UCD Office of Equity encourages racism by turning a blind eye

Viveiros inspired by Mr. Floyd's murder to "get it right"

9/10/20237 min read

The Office of Equity (OE) is often touted as a way to promote racial equity at the University of Colorado, but the reality is that OE maintains the racist status quo by shielding CU administration from discrimination lawsuits. OE is an office of CU administration that reports to CU administration. OE operates in secrecy without reporting data about grievances, complaints, investigations, and outcomes. Until OE and CU offer transparency and accountability, this website will function as a way for members of the CU community to share experiences of racism. Racism cannot be swept under the rug as CU touts equity in PR materials because this hypocrisy simply allows the racist status quo to continue. Make no mistake, every campus of the University of Colorado is racist, and has been racist for decades. This racism is documented in peer-reviewed literature, in newspaper articles, at CUDenverLynx.com, and in folders in the OE that the public does not have access to. The following is just one example of how OE encourages racism at CU by turning a blind eye. What is even more insidious is that the blind eye is weaponized to retaliate against the grievant.

Prof. Greg Cronin of the Department of Integrative Biology complained about racism to OE a dozen times, yet OE never investigated, citing lack of evidence. Isn’t uncovering evidence the purpose of an investigation? Dr. Cronin’s experience was not unique, as OE investigated just 2 of the 189 discrimination grievances they received in 2019-2020. The outcome of these two investigations is what one would expect when CU is investigating itself: CU was not responsible. CU claims that it is not responsible for any of the 189 discrimination grievances. Dr. Cronin disagrees, claiming that CU is responsible for discrimination, racism, and retaliation, and should do a better job of achieving racial equity by following laws and their PR materials. Wake Up! Speak Out! provides a roadmap to racial equity that CU has ignored so far.

When Prof. Cronin first informed OE that his Chair John Swallow was making racist decisions that harmed his research and teaching in Haiti, Will Dewese interviewed Dr. Cronin. During the interview, Mr. Dewese agreed that decisions made by Chair Swallow were racist, but that OE could do nothing about racism towards Haiti because Haitians are not members of the CU community. Rather than educating Chair Swallow about racism and encouraging him to correct his racist decisions, OE refused to investigate Dr. Cronin’s grievance and left Chair Swallow, who is a member of the CU community, in charge of supervising and evaluating Dr. Cronin’s work in Haiti. This inaction emboldened Chair Swallow to make further racist decisions. Chair Swallow oft claimed that the Office of Equity investigated Dr. Cronin’s claims of racism and found no wrongdoing. The truth is that the Office of Equity admitted that Dr. Cronin’s claims of racism against Haitians were valid, but that OE would not do anything about it because Haitians are not members of CU.

Chair Swallow stated “Dr. Cronin began to disparage me [in] January 2015 [when] I was in Crested Butte skiing with my family. I had an email from Greg and I think he sent it to Pam [Jansma] too. His black colleagues in Haiti believe that IB leadership was racist. He did a Facebook friends analysis. I became really angry and I exploded. I sent an email to Pam and Chris Puckett. I explained that I was getting called a racist by this person for decisions I was making as the chair and I was really frustrated. I asked if I had protections as chair. I have had half a dozen conversations with him since that time. Every time something happens – he says that I am making a racist decision because the decision harms black people.” Chair Swallow admits that he exploded because Black people believed he was racist. Rather than reflect on how his decisions might be racist and make adjustments accordingly, he requested how he might receive protection from having racist decisions grieved by Dr. Cronin.

Karey Krohnfeldt, OE Director, informed Dr. Cronin that she would only investigate a retaliation grievance if he provided evidence of retaliation meeting the following definition: “Means any adverse action threatened or taken against a person because an individual has filed, supported or provided information in connection with a complaint of discrimination, including but not limited to direct and indirect intimidation, threats and harassment. An adverse action is any conduct that would dissuade a reasonable person from reporting an allegation of discrimination or participating in an investigation of discrimination.”

Dr. Cronin met all of these conditions on multiple occasions, yet Ms. Krohnfeldt failed to investigate. “The following evidence shows that my protected activity of revealing racism at CU Denver is what caused the retaliation. As Ms. Krohnfeldt admits, an investigation into the multiple grievances was never completed. If the Office of Equity really wanted to promote equity, they would complete investigations into clearly valid grievances about inequities that the Office of Equity admits occurred. An investigation would reveal that there is nothing wrong with the performance of Dr. Cronin, and in fact he deserves to be promoted to full professor. Dr. Cronin's 2017 promotion dossier sits in the Provost's Office without being evaluated, in obvious violation of Regental policy. This adverse treatment would dissuade a reasonable person from participating in protected activities. An investigation would reveal many relevant facts that would corroborate claims of retaliation and discrimination. The following are just a few examples of evidence that the Office of Equity ignores by refusing to investigate grievances by Dr. Cronin. Intentionally stating the obvious for the Office of Equity, this evidence shows the Dr. Cronin participated in protected activities (also confirmed by CCRD), that Dr. Cronin was subjected to adverse treatments that would dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in protected activity, and there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse treatment.

Dr. Cronin's involvement in protected activity caused Provost Roderick Nairn to ask Dr. Cronin not to use the "rhetoric" of "racism and racist". This adverse treatment was caused by the protected action in order to dissuade Dr. Cronin from discussing racism.

Dr. Cronin's involvement in protected activity caused Dean Bollard to threaten disciplinary actions against Dr. Cronin for sharing his peer-reviewed presentation to students. This adverse treatment was caused by protected activity in order to dissuade Dr. Cronin from discussing racism. (email attached).”

To add insult to injury, Ms. Krohnfeldt included disparaging falsehoods about Dr. Cronin’s intentions that harmed his reputation. She wrote “Since 2017, you’ve [Dr. Cronin] repeatedly alleged to this office that you’ve been subjected to poor treatment by your departmental leadership following your activities in Haiti, but only after you initially raised an unsupported allegation of sexual harassment and discrimination due to your parental status.” Dr. Cronin says he never alleged sexual harassment and that Ms. Krohnfeldt was unable to provide evidence to support her unfounded claim. He also says that the 2005 complaint about parental status was not unfounded, but that the matter was settled when then-Chair Diana Tomback sent an apology letter, years before he began working in Haiti or witnessed racist decisions by Chair Swallow, who was hired in 2012. That Director of Equity Krohnfeldt resorts to defamatory lies in order to justify sweeping concerns about racism under the rug is extremely troubling, and hypocritical of an institution that espouses equity, transparency, and accountability in their PR materials.

During the hearing where CU administration sought to dismiss Dr. Cronin, Interim Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Nelia Viveiros testified that she oversees the operations of OE and was familiar with Dr. Cronin grievances about racism and retaliation. Dr. Cronin asked VC Viveiros if tuition at CU was equitable. The leader of OE testified “I’m not sure I can answer that.” Dr. Cronin posed the question because he made a grievance on behalf of BIPOC students because tuition at CU is not equitable. OE not only refused to investigate this grievance, but Dr. Cronin was placed on a 192-day administrative leave just hours after filing the grievance. VC Viveiros was unaware that Black students in the Department of Integrative Biology led by Chair Swallow receive D’s, F’s, and W’s in foundational, required courses at a rate 50% higher than White students. Dr. Cronin questioned if the lower success of Black students in Biology could be related to the fact that the department has never hired a Black professor in its 50-year history. Apparently unaware of this fact, VC Viveiros incorrectly countered “Yes, they have, Dr. Cronin.” VC Viveiros testified that Dr. Cronin’s grievances about racism were frivolous and lamented about how they hurt the feelings of White administrators. As of this writing, CU Denver Biology has yet to hire a Black professor, but CU did promote the leader of the department where Black students failed 50% more than White students to Associate Dean for Student Success (https://clas.ucdenver.edu/john-swallow).

VC Viveiros also testified “I got appointed right around the time the George Floyd murder happened, so, I mean, obviously that upped a lot of pressure on us to get this right. So we -- pretty quickly we put together a social justice teaching online, and we weren't an online environment so that makes things a little bit harder, but that's been great.” Dr. Cronin had been asking OE to “get it right” years before Mr. Floyd was murdered, and says that Dr. Viveiros and CU has a long way to go before they’re even close to getting it right. Cronin says “you can’t consider grievances about racism to be frivolous, retaliate against or fire anti-racists, and promote an admitted racist, and expect to ‘get it right’. The actions of CU just demonstrate that they equate ‘getting it right’ with ‘protecting the racist status quo’.” Dr. Cronin was in Haiti when George Floyd was murdered. He says that Mr. Floyd’s calls for help and moans woke his fiancé on May 25, 2020, and that he had to explain that this man was killed by police because he was Black, in a country that would soon be her home. Mr. Floyd’s murder did not inspire Dr. Cronin to “get it right”, but it did reinforce his commitment to anti-racism action.

The mural in the photograph is from Haiti. The depiction of a Black Lady Justice restraining the White officer is poetic. We pray that Mr. Floyd's tragic death will always inspire work towards racial equity and justice. It is a sad commentary that it takes a murder to motivate some to "get it right". Racism has killed millions. We encourage all DEI offices to take grievances about racism seriously, to not turn a blind eye, to protect anti-racism efforts, and to disrupt the racist status quo. Lady Justice is blindfolded to represent equity under law, but we all must keep our eyes wide open for injustice, and never turn a blind eye when racism is brought to our attention. When it comes to racial justice, CU should consider Haitians and BIPOC across the globe to be members of her community.

Share your experience with the Office of Equity at EndRacism@CUDenverLynx.com.