Tuesday, July 8, 2008

But they just can’t kill the beast. . .

A colleague sent me a link to a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, "American Politics Aren't 'Post-Racial'" written by Dorothy Rabinowitz. In part she addresses an incident that took place last fall here at IUPUI.The incident? One of our janitorial staff who was taking classes would read during his breaks. At the time he was reading, "Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan." One of the other members of the janitorial staff took offense at this title. As Ms. Rabinowitz relates:
Mr. Sampson was in short order visited by his union representative, who informed him he must not bring this book to the break room, and that he could be fired. Taking the book to the campus, Mr. Sampson says he was told, was "like bringing pornography to work." That it was a history of the battle students waged against the Klan in the 1920s in no way impressed the union rep.

The assistant affirmative action officer who next summoned the student was similarly unimpressed. Indeed she was, Mr. Sampson says, irate at his explanation that he was, after all, reading a scholarly book. "The Klan still rules Indiana," Marguerite Watkins told him – didn't he know that? Mr. Sampson, by now dazed, pointed out that this book was carried in the university library. Yes, she retorted, you can get Klan propaganda in the library.

Mr. Sampson stood accused of "openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black co-workers." The statement, signed by chief affirmative action officer Lillian Charleston, asserted that her office had completed its investigation of the charges brought by Ms. Nakea William, his co-worker – that Mr. Sampson had continued, despite complaints, to read a book on this "inflammatory topic." "We conclude," the letter informed him, "that your conduct constitutes racial harassment. . . ." A very serious matter, with serious consequences, it went on to point out.

I suspect that many of the staff employees here at IUPUI would back down in the face of this official pronouncement, however unjust and unfounded the charges might be. Mr. Sampson did not and instead contacted the ACLU. And apparently someone contacted the press. This, at IUPUI, is the equivalent of shining a flashlight in a filthy kitchen; the cockroaches go scurrying. And they did scurry off and Mr. Sampson recevied a new letter:
. . . the new letter to Mr. Sampson by affirmative action officer Charleston brought word that she wished to clarify her previous letter, and to say it was "permissible for him to read scholarly books or other materials on break time." About the essential and only theme of the first letter – the "racially abhorrent" subject of the book – or the warnings that any "future substantiated conduct of a similar nature could mean serious disciplinary action" – there was not a word. She had meant in that first letter, she said, only to address "conduct" that caused concern among his co-workers.

IUPUI has received a huge load of negative publicity from this screw-up on the part of our Affirmative Action office. And the story can't seem to be killed as can be seen by its resurrection in the WSJ editorial. And what's the karmic outcome of all this? While the chief Affirmative Action officer Lillian Charleston announced her retirement soon after these events, we've yet to see what will happen with Marguerite Watkins. An average raise of 4.5% at IUPUI was to go into affect the new fiscal year starting July 1. Let's see how much Ms. Watkins' $68,377 salary increases.

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