MAXWELL:  USF TAKES EASY WAY ON DIVERSITY
8/26/2007 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper
I’ve known St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis since 1994, when I first came to work for the St. Petersburg Times. As assistant chief of police at the time, Davis invited me to lunch for a welcome-to-town, get-acquainted chat. After he became chief, his telephone lines remained open to me. Now, when I want to know what’s going on in Midtown or elsewhere in the city, I’m always able to speak with him.
In short, I like Davis, and I respect him for his long, dedicated public service.
That said, Davis’ latest incarnation, as “senior adviser for diversity and community affairs” at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, is a disappointment. And I predict that it won’t significantly improve the plight of blacks at the campus.
Let me explain.
According to a recent St. Petersburg Times article, USF officials hired Davis in the wake of criticism by some black leaders that the campus, a stone’s throw from the eastern edge of predominantly black Midtown, has very few black professors and administrators and students.
Indeed, the campus has had some concerning turnover of black personnel. In fact, Cedric Howard, director of student services, the highest-ranking black on campus, is leaving at the end of the month for a similar job at the University of Washington.
Of the school’s 3,494 students last fall, only 238 were black.
Why did Davis, who has a hectic day job at City Hall, take on this $12,000-a-year part-time adviser’s gig at USF?
“My job is to be there as a resource for existing faculty and staff,” he told the Times. “There are people already in place who deal with recruiting issues. I will assist them in reviewing strategies and techniques to see how we can look at some innovations there. … I don’t want to end the day claiming success absent input from the people. So my first thing is going be to meet internally with staff and faculty, COQEBS (Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students) and any other person who may have some interest in this so we can all agree on what we’re trying to accomplish.”
What will he accomplish, and what is his purpose?
Watson Haynes, co-chairman of COQEBS, who was instrumental in raising concerns that led to Davis’ hiring, said: “Our first concern was the absence of black students, but as we began to delve into it, we became concerned about black teachers and administrators as well.”
Last month, COQEBS met with university officials and later wrote a letter to the regional chancellor asking the university to hire someone whose sole job would be increasing the number of blacks on campus. Davis said that others already deal with recruiting issues, so his job will be that of general facilitator, “reviewing strategies and techniques” and looking at some “innovations.”
After being sharply criticized for a lack of diversity on campus and apparently realizing they didn’t have any substantive solutions, USF officials decided to cover their collective you-know-what by hiring the ubiquitous Davis.
Again, as often happens when race is involved, academe prefers the path of least resistance. In this case, instead of telling the truth about the difficulty of recruiting qualified black professors and students and administrators, USF officials resorted to appeasement.
Here are some ugly truths: Most colleges and universities nationwide have a tough time finding black professors with doctorates who have requisite classroom experience, laudable research and ample scholarly publications. Compared with whites and other groups, a relatively low percentage of black student applicants earn impressive SAT and ACT scores that give them easy admission.
And here’s another truth many St. Petersburg power-brokers rarely acknowledge publicly: The city isn’t welcoming to black professionals, and the black community, in particular, treats black professional newcomers shabbily. As much as I love St. Petersburg, I know that it lacks the cultural and entertainment venues that attract black professionals and keep them here.
Even with his well-known work ethic, Davis isn’t a miracle worker. As a part-timer, he can’t reverse the realities I’ve outlined. USF officials say they want to bring more black professors and administrators and students to campus. If they do, they should create a full-time permanent position and conduct a national search for the right person.
The time has come for officials to get serious and to stop simply covering their collective you-know-what.
bmaxwell@sptimes.com