Rescind Cal Poly's VP of D&I: Paulette Granberry Russell (Complicit in Larry Nassar Case)

Rescind Cal Poly's VP of D&I: Paulette Granberry Russell (Complicit in Larry Nassar Case)

July 4, 2020
Petition to
President Jeffrey D. Armstrong and 2 others
Signatures: 12,860Next Goal: 15,000
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Why this petition matters

Started by Cal Poly SLO Students

CW: Sexual Assault, Rape

7/9 Update: President Armstrong sent an email announcing that Paulette Granberry-Russell has rescinded her offer. 

Read more: 

7/6 Update: We want to clarify that everyone is invited to sign this petition (students, faculty, staff, parents, community members). As a public institution, everyone should have a say in how the university is run. Thus, we encourage you to sign this petition regardless of your affiliation with Cal Poly SLO. 

On July 1st, Cal Poly SLO President Jeffrey D. Armstrong sent an email to notify the community that he made the executive decision to conduct an emergency hire. Paulette Granberry Russell, who has a longstanding and alarming history of misconduct and failure to protect students, will be serving as the new Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion to oversee the Office of University Diversity & Inclusion (OUDI) starting August 31st. 

We are demanding immediate action and support in rescinding Russell’s position as the VP of Diversity and Inclusion and taking adequate steps to conduct a new search. We are also in alliance with the “Letter to President Armstrong from Cal Poly Staff and Faculty” which demands a “new search conducted with appropriate shared governance, consultation with student stakeholders, and adequate vetting of candidates.” As the letter sums up, “the exclusion of students from the hiring process is particularly disturbing, especially considering the comprehensive demands made by organizations like Students for Quality Education and the Black Student Union regarding the hiring of additional SAFER Advocates and the need to address understaffed student resources. A unilateral, emergency search—without transparency, oversight, and extensive consultation with campus stakeholders—threatens the legitimacy of inclusive excellence and the progress that the university has been working so hard to achieve.”

The following is a non-exhaustive list of misconduct from Russell’s prior role as the Michigan State University Director of Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives and Title IX Coordinator. As a Title IX Coordinator, it was Russell’s duty to investigate sexual harassment and abuse on campus, along with investigations into discrimination complaints. She failed in her role numerous times. 

  1. Russell has a history of favoring abusers over survivors as she prioritized her institution’s reputation exemplified in the notable Larry Nassar case: 
    In the case of Larry Nassar, a former osteopathic physician at MSU, former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, and convicted sex offender accused of assaulting over 250 women and girls, Russell’s duty was to follow protocol to ensure justice and safety for the survivors. Victims of Larry Nassar’s sexual crimes confided in and reported their assault to Russell. Instead of taking the appropriate measures against Nassar, she protected the former MSU President Lou Anna Simon, who now faces four charges for lying to the police to protect Larry Nassar. Russell chose to protect her institution’s reputation over her students' safety, the very purpose of her position at the time. Her inaction failed them at their most vulnerable state.

    In addition, “the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights found that in 2015, under Granberry Russell's leadership, MSU's handling of sexual assault cases on campus broke the law (Detroit Free Press). Federal officials stated that MSU failed to promptly address two sexual assault reports and did not have proper procedures and policies in place for handling those reports.” 

  2. Russell’s professional misconduct of using her private email jeopardized a student’s sexual assault case, threatening her safety and privacy:
    Russell requested that Amanda Thomashow’s sexual assault allegations against Larry Nassar be sent to her personal email, despite the fact that this held sensitive details protected under Title IX. Using personal emails for work-related matters is a violation of basic company privacy policy and compromises the safety and confidentiality of survivors.

    During the trial, Assistant Attorney General Scott Teter speculated that Russell used her personal email “to keep it off of MSU’s email system, which was subject to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act].” 

    Thomashow shared that “during an appointment, Nassar cupped her buttocks, sent a female resident out of the examination room then massaged her breast and vaginal area, only stopping when she physically removed his hands.” Although Russell alleged that the use of personal email was for the purpose of having easier access, there is a clear record of her using her university email earlier that day. Russell’s blatant disregard for Thomashow’s privacy not only jeopardized the investigation but also highlighted her inability to protect and advocate for students. (The Detroit News) 

It is unfathomable that given Russell’s history, any school administration would “screen” Russell and consider her fit for a position. Russell has continuously proven her commitment to protecting the reputation of institutions, rather than the safety of students. Her incompetence precludes the trust and respect necessary to lead our campus to the goals outlined by the OUDI. 

Cal Poly has a gross history of continuously failing to investigate cases of rape and sexual assault, a pattern Russell would only perpetuate and amplify. The role of the VP of D&I is not only to serve in the senior leadership team with the President but also to make important decisions that impact the entire campus, especially marginalized communities. Choosing a representative who will voice the concerns of marginalized and underrepresented students fundamentally requires input from the campus and stakeholders. However, President Armstrong has abused his power during this pandemic to exclude students, staff members, and faculty from the opportunity to consult, advise, and provide input for this critical decision. 

The Office of University Diversity and Inclusion’s commitment statement says, “we are just as committed to ensuring that Cal Poly remains a place where everyone is respected and feels they belong.” Russell has empirically demonstrated her inability to uphold the core values of the OUDI, instead endangering those under her care and jurisdiction. To support students requires that the individual in this position continuously advocates for and protects the security of survivors of rape or sexual assault, especially when the abuser is on the institution’s payroll. If Russell could not uphold her job responsibilities for the survivors of Larry Nassar, we cannot expect her to uphold the commitment to the department she is supposed to lead. Such is a risk for which the consequences are never tolerable. 

Cal Poly students demand better, especially in a time during which efforts for Diversity and Inclusion continue to go unsupported and underfunded. 

We encourage the readers of this statement to recognize not only the carelessness of Cal Poly’s administration in failing to conduct a formal search process but also to recognize the imminent threat in hiring Russell, whose priorities lie with the institution and its reputation rather than the safety and best interests of students. By signing and sharing this petition, you are protecting Cal Poly students from Russell and taking a stand against the Cal Poly Administration’s negligence in hiring a qualified candidate. We hope that this petition will result in the removal of Russell as Cal Poly’s VP of D&I, and demand the President’s Office to consider the negative impact of their poor “emergency hires.” 

Please sign this petition and contact President Armstrong at: 

Call: 805-756-6000

A Letter from Jasmine Till, the ASI Secretary of Diversity & Inclusion:

President Armstrong shared, “I am very pleased to bring a professional with Paulette’s expertise and experience to our university.” He continued, “Paulette understands how crucial it is to student success that we provide a welcoming and just learning environment with diversity and inclusion ingrained into all aspects of our curriculum and programming. I know she is the right person to lead our university’s efforts toward those goals.” 

Cal Poly is notorious for its continued failure to provide adequate support, financially and vocally, to Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. I have personally experienced and witnessed the lack of cultural awareness on this campus by students and faculty. As the ASI Secretary of Diversity and Inclusion, I believe we desperately need a leader who sincerely listens to students, and passionately advocates for progress in fostering a welcoming and safe community. 

I challenge Armstrong’s purported “confidence” in Russell’s expertise and experience. No accomplishment of any magnitude can outweigh the misconduct and irreversible harm she has brought to the MSU community.

Russell’s failure to do her job has 1) prevented survivors from receiving the justice and support they needed, 2) perpetuated and enabled rape culture at MSU, and 3) irrecoverably tarnished MSU’s reputation. Despite her best efforts to protect the institution’s reputation first and foremost, she has brought fear and shame upon both MSU’s students and those considering it as an educational platform. She has allowed women to be abused by Larry Nassar and was complicit in his crimes. If she serves as our VP of D&I, she will bring parallel shame to the Cal Poly community, hindering any ability to progress forward and existing efforts to enact lasting change.

Parents and students have invested thousands of dollars in our education and safety, only for President Armstrong to abuse his power in a painful and terrifying moment of chaos, making an emergency hire without any consultation or input from key stakeholders on this campus. In the Letter to President Armstrong from Cal Poly Faculty & Staff," “The details and timing of this search were inexplicably kept confidential: faculty were never informed that this was an ‘emergency search,’ nor provided with an explanation of the emergency search process; no public call went out for faculty participation or input; and, despite the ready availability of videoconferencing technology, no opportunity for public interaction with Russell was ever provided. In short, the traditional principles and practices of shared governance were bypassed entirely, with no explanation.” Armstrong should not be allowed this bandwidth of reckless action and must be held accountable for his inexcusable decisions that put the entire Cal Poly SLO community at risk. He endangers student safety and continues to obstruct Cal Poly’s path to progress and all that it holistically stands for. The Cal Poly Administration’s buzzwords, as well as its monthly “D&I” emails, are meaningless until they correspond with funding and attentive hiring practices. Actions speak louder than words.

Russell will not create a “welcoming and just” learning environment. No student will be comfortable sharing their sexual assault or discrimination case with a person who has repeatedly silenced students of other higher educational institutions. This is NOT the change or leadership we deserve. We cannot risk hiring anyone who may threaten the safety and wellbeing of our students. By hiring Russell, Armstrong placed our students, children, siblings, and community members in the hands of someone who has abused her power to serve her own interests. 

Please sign and share this petition to ensure our voices are heard.  

  Sources referenced in this petition:

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Signatures: 12,860Next Goal: 15,000
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