Administrators answer questions regarding Plaza’s contract non-renewal, conference cancellations

On Nov. 17, some members of the University community began using the hashtag #WhyRay on Twitter, in reference to wanting to know why Ray Plaza’s contract was not renewed. Plaza is currently the Associate Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs [OMA] and will be through Dec. 31.

Variations of that question came up multiple times at a meeting in the Union on Nov. 19 in which students and others had the chance to ask administrators about the situation. The Latino Student Union organized the meeting. More than 100 people attended and some passed along their questions to moderators who read them out loud.

Vice President for Student Affairs Jill Carr, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Sidney Childs and Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs Emily Monago were there to answer questions.

“The issue at hand is a personnel issue,” Childs said before the questions began. “In order to respect the privacy of the individual, we will not be able to speak directly or speak to that issue whatsoever.”

The first question was, “Who authorized the non-renewal of Ray’s contract and why?”

That recommendation was brought to Carr by Monago and Childs, Carr said.

“The process that we followed is in accordance with University policy and protocol,” Carr said.

The “why” part of the initial question could not be answered and other questions were also unanswerable because their answers related to information that could not be discussed.

When “Why do you stand by your decision to fire Ray when so many students on campus are outraged?” was asked, Childs said, “Because it’s a personnel issue and I know it sounds like a broken record, but it is a personnel issue.”

The administrators knew the decision would impact students, Childs said, but they were prepared to discuss it with students and “work through that frustration, that anxiety, that disappointment.”

In a follow-up question to a question asked by a moderator, a student asked about how the administrators plan to work through that, given the closeness students had with Plaza.

“There’s a connection that students had with Ray, myself included, that I know that I won’t have with another person,” the student said. “I know you guys work at the OMA office, but I am more than sure that I won’t be comfortable to have a connection with you guys the way I did with Ray.”

It may not be the case that Plaza is the only person students can have a connection with, Childs said.

Some discussion focused on broader racial issues. A question submitted to the moderators was, “Why is Ray the third Latino male to be fired from OMA in six years? Do you have a problem with Latino males in the workplace and, if so, why?”

However, that question was based on misinformation, Monago said. In the first case, the man was not fired.

“Our institution was going through some financial hardships,” Monago said. “We had staff in our office … who left the institution who weren’t replaced. But we still needed to address some funding issues and so we did eliminate a position in our office. So the person was never fired; the position was eliminated.”

In the second case, there was a “well-documented performance issue,” Monago said.

Though those cases were not based on race, they still affect minority University communities.

“Whenever a faculty person of color is gone, it feels like a humungous loss, because we’re already underrepresented,” said Anne Mitchell, an instructor in the ethnic studies department.

Another prominent topic was the Black Issues Conference and Latino Issues Conference. A question submitted to the moderators asked whether Plaza’s contract not being renewed was because he advocated for those conferences.

“I think we probably need to clarify some things,” Childs said. “The issues regarding the Black Issues Conference and the Latino Issues Conference was information that was prematurely shared with you all. There has not been a full decision in the Office of Multicultural Affairs what we’re going to do. … You’re responding to information that’s not necessarily true.”

Due to funding issues and low attendance at some parts of the conferences, the OMA is considering other options. The Mosaic series is an example of that, Monago said.

Though the administrators could not reveal many details due for privacy reasons, Plaza is free to discuss the non-renewal of his contract, Carr said.