April 2, 2019; CNN
Most readers already know of the upheaval at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that has resulted in the termination of cofounder and president Morris Dees and the resignation of President Richard Cohen, among many other departures. Pretty much simultaneously, an assessment of the organization’s workplace culture was launched by the board which also has just elected a new interim president and CEO in Karen Baynes-Dunning.
Baynes-Dunning was a member of the SPLC board until she resigned to take this assignment as interim. She is also a Black woman with strong legal and administrative qualifications, which will matter a great deal since some have complained about a “systemic culture of racism and sexism within its workplace.”
Tina Tchen, who was Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, will manage the workplace culture review.
Board chair Bryan Fair declared the organization firmly committed to “resolving the issues at hand.” His letter said, “We’re committed to enacting long-lasting changes following [Tchen’s] recommendations. Our employees deserve a workplace that reflects our highest values, and we will ensure that it happens.” Fair sees the appointment of Baynes-Dunning, a former judge in the juvenile court and the federal court-appointed monitor of the reform efforts at the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services, as “a critical step in that process.”
The use of an interim in this case makes good sense, of course, in that the organization will want to complete its assessment and take stock of its priorities before considering who it might need in terms of staff leadership. In this case, at least on the surface the team in place to manage this transition appears well suited to the job. —Ruth McCambridge