establishing an advisory group with African American students and faculty to brainstorm ways to improve race relations, establishing an African American faculty recruitment task force, reviewing the process used for filing employee grievances and considering ways to separate the general counsel's responsibilities from the affirmative action function and evaluating the impact that the summer closing of the African American Cultural Center could have on students.

Debbie Denton