COLLEGE PARK – A popular diversity officer at the University of Maryland is considering the presidency at a historically Black college in Virginia, nearly six months after the announcement that his position would be terminated amid budget cuts.

The university publicized plans last November to replace associate provost for equity and diversity Cordell Black with a part-time administrator, effective June 30. The final decision fell to Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Nariman Farvardin and spawned immediate protest, including a large, November rally in support of Black’s reinstatement.

A lack of transparency and the unknown fate of the organizations he supervises were the most unsettling things about the situation, said Amber Simmons, president of the Black Student Union. Black oversees the Nyumburu Cultural Center and offices of LGBT Equity and Multi-ethnic Student Education.

“We work directly with those offices, so there was just a lot of panic about not knowing what was happening,” said Simmons, “and you’re always going to fill in the blanks with the worst-case scenario.”

As a tenured associate professor in French literature, Black, 66, can stay on the faculty or pursue opportunities outside College Park. He has turned down offers in Pennsylvania and Oregon but is considering the presidency at Norfolk State University in Virginia.

Black said he would probably write a “letter of interest” and apply when Norfolk formally announces the opening, likely in May. An uncle at the university holds a “prominent” position and favorably “threw my name into the hat” for the search committee “to give me a foot up,” he said.

The committee could not confirm Black as a candidate, as the process is in the beginning stages, said Regina Lightfoot Blue, of the Norfolk communications and marketing team.

Simmons, 20, said Black has been “a huge resource” for funding and a staunch voice for a more tolerant student body — something a part-timer would have difficulty continuing, she said.

A faculty salary guide published in May 2009 by The Diamondback, the university’s independent student newspaper, reported Black earned $163,585.51 that year. Black said his replacement would save the university about $12,000.

Sporting a gold turtle pin on his left lapel, awarded by university President Dan Mote to distinguished campus officials for their service, Black said he was told the substitute may be temporary until the budget situation improves, but that he’s still unsure why his position was axed.

“The claim consistently is budget, but then there’s some fluctuation about his need to choose his own staff or a need for fresh blood,” he said of the provost. Repeated calls to Farvardin’s office went unreturned.

Black, of New Carrollton, said his removal could not have resulted from poor performance, because his evaluations do not “show any shortcoming.”

His supporters have speculated that one reason behind the dismissal concerns the flagship institution’s dwindling African-American student representation. According to the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment, first-time Black enrollment stood at 9.2 percent in fall 2009, down from 13.8 percent in 2008. During the same span, total Black enrollment declined to 10.9 percent from 11.6 percent. Statistics for the current semester show the total Black headcount fell to 10.6 percent.

Nonetheless, Black said, there is a “stinging irony in all of this.”

“I am almost primarily responsible for helping the provost build his record on diversity, which made him a very attractive candidate for the provostial position,” he said. Black noted he allocated funds for Farvardin, then-dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering, to hire additional minority faculty.

Black said that once he steps down, he would prefer to remain in administration than return to teaching.

“I’m able to help many more students in this position that I am in a small classroom,” he said. “I think that would be probably the loveliest way to end my career.”


Andrew Katz

Capital News Service