Challenging Times for Livingstone CollegeWhite professors allege discrimination, president resigns
SALISBURY, N.C. — Five professors who say they were denied tenure and promotions because they are White are suing Livingstone College. Three of the professors, who filed a racial discrimination suit in Rowan County Superior Court, say they have documents showing a pattern of racial discrimination over the past decade.Meanwhile, the president of the historically Black institution has resigned under pressure from trustees. Dr. Burnett Joiner resigned last month, sparking a protest march by students during the college’s Founder’s Day convocation.State Alexander, executive assistant to the president at Livingstone, declined to discuss Joiner’s resignation or the lawsuits.One of the professors suing the school, Robert Russ, says the most important file in the suit is a “smoking gun” report that shows how school leaders systematically removed Whites from leadership positions. A 1994 review of the school’s academic programs by then Vice President of Academic Affairs Barbara Brown calls for the replacement of four White department heads. Black professors are named in the document to replace three of the Whites. For the fourth department — English — no replacement is identified. Instead, a notation says, “Bring in Black Ph.D chair.” “It’s a startling document,” says Russ, an associate professor of English.He says the review also recommended cutting six professors, five of whom are White. The sixth was a part-time African American who had not been listed on the course catalog since 1985, Russ says.Dr. Arthur Steinberg, an assistant professor of history, filed a suit against the school last August, after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission completed its own investigation and determined he had cause to sue. Since then, Steinberg says he received a notice from former president Joiner stating that he would not be reappointed, a move he says violates the faculty handbook which states that termination notices must be delivered on or before a professor’s seven-year mark. Steinberg has been at the college for 11 years. He says his lawyer has sent a letter to the college, but no response has been received.“I may not have a job there after May 12,” Steinberg says. “I’ve never been fired from any other teaching job.” He adds that he never received a bad evaluation until Frank Perry, an African American, became his division chair. Steinberg claims that Perry — no longer his chair — called him ungodly.Steinberg, who holds a doctorate and juris doctorate, remains without tenure.“I should have tenure by now. They turned me down for an associate professorship to keep me from getting tenure,” Steinberg says.In January, Russ and Robert MacKinnon, an assistant professor of psychology, also filed a lawsuit against the college. MacKinnon and Steinberg allege that they were denied promotions while less qualified Black teachers were rewarded. Russ based his court claim on a decision to deny him tenure. He says that he received a termination notice in the summer of 1998 that Joiner later rescinded after Russ filed a grievance. For his part, MacKinnon, who joined the faculty in the fall of 1989, says that his career at the college started to take a nosedive when he and another White professor began conducting work on a research project on the development of Black identity. “We were called in by the division chair and told that they didn’t want two White professors considering ‘anti-Black’ research,” MacKinnon says. He says at the time it didn’t seem like a big deal.“I later came to realize that my future promotion and tenure were hindered by that,” MacKinnon says.Russ, Steinberg and MacKinnon still work at the school. In addition to their racial discrimination suit, they have joined two White former faculty members, Frederick Swan and Solveig Dutkewych, who in early 1999 filed a separate breach of contract suit against the college that included allegations of racial bias. Russ also says that he and MacKinnon, who have worked at the college 10 and eight years, respectively, have not been awarded tenure.Steinberg adds that the whole affair has started to affect some of the college’s 800 students, noting that Livingstone bookstore officials won’t order books for students in the professors’ classes.Each of the professors seeks damages and punitive relief of $30,000 for breach of contract and more than $10,000 for employment discrimination, disparate treatment, wrongful demotion, violation of public policies and defamation of character.College spokeswoman Crystal Sadler says the school doesn’t “make any statements on any type of litigation until it is at trial, if indeed it does go to trial.”In the meantime, Albert Aymer, dean of the Hood Theological Seminary, has been named Livingstone’s interim president. Four days after Joiner’s resignation, trustees announced that the seminary, which has been associated with the college since its founding 131 years ago, wants to disassociate from Livingstone. Officials say the events are unrelated.
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