Kevin McDonald says his new office needs "plant life." Nothing fancy, he says, just a few small touches to add some warmth and color. The addition of plants would be a fitting gesture for the university's compliance and conflict resolution coordinator, a newly created position that McDonald filled on Sept. 14. For someone striving to create a more inclusive and healthier work environment, he says, a little warmth can go a long way.
Ray Gillian, to whom McDonald reports, agrees.
Gillian, assistant provost and director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Programs, says people in the Hopkins community tend to be so focused on their area of responsibility that they can come across as being insensitive to the needs of others. A "chilly work environment," Gillian says, can lead to increased feelings of alienation, particularly on the part of those who already feel they are on the fringe, such as women and ethnic minorities.
McDonald says when you have a certain amount of diversity, as Hopkins does, there inherently will be a modicum of conflict, chilly environment or not.
"No institution is immune to acts of discrimination," McDonald says. "It's my job to aid in the resolution of these acts and raise awareness as to what can be done to prevent them from happening."
In his new role, McDonald combines and expands upon the roles of the university's former directors of the Affirmative Action and the Sexual Harassment Prevention and Resolution programs. Specifically, McDonald's position adds a conflict resolution component that previously was handled by someone at the office or departmental level.
McDonald's primary universitywide responsibility is to investigate complaints from faculty, staff and students. These complaints can take the form of alleged sexual harassment or perceived discrimination on the basis of a person's gender, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, age, marital status, veteran status or sexual orientation.
McDonald, who holds a law degree from Ohio State University, says that his job is to review relevant documents and interview the plaintiff, the accused and, if applicable, witnesses in building a base of knowledge.
"I do all this in the hopes of working with those affected to resolve the issue," McDonald says. "Then, depending on the particulars of the issue, I will make my recommendation for all those involved in the matter." These recommendations can take the form of additional training, written reprimand, suspension, termination or other measures.
Before coming to Hopkins, McDonald was campus compliance officer at the University of Maryland, College Park.
He was selected for his current position after a rigorous search process that involved extensive participation on the part of faculty, staff and students from throughout the university community.
Gillian says McDonald's biggest strength is his objectivity.
"He treats issues with an open mind and is a very good listener," Gillian says. "He is a fair-minded person with several years of experience investigating discrimination and such types of issues."
Another responsibility of McDonald's post is to assure that the university's programs and procedures comply with federal, state and local laws and regulations related to affirmative action and equal opportunity.
McDonald also has proactive duties including educating employees about discrimination and harassment. "This training will enable individuals to better handle situations of conflict," McDonald says. "It's also preventative."
McDonald says he is still in the "infancy stage" of learning the lay of the land at Hopkins and has plans to schedule a full calendar of meetings with department chairs and administration at each Hopkins campus. He adds, however, that he has already "hit the ground running" in terms of investigating cases.
"It is certainly a challenge being in a newly created position," McDonald says. "But I'm working with wonderful people who have been instrumental in getting me up to speed."
McDonald says he is "extremely accessible" and that anyone who has a discrimination issue can either walk into his office, 710N Wyman Park on the Homewood campus, or call 410-516-8075 to set up an appointment, receive a complaint form or get additional information. He also can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.