Some Hispanic students are questioning Kansas University's commitment to cultural diversity and have charged that KU's office of minority affairs isn't responding to concerns of Hispanic students.
Four Hispanic students cited concerns in a petition last spring, and say they are now airing complaints publicly to get KU officials to examine relations with Hispanic students at all levels of the university.
They have focused many of their complaints on KU's director of minority affairs, who they say called them liars when they said Hispanic students no longer felt welcome at the minority affairs office.
The four Hispanic students, all of whom said they took notes at the private meeting on April 22, say Director Sherwood Thompson also said he couldn't hire more Hispanics for the office because qualified candidates weren't available.
Thompson, an African-American, said he didn't call anyone a liar and didn't criticize any minority group at the meeting.
"I've never indicated in public or private that I believe one minority group is less than any other minority group," Thompson said.
"I can't see how a person in that position could deny what four people heard," said Suzanne Racine, one of the students at the meeting. She served as president of KU's Hispanic American Leadership Organization in 1991-92.
THE PURPOSE of the April meeting was to give Hispanic students an opportunity to explain to Thompson why 21 members of HALO signed a petition that said the minority affairs staff was inadequately serving their needs and was focusing more attention on concerns of African-American students.
"Instead of saying, `I understand your problems and I'll help you out,' he called us liars," said another meeting participant, Angela Cervantes, who was HALO president in 1989-90.
John Ortiz, a Hispanic KU law student at the meeting, said Thompson's remarks prove the director "doesn't understand multiculturalism."
The three students and Louie Lopez, HALO president in 1990-91, signed a memorandum swearing to the accuracy of the allegations against Thompson.
In the conversation with the students, according to the memorandum, Thompson asked the students whether the minority affairs office had ceased to be friendly to Hispanics. Each student answered "yes," the memo said.
The students allege Thompson then said: "That is a lie. You are lying if you think this office is no longer friendly to Hispanic students.''
Thompson denied calling the students liars when questioned about the meeting by Barbara Ballard, acting dean of student life, when the Hispanic students raised their concerns in April.
Thompson also told Roland Diaz, assistant minority affairs director, that he didn't accuse the students of being liars.
"I asked him behind closed doors. He denies it," Diaz said.
ORTIZ SAID the Hispanic students decided to make public their account of Thompson's remarks now because they were frustrated with the response of KU officials.
"We had six meetings (with KU officials) and nothing ever came from them," Ortiz said.
Kathy Healy, adviser to HALO, said KU administrators have said for years that cultural diversity was a major goal.
"They've proven to my people that that's not true," she said.
David Ambler, vice chancellor for student affairs, said KU remains committed to providing a successful environment for all minority students.
Ballard blamed Hispanic students for failing to reach a settlement of their conflict with Thompson. A mediation meeting occurred Sept. 24, but none has taken place since. Students weren't interested in talking through their problems, she said.
"You're limited in what you can do if you can't sit down and talk about what can we do to improve the situation," she said.
Ortiz said HALO decided Ballard couldn't objectively serve as mediator. A person from outside KU should fill that role, he said.
Thompson said Hispanic students eventually would work with him.
"UNLESS I get terminated or resign they're going to have to work with me. You can't run and can't hide," Thompson said.
Thompson has retained the support of high-level KU officials.
"We have confidence in the leadership that we have in that office," said Ed Meyen, executive vice chancellor.
The minority affairs office was created in 1970. It provides programs and services to assist recruitment, retention and graduation of African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American students.