AASA Office Looks to Future

After firing two employees in her office for “ongoing demonstrations of unwillingness to work cooperatively with new leadership,” the relatively new director of the Office of African American Student Affairs (AASA), Dr. Miya Simpson, is taking her time in tweaking the job descriptions to her satisfaction. In the meantime, the office — with goals that include the retention of African-American students —is left with only Simpson, a housing employee who is filling in on top of her other duties, and an administrative assistant.

“I hoped to be on a different timeline,” said Dean of Students Jeffrey Waple, who supervises the AASA office. “The key with any hire is you want to make sure you do it right…(Simpson) has to be comfortable with what she is looking for in a skill set and the type of experience for the positions. In this case, she’s really rewriting job descriptions, which takes time.”

Waple said that Simpson specifically requested she be given more time to rework the positions. Originally, Waple said he hoped to have the individuals named to fill the position by the end of the spring 2010 semester, but it is now possible that the job descriptions for the positions will not be posted until after the semester ends, both because the position is being reworked and based on new human resources requirements on hirings which mandate approval by University President James Votruba.

The approval for the timeline change came after Waple considered that Simpson had only been in her position for about three months at the time of the firings. Simpson needed the extra time to better assess the needs of students, the university, the community, and the region as she changed the positions in her office, Waple said.

Student input is also being sought as to how the positions should be changed.

The decision on how the positions will change and who will fill the positions will likely take place during the summer, when most students are no longer on campus to participate in forums with the candidates or provide their input. But, Waple said efforts are being made to include student feedback.

“There are students around (in the summer) and a lot of our students are regional. Leadership of student organizations are well informed. We are going to ask for their representation at the meetings,” Waple said.

While the job descriptions are being changed, their roles will remain close to the same, according to both Waple and Simpson. The positions will be full-time and exclusive to the AASA office. One possibility Waple shared was that additional responsibilities could be added to Michael Griffin’s former position and the new employee would become the assistant or associate director of the office.

Students have been left with an understaffed office since February, but Simpson said the office is pushing forward and making great progress.

“We’re doing well. We’re trying to move ahead with programs and planning,” she said.
One of her major challenges has been dealing with students who were upset when Pringle-Smith and Griffin were fired.

“Relationships had been established and that can create emotional reactions from people,” Simpson said, adding that she has tried to make time to meet with students who had concerns about the firings and several students have come into the AASA office to discuss it.

“It does feel different without Mike and Blanche. I can only speak for myself when I say this, but it’s like our home has been disrupted,” said NKU student Chelsea Nichols. “It’s kind of like if your mom and dad divorced and your home is left in shambles. You’re left in a disarray. I wasn’t dependent on Mike and Blanche like some other students, but I do miss them being in the office. The spirit of the office is gone.”

Not all of the students have come forward with complaints, Simpson said.

“Students stepped up to continue to move the office forward and made themselves available,” Simpson said.

Some students expressed concern with the new leadership of the office when the firings were first announced. But, others are letting her settle in before they decide.

“I like Dr. Simpson,” Nichols said. “I feel like she’s still adjusting to the position. She’s definitely making at effort to get to know the students.”

Simpson said it is too early to tell if the office being understaffed has impacted the efforts to retain African-American students, a major goal for the university. NKU has been committed to hiring people for these positions despite budget cuts and a hiring freeze, and the school is offering support to the office during the transition, Simpson said.

The two former employees, Blanche Pringle-Smith and Michael Griffin, have filed grievances with the university related to their terminations. All requested documents relating to the grievances are being withheld and employees have been told that cooperating with The Northerner may affect the outcome of their grievances. The administration, including Simpson, continues to remain silent about the firings.

Story by Vern Hockney