Fired diversity officer for four Minnesota State colleges gets $75,000 settlement

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The fired chief diversity officer for four nonmetro Minnesota colleges has won a $75,000 settlement after alleging his termination violated state human rights laws.

Brian Xiong taught for seven years at Minnesota State University, Mankato, before joining Minnesota State Community and Technical College in May 2016. He led diversity efforts at the college's Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls and Wadena campuses until he was fired in April.

Xiong, who is Hmong-American, said he never felt welcome on a team of white administrators. He reported to the human resources manager instead of the president, as diversity officers at other Minnesota State colleges do. His salary was much lower too, at $43,347, and he had a nonsalary annual budget of $10,000 for the four campuses.

"They have a different culture up here," he said. "I felt like the college just wanted the check on the box for diversity."

Xiong said he spoke out about doing more for students of color and diversifying the college staff. He thinks that advocacy contributed to his dismissal.

"I just felt like this is what I was hired to do," he said.

Xiong also reported what he saw as unfair hiring practices while serving on hiring committees. In one case, he said, administrators changed a job description so that a white woman would meet the minimum qualifications and get the job over a more qualified black woman.

Xiong also observed committee members scrutinizing the Facebook profiles of applicants with nonwhite-sounding names but not doing the same for white applicants.

"I was shocked," he said.

Minnesota State Community and Technical College in October reached a $75,000 settlement agreement, with $30,000 of that going to Xiong's lawyer. The school did not admit to any wrongdoing, and Xiong agreed not to apply for work there again.

A spokesman for the Minnesota State system has not responded to a request for comment.

Xiong now works for another member of Minnesota State, Bemidji State University, where he leads a new diversity center.