Carlson staff writes letter on ‘egregious and problematic’ comments from Dean Sri Zaheer during meeting

The comments made, the letter states, were “dismissive” of people with COVID-19 concerns, “disrespectful” to Carlson staff.

Students gather in a common area inside the Carlson School of Management on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.

Image by Nur B. Adam

Students gather in a common area inside the Carlson School of Management on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.

by Ava Thompson

Carlson School of Management (CSOM) Dean Sri Zaheer made “egregious and problematic” comments regarding COVID-19 during a Sept. 15 Carlson Staff Consultative Committee meeting, according to a letter sent by the committee.

The letter, which was sent to the dean on Oct. 13, requested a written apology from Zaheer to the committee and Carlson staff, along with other action items, including training for Carlson leadership and a written public acknowledgement of the concerns stated in the letter.

According to the letter, Zaheer said “you all really need to chill out and get over it” to committee members regarding the pandemic, along with other statements.

Another one of Zaheer’s comments at the meeting included “50,000 people die from the flu each year but no one talks about that.”

Staff members expressed feeling “confused” about Zaheer’s reported statement that Carlson staff have “lost their joy” by working remotely and not in-person. The group’s letter also stated that Zaheer said that “some people are giving 200% while working remotely but some are not.” The committee cited a lack of evidence and “inequitable expectations” of staff members.

Per meeting minutes, Zaheer’s comments were not received well, and she later apologized “for being insensitive.”

Zaheer reached out to the co-chairs of the committee to ask them to meet with her to discuss their concerns, although chairs Meron Negussie and William Lucas decided not to meet with her.

When asked for a comment, University of Minnesota spokesperson Steve Henneberry referred the Daily to Zaheer’s written apology email to the committee Oct. 18. 

“I failed to think about my words and the impact they would have, in my attempt to maintain a conversation,” she wrote. “I trust the CSOM staff and their supervisors to appropriately identify when and where work can get done in a way that enhances both individual and unit productivity and meets the needs of our staff, faculty, students and all our other constituents.”

Zaheer also verbally apologized to the committee on Oct. 27, according to Henneberry. Committee members are encouraged to share Zaheer’s apology letter to the rest of the Carlson staff, according to the spokesperson.

The committee’s letter said Zaheer’s comments disrespected individuals who died from COVID-19 over the past year and Carlson staff members who worked from home during the pandemic.

Additionally, the letter alleges that the Office of the Dean changed the meeting minutes without consultation with the SCC.

“We believe that a safe, ethical, and culturally grounded workplace begins with the leadership of an institution, and leaders should address wrongdoings and take swift, decisive action to rectify them,” the letter states.