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2nd University of Utah diversity officer resigns, cites lack of trust in leaders

Published April 11, 2014 7:13 am

Education • Former assistant V.P. says he has lost confidence in the university leadership.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A University of Utah professor says he's leaving the diversity department because he can't trust U. leaders.

Enrique Alemán resigned as assistant vice president for student equity and diversity last week, days after his boss, chief diversity officer Octavio Villalpando, left.

"I have no confidence in the ability of the senior administration to lead on the issue of equity and diversity," said Alemán. "When that trust has been violated, it's really hard to do this kind of work."

Alemán said he was accused in November of leaking a letter to The Salt Lake Tribune from the Ute Tribe, which sought more benefits from the U. for use of the Ute name, and was told his email would be searched. Though he denies sending the letter, Alemán said the incident cast unfair suspicion on him.

Another breaking point came the next month, when Villalpando was on a research leave. His temporary replacement, Ed Buendia, told other faculty and staff that Villalpando was being investigated for human resources issues and asked to resign, along with his wife, also a professor, said Alemán.

"You ask yourself, 'How can they treat people this way, people who have done great work here?' " he said.

"If I stay on board, am I opening myself up to this kind of treatment? It becomes too risky for me."

In December, students protested the apparent ouster of the couple, vocal advocates for minority students on campus, and said it was part of a negative environment for underrepresented groups. They arranged a sit-in outside the office of U. President David Pershing, who denied the diversity chief had been asked to leave.

Villalpando returned to the post this semester, only to resign a few months later. He declined to comment on exactly what happened, saying only the incident was "unfortunate."

Pershing said this week that he and Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for academic affairs, tried to persuade Alemán to stay.

His resignation was "certainly not under any pressure from us," he said. "Diversity is critical. If you look at the demographics of this state, it's just so clear that we have to do more about outreach."

Alemán will return to his position as an associate professor of educational leadership and policy. His replacement will be the director of first-year programs, Tricia Sugiyama, whom he called "a great person, and she really cares."

As one of the principal supporters of the Diversity Scholars program, which is designed to recruit and keep students of color, during his two years in the office, Alemán said he hopes that the Office for Equity and Diversity continues in that direction.

"I'm sure they'll find talented people who care about students to take the mantle ... and welcome diverse populations," he said. Still, "I worry about the students and I worry about the staff. I just want students and staff to be supported."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst