Salt Lake Community College must put a greater emphasis on civil rights, President Orville Carnahan has told the school's Institutional Council.
Carnahan said that while the college has made great strides and many of its faculty are attentive to the needs of minority and female students, improvement still is needed.Last month, school officials were disturbed when local civil rights activist Alberta Henry canceled a speaking engagement on Human Rights Day because the college did not recognize the holiday by closing for the day and giving faculty and staff a holiday.
"I thought the purpose was to honor Martin Luther King's memory," said council vice chairman Mike Martinez, a civil rights lawyer. "One way of doing it, I thought, was through education.
"It seemed a little comedic to me to recognize (King's) interest in education by closing an education institution," he said.
Carnahan said that when the Legislature made King's birthday a holiday two years ago, it specified any observance by giving workers a day off work with pay would cost workers another holiday.
As a result, he said, the college decided to alternate between Human Rights Day and Presidents' Day, giving faculty and staff Human Rights Day off every other year and President's Day off in opposite years.
The president said administrators may ask council members to alter that arrangement in subsequent years as part of the college's re-examination of its civil rights role.
"We may end up recognizing the King holiday every year," he said.
"I hope in our zeal we don't wipe out Washington and Lincoln's birthdays to satisfy a few people," said council member Duayne Johnson. "I don't want us to forget those involved in the origins of this country."
He told the council that as part of a stronger emphasis on civil rights, the school must examine the broader issues of the subject because there still are areas where minorities and women are not represented in relation to their numbers in the student population.
"We need to make sure we're going the extra step to accommodate the needs of minorities," he said. "We're not doing a bad job, but we can do better. I sense faculty and staff support."
Carnahan said the college may employ an affirmative action officer or ombudsman, but that decision has not yet been made.