How the UW deals with “diversity”

Racial discrimination in our institution is covered by a thick layer of symbols, declarations, and committees that despite our discourse keep the skeletons in a tightly locked closet.  In 2000, with the change of chair in my dept –and dean of our engineering college—after more than 25 years of teaching, shouldering in administrative work, setting up a new undergraduate program, a solid record of publications and virtually uninterrupted NIH funding — I was requested to vacate my research lab. None of the other founding professors in my department suffered such a treatment. A letter to my dean of Medicine reporting this clearly discriminatory decision was never responded and perhaps what strike me most is that not one of my fellow faculties raised a question on the issue. With a 3.5 million dollar NSF funding still supporting my program I decided to retire. I moved my laboratory to Friday Harbor Labs where I still continue with my “retired” work and teaching 70 kids in our main campus.

To fight a battle that I found humiliating, that could have become a legal nightmare, and that at the end would probably go nowhere, I opted for saving my coronaries. Coming from a country where it took bullets to prevent faculty, students, and administrators from closing the ranks and to fight for justice, this incident of blatant aggressive discrimination and silence, marked my view of our institution and my life for good. I discovered the hard way that we are lonely riders in this game, that collegiality is very shallow. And I still remain surprised by this unbelievable division between faculty and administrators, aren’t we all part of the same mission?

The corollary is that culture cannot be changed by edict, it’ll takes several generations before we learn to respect and celebrate the racial mix that enrich our country.  There is a line in the folk culture of my native Chile that says: “Yo no creo en brujos Garay, pero de haberlos, los hay”. You might not notice, but these phantoms are here, and will remain here for as long as our institution keep window dressing the problem of discrimination, and for as long as our faculty and authorities look to the other side and don’t get the skeletons out of the closet at every instance these ugly episodes take place.




Pedro Verdugo MD.


Dept. of Bioengineering

University of Washington

Seattle, WA 98195

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