Piles of snow aren’t the only white thing on top of Hudson Valley right now.
Of the 10 people on the Board of Trustees and seven in the college’s top administrative positions, none are minorities.
Elijah Pore, president of the Black and Latino Student Union (BLSU) said, “Generally, we would expect more diversity in positions of power. You want to have voices from each different background.”
Hudson Valley college officials cited two primary reasons for the lack of diversity: the low turnover rate in the upper positions and the limited pool of candidates to choose from when they do open up.
Since college president Drew Matonak came to Hudson Valley in 2005, only two senior administrators have been hired. Matonak said that when future positions do open up, “We would definitely be looking to diversify not just our senior staff, but throughout the institution.”
The college does not have control over who is appointed to the Board of Trustees. Five members of the body are appointed by the Rensselaer County Legislature, four by the Governor of New York, and one by the student body of Hudson Valley.
John Ogden is the founder of Workforce Compliance Associates and works as a consultant for Hudson Valley on Affirmative Action policies. According to him, the college goes beyond what is required in recruiting minority candidates for open positions. Hudson Valley actively recruits for every open position by posting all open jobs with organizations all over the country, including some that are geared toward minorities and women, and working with representatives from local chapters of such organizations.
“Hudson Valley Community College has by far the most thorough hiring process that I’ve seen in my entire life,” said Ogden.
They analyze the local workforce and determine what percentage of qualified candidates can fill positions at Hudson Valley. “In areas that we don’t reflect the community, we set a goal. And our goal, basically is to actively recruit for minorities, females, veterans or individuals with disabilities and hopefully by actively recruiting we’re going to get more applications,” said Ogden.
According to Ogden, of the people in the Capital Region who are qualified to work at Hudson Valley as professionals, about 11.7 percent are minorities. Most of that group are Asian, and only 2.7 percent is African American.
“On our side of the fence, we’re going to make darn well sure that everybody is given an opportunity here and that we’re going to try and be as diverse as possible,” said Ogden.
“We want to have our employee base to reflect the students that they serve, and we work very hard to be able to do that … Beyond that, there is a tremendous value in bringing people together from different perspective,” said Matonak.
While no minorities are shown in the administrative staff section of the college’s website, Associate Dean for Instructional Support Services and Retention Karren Ferrer-Muniz is in what the college refers to as it’s top job group, called executive management, and is of Hispanic decent.
“We want to have our employees reflect the students that they serve,” said Matonak.
However, while the college has policies in place that seek to improve diversity, some feel that the results are still falling short.
Corey Ellis is a former candidate for Mayor of Albany, co-founder of the Capital District Black Chamber of Commerce, and a Hudson Valley alumnus. “I am deeply saddened and disappointed that a college with such a diverse student population does not reflect that in their administrative staff,” said Ellis.
Ellis has advocated for more minorities in leadership positions throughout the Capital Region, and noted that there has never been an African American represent the city of Albany as mayor, in the state assembly, state senate or United States Congress.
“It really goes to show that we have a long way to go in the Capital Region with diversity,” said Ellis.
Discussions about racial inequality have been common in recent months after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner sparked protests across the country about the police’s treatment of African Americans.
On Monday, Feb. 23., a discussion was held on campus about the recent events involving the police. It was part of the leadership workshops series and titled “Does the dust ever settle? Policing the Police.”
Kilijah Crumpler, treasurer of the BLSU, helped organize and run the discussion. He feels it is important to develop solutions to these issues now. “You have to bring attention to [issues] before they subside,” he said.
Like Ellis, Crumpler feels that Hudson Valley’s lack of diversity is an issue that also has to be addressed. “I think it’s unfair. I think it’s unreasonable. I feel as though all cultures that attend the school should be represented by the school,” said Crumpler.
Among the 12,252 students enrolled at Hudson Valley in fall 2014, 22.5 percent are listed in categories other than white, non-hispanic.
Matonak expressed a similar sentiment. “It is good for an African American male to come and see someone who looks like them in an administrative position,” said Matonak.
Louis Coplin benefited from such an experience. He is the Director of Student Life and had held the senior administrative position of Vice President for Enrollment and Student Development on an interim basis from Jan. 2004 until April 2006.
While Coplin said that he never felt a need to have people who were African American like him as mentors in order to succeed, he ended up having that type of relationship with Willie Hammett, his predecessor in the position he temporarily held.
Coplin said the Hudson Valley is a fantastic place to work and that opportunities for him, as an African American, have been abundant. “I think the college does a good job. I know they’re sensitive to the needs of a diverse community.”
Hammett felt similarly. He said, “The leadership was fair and worked very hard to employ minorities.”
At the same time, Hammett expressed disappointment at the current situation. “It’s unfortunate that you even have to write this article,” he said.
Administrative and faculty diversity is an issue in the SUNY system and higher education across the country. In her State of the University Address in January, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher proposed that each SUNY school be required to have a Chief Diversity Officer.
SUNY Albany already has this position in their administrative hierarchy, and their president, Robert Jones, is an African American. RPI also has an African American president, Shirley Jackson and so did Schenectady County Community College until last year.