MSU President Discusses Revised Non-Discrimination Policy, Juan Meraz

Feb 19, 2016

MSU President Clif Smart
Credit Missouri State University

Missouri State University’s amended non-discrimination policy puts into writing current practices and clarifies any confusion with regards to existing law.

That’s according to MSU President Clif Smart, calling the board’s Feb. 5 vote a “catch up” with existing practice. Many of the new additions are protected under federal and state law. Smart adds that since last spring’s repeal of the city of Springfield’s non-discrimination ordinance, it was of particular importance the school add gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected categories.

“We wanted to communicate to any of our students, any of our current employees, any of our job applicants that we would not be discriminating on those basis,” Smart said.

Those two sub categories, along with marital status, family status, and pregnancy, are now included under the category of sex. In addition, genetic information is now a new category under the policy.

“That means, for example, if you have a history of a particular disease in your family we wouldn’t ask about that as a part of your job interview nor if we learned of it would not be a reason not to hire you because our health costs might be more.”

Smart spoke to KSMU this week during its monthly program Engaging the Community.

He also commented on the situation regarding Juan Meraz, assistant vice president of Multicultural Services, who a student group wants dismissed because of allegations of discrimination. A petition was submitted to the school on Feb. 1 noting such complaints and demanding his removal. Later that day, MSU confirmed in a statement that a complaint had been filed last year against Meraz and investigated. President Smart offered an update this week.

“The student [who made the complaint] has essentially accepted those findings. We have, the equal opportunity officer has referred the whole matter over to Dr. [Dee] Siscoe who is Juan Meraz’s supervisor for any appropriate mentoring, coaching, discipline that she believes should occur to rectify the situation.”

Smart says that’s the extent he can comment on the situation, noting the university does not discuss publicly any type of disciplinary action taken against an employee or “frankly whether we take any disciplinary action or not against an employee.” He did note the internal matter has been resolved.

The petition seeking Meraz’s removal had close to 100 physical signatures upon submission to university officials. Within a day, an online petition garnered over 1,000 signatures. Smart said the university does not make personnel decisions based on petitions for or against an employee.

The news comes on the heels of recent changes in diversity leadership and as the university, in part as a response to previous requests, is rolling out new diversity and inclusion initiatives. On Thursday, consultant Lori Patton Davis, an expert on creating cultural centers in predominantly white institutions, visited MSU to meet with stakeholders and learn about current efforts. The school also recently established a Diversity Council to advise the president and senior university administrators.

“That group is really gonna be our primary group that vets diversity and inclusion initiatives,” Said Smart, adding that members met with Dr. Patton Davis this week. 

Additionally, the Bias Response Team will serve as a resource to university students and personnel concerned about perceived bias-related situations.

“We wanna be both aware of that, and particularly if there’s a pattern in a particular residence hall or fraternity or sorority or other place – to be able to do some education, to respond to that, to interact with folks to make sure we are an inclusive campus and that we’re welcoming and that there aren’t those kinds of incidences going on to the extent that we can prevent them.”