October 23, 2003

Cornell Terminates Asst. Dean Wright

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Ednita Wright, the former assistant dean of students for diversity education and outreach, was fired last month after allegedly misusing her procurement card. P-cards are University charge cards used to purchase goods for business purposes.

Wright stopped working on Sept. 25, according to Nkosi Brown ’03, executive director for Mosaic, a support and discussion group for “same-gender-loving people of color.” Brown said that the reasons for her removal are vague, and he has met with some of her superiors to try to extract this information.

“[The administrators] felt that they couldn’t give me any more information because they feel it’s a personnel matter,” Brown said. “I actually don’t feel that it’s true because it’s dealing with p-card misuse. P-cards are basically company cards and they are based on student funds. It should be a public matter.”

“We have a general practice at the University in not commenting on internal personnel matters,” said Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services. “I know that this decision was a difficult one. It was made after intensive review and deliberation.”

Wright’s immediate supervisor, Tanni Hall ’76, associate dean of students for student support, could not directly comment on the matter. Hall said that there has not been an official notice released regarding Wright’s removal but that details might be clearer at a later time.

Brown said that Wright was “the brains and energy” behind many directives, including the “One Vision, Many Voices” initiative on campus. Wright was also a co-advisor for Mosaic and held diversity training programs for different groups on campus. Prior to coming to her position in the dean of students office, she was a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services and maintained relationships with current and former students.

“She offered students a lot of support and brought vitality and optimism to tough issues,” said Sarah Simpkins, assistant dean for student support. “She brought various people and groups from across campus together to focus on diversity in creative and meaningful ways.

“Her ‘One Vision, Many Voices’ program has been inspirational, and I definitely will miss her voice on campus.”

One of Brown’s main concerns is that the University is slowly losing resources in areas concerning diversity issues. He noted that since Irma Almirall-Padamsee ’84, director for student affairs and diversity for Campus Life, left her position this year, there are now two vacancies in this area.

Brown is also worried about those students who could no longer go to Wright for help or assistance.

“Her termination was very sudden, and it seemed quite unthinkable considering her stellar reputation and the fact that she was seeing students,” Brown said. “My concern is that there has not been a transition period for students [who see her], and I don’t know where the administration’s concern is regarding [that].”

Hall said she and Kent Hubbell ’67, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students, are “avid supporters” of the work that Wright did and said they are making a strong effort to ensure that Wright’s programs and students “are not falling through the cracks.”

“We’re passionate about diversity. Our whole mission depends on it,” Hall said.

According to Murphy, the dean of students office will now allocate and assign individuals to the duties which fell under Wright’s jurisdiction. There is also a search underway for a replacement for Almirall-Padamsee, according to Robert L. Harris Jr., vice provost for diversity and faculty development. He also could not comment on Wright’s dismissal.

“[The departure] certainly doesn’t weaken our emphasis or our commitment to diversity,” Murphy said. “It does leave two important vacancies and they are those we will take very seriously.”

Hall said that although it is early, her office “will do everything we can to have somebody to [continue Wright’s] work.” However, talk about a possible replacement is premature without a formal University announcement about Wright’s removal. It is unknown when the formal announcement will be issued.

Even with the administration’s assurances, students such as Brown are worried about the possible lack of emphasis on diversity issues. With a poor economy and many changes around the University taking place, Brown hopes that the University will allocate funds and hire competent replacements to run these programs.

“I think that the University needs to make visible moves and go beyond lip service and set their priorities around diversity,” he said. “I really fear for the climate of the University [now] and the future with the sort of moves being made here.”

Archived article by Brian Tsao