North Texas Daily

Former McNair Scholars director, Dr. Diana Elrod, was asked to resign

Former McNair Scholars director, Dr. Diana Elrod, was asked to resign

Former McNair Scholars director, Dr. Diana Elrod, was asked to resign
June 10
12:21 2015

Dalton LaFerney & Rhiannon Saegert

There is an ongoing investigation into former director of the McNair Scholars Program, Dr. Diana Elrod, who resigned from her position as an alternative to being fired, documents reveal.

Elrod, the longtime director of the McNair program, officially resigned on March 30, prompting students to question the university administration, even entering the Office of the President on April 23 with a signed petition.

Documents obtained by the North Texas Daily show Elrod retired instead of being fired. UNT officials did not confirm Elrod’s termination, maintaining that she resigned voluntarily. In an email, Brandi Renton, UNT campus human resources director, wrote that Elrod “resigned in lieu of termination.” Renton’s email was addressed to Sharon Rutledge, a Texas Workforce Commission employee.

An April 2 TWC document related to the email exchange reads that Elrod was up for termination because time and labor records were not maintained in accordance with UNT’s expectations.

University officials have not elaborated on the specifics of Elrod’s violation, but it is clear there are multiple authorities involved.

Another document from TWC, dated April 15, shows that Elrod’s offense is not deemed as misconduct by the agency, and she is eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

“Our investigation found your employer fired you because you were unable to perform your assigned work to their satisfaction,” read the document addressed to Elrod.

The university is investigating Elrod, as is at least one other agency, though neither the Department of Justice nor the Department of Education would confirm which authorities are involved.

Elrod declined to comment for this article, as did university officials. One statement from the UNT Office of General Counsel was given on the record about the investigation, and that is the acknowledgment to the existence of an investigation.

“UNT has been conducting an investigation. Diana Elrod resigned her position on March 30, 2015. The university’s investigation is ongoing,” read the official statement. “Ongoing investigations are confidential, and it would be inappropriate to speculate about the details of such matters. Further, the university does not discuss personnel actions.”

Elrod, a UNT alumna, worked for the university since 2003, according to her personnel file. Throughout her career with the university, supervisors and bosses characterized her as an effective employee. Former provost Dr. Warren Burggren wrote Elrod “has a highly developed sense of ethics” in one performance review. She received “excellent” performance marks on several occasions, including as recently as 2014.

In a 2012 performance review, Elrod’s supervisor at the time, Gloria Cox, wrote one comment that Elrod had “interpersonal conflict with two staff members…negatively affecting the morale of scholars and other staff.”

On April 23, about 12 McNair scholars set up a protest outside the Hurley Administration Building with signs calling for answers on the matter. The protestors rallied behind a Twitter hashtag, #TransparentUNT. Eventually, they entered Hurley, heading up to the UNT President Neal Smatresk’s office on the second floor to deliver their letter which expressed disproval in Elrod’s resignation.

“Your recent actions in regards to the faculty at UNT have shown me that you have little regard for students,” the document reads. “On March 30, 2015 Dr. Diana Elrod was asked to resign. In that moment you demolished a dynamic platform of which one of UNT greatest [sic] strengths, the McNair scholar’s Program, stood.”

At the time of the display, Smatresk was away from campus on a business trip. Soon after his return, he met with about 10 of McNair scholars in his office to discuss their concerns.

“There were a couple students who did not want to be happy [with me],” Smatresk said. “Some students felt they were in the middle of it.”

The group later said they were uncomfortable not knowing more information. At the time, they did not know the reason for Elrod’s resignation.

Anthropology senior Preston LaFarge, psychology senior Cristal Aldrete and biology senior Marisha Frazier all said they were unsatisfied with the meeting and felt they had been brushed off rather than taken seriously.

Smatresk, whose administration has cut some programs, said he does not seek to reduce the McNair Scholars Program funding. “You never want to cut McNair programs,” he said.

When he was a professor at the University of Texas – Arlington, Smatresk was a faculty mentor at the McNair program there.

The McNair Scholars Program receives its funding from the Department of Education, and exists at 200 institutions in the United States and Puerto Rico. The goal of the program is to provide assistance to first-generation students with financial need or students whose racial backgrounds are underrepresented at colleges, according to the McNair website. It’s designed to guide undergraduate students toward doctoral studies.

Editor’s Note: We conducted several interviews for this story, many of which were off the record, and therefore that information could not be used in this article. When authorities finish their investigation, more information will be made available and posted to this story. The North Texas Daily is following this story.

Featured Image: Students involved with the McNair Scholars Program protested the departure of Dr. Diana Elrod, who was the director. Photo by Hannah Ridings – Visuals Editor

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