Political Notebook: UCSF Faces Questions on Commitment to LGBT Issues
A campus debate at UCSF over the university’s commitment to LGBT concerns has broken out publicly due to questions about the status of its Center for LGBT Health and Equity.
First created in 1998, the center was the first-of-its-kind in a health education setting. Founding director Shane Snowdon is credited with pushing forward LGBT-inclusive policies and curriculum both at UCSF and medical schools across the country.
Last summer Snowdon resigned after being hired by the Human Rights Campaign to oversee its LGBT health initiatives. Since then UCSF has yet to hire a new person to oversee the campus center, which is technically just an office and not a full-fledged LGBT resource center found at many universities.
The delay in hiring for the job spawned speculation among UCSF faculty and staff that the LGBT center could be eliminated. The issue prompted a meeting last fall between the UCSF Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on LGBT Issues and Dr. J. Renee Navarro, vice chancellor for diversity and outreach, to discuss the status of the position.
In recent weeks, as word spread on campus that the job was being re-categorized from that of a director to being a diversity program manager/LGBT specialist, it sparked further alarm because LGBT issues would no longer be the sole focus for the new hire.
Critics of the decision lashed out at both Navarro and UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellman in an email they sent anonymously to staff of the Bay Area Reporter and to aides of several gay lawmakers in Sacramento.
"In an era when campuses around the country are expanding their LGBT services and LGBT health concerns are receiving widespread attention, we suspect you’ll agree that this dramatic cutback in UCSF support for LGBT people and concerns is not acceptable, particularly in the city with the highest percentage of LGBT residents in the country," stated the email, whose author declined an interview request fearing they could be disciplined or fired for speaking out.
Snowdon told the B.A.R. that she shared the concerns that her former position was being diminished.
"I think it would be a loss to UCSF both on the education side and the medical center side," said Snowdon. "Speaking as someone now doing work nationwide, it is UCSF LGBT curriculum that has informed the LGBT curriculum work at most of the nation’s medical schools. I would be concerned about the future of that."
The campus posted a hiring notice about the revamped job last week, and it caused further alarm as nowhere in the online posting does it mention by name the Center for LGBT Health and Equity.
It states that the job’s main responsibility will be "the design, execution and assessment of diversity and outreach programs that advance the strategic goals of the Office of Diversity and Outreach and the UCSF Campus including UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Beniofff Children’s Hospital."
A more detailed description on a seven-page employment form for the position explains that it will have "a special focus on the LGBT community" but also be working on "general diversity programs" for people with disabilities and veterans. According to the form, the person should spend only 25 percent of their time managing the LGBT health center.
The bulk of the time - 50 percent - the new manager will be expected to oversee a wide range of diversity events and programs, including LGBT specific ones. Another duty is to "enhance UCSF’s image in local/national LGBT communities so UCSF is seen as a top choice to work or study for people who identify as LGBT."
Criticism of the job posting led Navarro to send out an email to LGBT staff and faculty Tuesday, February 12 to clarify the person’s duties and address the concerns. She emphasized in bold lettering that the job includes being director of the LGBT center for health and equity.
"This is a very important position for diversity work at UCSF and I am excited about the fact that we are moving LGBT issues into the core of our diversity efforts," wrote Navarro.
In a phone interview with the B.A.R. Navarro reiterated her commitment to maintaining the LGBT health center and said the changes being made to the position are because the campus’ diversity work should not be done in silos but as part of a team.
"It will allow us to really move it to the next level so it is integrated in our conversations on diversity," she said.
She delayed hiring a new person partly because of the uncertainty surrounding UC’s budget prior to the passage of a tax measure on the November ballot. Navarro also said she "needed time to do my due diligence" and seek guidance from the UCSF LGBT community "to understand from them what is needed in this position."
She found it "hard" to read the sentiments aired in the email sent to the paper and lawmakers.
"It means people don’t understand what I am creating here," said Navarro, who started in the vice chancellor role in December 2010. "Shane has done an amazing job and laid a really strong foundation at the university here as well as regionally and nationally. I want to do that foundation justice."
She has formed an eight-person search committee to help select qualified candidates for the job and expects to have hired someone "sooner rather than later." She will be meeting with the LGBT advisory committee to discuss the selection process February 20.
"I want to make sure people are assured of our strong commitment to the LGBT community," said Navarro. "We have a long history of that commitment and we will continue to excel at and remain committed to that."
Navarro insisted in both the interview and the email she sent out that the campus LGBT advisory committee vetted the job description and "it was received positively."