In the aftermath of the heated protests at the University of Missouri over racial incidents and allegations of inequality, officials on UTD’s campus are cognizant of the issues that could lead to similar incidents at home.
George Fair, vice president for diversity and community engagement and dean of interdisciplinary studies, sees almost all of the complaints filed against the university in regards to issues of equal opportunity and discrimination.
“There have been issues just like as with any organization there are issues. We’ve had issues related to students feeling that they’re discriminated against by professors — which is not uncommon in a university,” he said. “We’ve had issues with employees feeling that, for some reason, they didn’t get the raise or get the kind of position that they wanted and some may attribute that to diversity issues or discrimination.”
When those possible problems with discrimination arise, Fair said the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance is dedicated to investigating the situation.
“I don’t think there’s an unusual amount (of issues),” Fair said. “I think that it’s the amount that you would see in any large organization and … (the office has) had investigations when that’s necessary and we’ve remedied those situations.”
Assistant Vice President in the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX Coordinator James Dockery is involved in those investigations.
“At the end of the day, it all works around treating people with dignity and with respect,” he said. “That’s the core component of the entire office is to ensure that the university policies as it relates to treating people with dignity and with respect. That includes the entire community.”
Instead of going into the investigations intending to substantiate the complainant’s claim of discrimination, Dockery said he seeks to uncover the truth — whatever that may be.
“What we’re looking for is to really develop the truth, the total truth,” he said. “And that is working hard to find out what really happened and then, only at that time once we find out what really happened, do we really come to a conclusion.”
Although Fair said he has seen some disgruntled students and faculty members who are unhappy with their treatment at the university in the context of diversity, he said their issues at UTD are not the same as those at Mizzou. For example, he said UTD’s relative youth will prevent the same kind of unrest that is present at older institutions.
“We didn’t exist when black students couldn’t come to the university, so I think the history has a lot to do with it,” he said. “They’ve had a long history of issues not being attended to. We don’t have that long history of issues not being attended to.”
As far as the demographic makeup of the population of both students and faculty goes, Fair said it is not representative of the greater Dallas community in terms of ethnicity.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Dallas County is 23 percent African American. Fair estimates the faculty population to be “more like 3 percent or 5 percent.” However, Fair said that is something the university continues to work on.
“I think that diversity is a beneficial quality. Not only just diversity in terms of ethnicity, but diversity in terms of thought, diversity in terms of people,” he said. “I just think that it’s a better atmosphere when you have a diverse group of people that are looking at problems, that are looking at issues, that are looking at ways of making life better.”
In addition to UTD’s adolescence, Fair said the rapid expansion of the university creates an air that facilitates change, rather than rigidity to old, potentially unwelcoming attitudes.
“Each year we grow another couple thousand students … and in a growth situation, there are more opportunities for advancement. There are more opportunities to do new things. There are more opportunities for new ideas,” he said. “And I think that’s been to our advantage.”
Although Fair said the university does not have an “ongoing, active effort” just to boost numbers of minorities at UTD, he said diversity is an instrumental part of the identity of the school. Because of this focus, Fair emphatically expressed that the show up on campus in the same scale.
“It is the UT Dallas goal to be, without exception, a welcoming, inclusive and discrimination-free community where each person is respected and treated with dignity,” he said. “I think that’s what we try to do and that’s what we will continue to try to do. And we were trying to do that prior to Missouri and we will continue to do that after Missouri.”