Black Colleges Facing Race Lawsuits


DOVER, Del. (AP) — Kathleen Carter says that when she became chairman of the education department at historically black Delaware State University in 1995, she found herself facing more than the usual administrative hassles.

Carter, who is white, says she was told that she was usurping blacks' right to govern themselves and that whites in the department were trying to make blacks look bad.

One colleague called her ``a white bitch,'' Carter said in a discrimination lawsuit she filed against the school, alleging she was denied tenure because of her race.

Last month, a federal judge in Wilmington dismissed the claim, saying Carter failed to provide enough evidence.

But the case is among a recent series of legal battles waged by white employees against historically black colleges in states such as North Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania. At least one lawsuit resulted in a multimillion-dollar verdict.

White professors and others have claimed they have been denied advancement and treated as interlopers. The colleges have generally denied the allegations or admitted no wrongdoing.

Frederick Humphries, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, an association of black colleges and universities, did not return repeated calls for comment.

Donna Euben, legal counsel for the American Association of University Professors, said that no organization or agency tracks such lawsuits, but that discrimination claims in academia — and in society in general — have increased in recent years.

Euben attributed the increase partly to changes in civil rights laws in the early 1990s allowing for more damages, and to a shrinking number of tenure and tenure-track positions at colleges and universities.

The plaintiffs in some of the lawsuits have charged that black colleges are trying to maintain their racial identities by limiting the number of white professors and administrators.

``It's the white professors who can't get tenure for hook or crook, but the black professors get hired as full professors with tenure,'' said Bob Russ, an English professor at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., one of three white plaintiffs in a case that could go to trial this fall.

Russ, who was twice denied tenure and notified in December that his contract would not be renewed, said a review of academic programs conducted in the early 1990s demonstrates how Livingstone set out to systematically remove whites from leadership positions.

The review recommends naming black professors to replace several white departmental leaders. Notations in the margins include ``bring in black Ph.D chair,'' ``hire black chemist'' and ``build up science and math (black).''

Russ said the notations were written by Barbara Brown, a black woman who was vice president for academic affairs at the time. Brown now works at Albany State University in Georgia, a historically black school hit with more than 20 discrimination complaints in the 1980s and 1990s. She declined comment.

In 1997, the white dean of Albany State's business school was attacked and hospitalized one day after he complained on television that he was being discriminated against.

In 1998, a federal jury awarded $2.2 million to two tenured white professors forced to resign from Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. The professors said the school retaliated against them for opposing the appointment of minority faculty members they thought unqualified.

As for the Delaware State case, Carter, who now works at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, N.J., has refused to discuss her lawsuit.

In the past year, Delaware State has settled two discrimination lawsuits filed by white former employees.

The school reached an undisclosed settlement last month with Margaret McKay, a political science professor stripped of tenure and dismissed last year. She alleged discrimination based on race, age and gender. Neither she nor her lawyer would comment, and the university admitted no wrongdoing.

Delaware State also settled with a white woman who worked in the financial aid office.

The university, which has 3,000 students, was established in 1891 as the State College for Colored Students. Administrators denied there is racial discrimination.

``As far as I know, we have excellent diversity among the faculty,'' said Johnny Tolliver, provost and vice president of academic affairs. He said whites constitute almost half of the faculty and about one-fourth of the 22 department chairs.

But Jane Buck, a former Delaware State psychology professor and national president of the AAUP, said a search committee at the school received about 100 applications for an opening a few years ago, and no black candidate turned up. The search was reopened, and the lone black applicant was hired.

``I perceived a great deal of pressure to see to it that we hired a black departmental member,'' Buck said.


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