On the second floor of the University Center, the room with a sign that reads “Minority Affairs” is locked and the lights are off.
Several reasons exist for that, said Dr. Margaret Toston, vice chancellor for Student Affairs. First, the former administrative assistant for the Office of Minority Affairs, also known as Multicultural Affairs, retired in December 2015 during UTM’s voluntary retirement buy-out program. At that point, the position and its funding were eliminated. Without an assistant to oversee the office, it could not stay open.
Then, in 2016, the full-time coordinator of the office, Dr. Annie Jones, was moved from the old office to the Career Planning and Development Center as a career counselor. At that time, Minority Affairs duties were split between her and a Student Life employee, John Paul Robinson, who handled programming while she focused on retention. That left no staff physically stationed in the Minority Affairs suite, so the location is temporarily closed, Toston said.
Devin Majors, a sophomore Political Science major from Nashville, speaking on behalf of a number of concerned students, originally made The Pacer aware of the lack of a full-time Minority Affairs coordinator in May 2017. However, Toston said in a recent interview that the programming arm of Minority Affairs has been vacant only since August, when Robinson left UTM.
Majors, who also is attorney general for SGA and vice president of the Black Student Association, said that when he came to UTM the first person to welcome him was Jones, who continues to handle retention issues for Minority Affairs. Majors said Jones made him feel welcome on campus, and he is vocal in his belief that Minority Affairs should be fully staffed and by a staff that is only working on Minority Affairs, not serving in multiple positions.
Toston said the career counselor position is a better fit for Jones because of her graduate work in retention, including grades, progress and academic support. Toston added that the coordinator position will no longer carry that title and has not been filled yet because the UT System has asked campuses to review all staff positions and make the titles consistent.
“Minority Affairs needs an experienced, seasoned person to really run that office,” Toston said. “We were not getting the pool of candidates we needed with the coordinator title and lower salary.”
She said that renaming the position, which will be full time and oversee all Minority Affairs programming, means getting approval and rewriting all of the paperwork to match whatever new title is chosen. All paperwork with job descriptions and titles must be approved through UTM Chancellor Keith Carver as well as the Board of Trustees, which Toston said can be a slow process.
Toston said that once the position, paperwork and funding are approved, the job posting will be listed. After applications have been gathered, a committee composed of Majors, several faculty and herself will be interviewing and identifying qualified candidates.
Majors also questioned Chancellor Carver about the status of the Minority Affairs Office in an open SGA Senate meeting. Carver told him at the time that he was uncertain of the status, at which point John Abel, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs and SGA adviser, told the chambers that Jones had been moved to CPAD, but was still serving Minority Affairs. Majors then approached The Pacer several weeks later regarding the status of the office as well as Abel’s answer.
Another question Majors has raised involves the funding of Minority Affairs. From fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2018, according to university accounting documents, funding for the office has fluctuated widely, appearing to have been drastically cut and then bolstered again in the current fiscal year. Toston and Abel said the budget was initially reduced when funding disappeared for the administrative assistant position, and then remaining funds earlier in 2017 were redirected to pay for one-time projects in the University Center.
Abel said the current budget for Minority Affairs is just under $70,000.
Students may still receive counseling from Jones if they require it, and Toston said minority students continue to have other resources from which they can benefit while the programming position is vacant.
Also, though the OrgSync page for Minority Affairs has been disabled, Abel said it only takes a request to the Student Life Office for the portal to be reactivated. He added that the page was disabled in May 2017 during the annual portal review because it had not been updated since Jan. 28, 2016.
According to the UTM website, the Office of Minority Affairs exists to provide support for and the identification of academic, cultural, economic and social needs of minority students. The office also serves to centralize and coordinate a holistic program for university efforts to cultivate cultural and ethnic diversity. This includes providing programs that enhance personal, social, educational and cultural development of all students while especially encouraging the involvement of students of color around campus.
(Minority Affairs Office | Pacer Photo/Rachel Moore)