Professors file complaints claiming bias at Wheelock
Two Jewish Wheelock College professors have filed federal workplace discrimination complaints against the school alleging they were subjected to anti-Semitic discrimination that damaged their reputation and careers, according to the filings.
Professors Eric Silverman and Gail Dines allege that Wheelock president Jackie Jenkins-Scott and other administrators made their work lives miserable after the professors spoke out about a lack of Jewish perspective on campus, according to copies of the complaints filed with the the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They are seeking unspecified damages as well as attorneys’ fees.
The professors said Tuesday that the actions of Jenkins-Scott and the others have created a fear of speaking out on campus.
“People are scared to speak about anything because they’ve seen what’s happened to Eric and I, and they don’t want to be next,” said Dines, a tenured professor of sociology and women’s studies professor and chairwoman of American studies at Wheelock since 1986.
Wheelock officials said the claims are “without merit.”
The complaints are the latest trouble for the small liberal arts school in the Fenway, which specializes in social work, early childhood education and social justice.
The college, which has 811 undergraduates this year, is struggling financially and has seen an exodus of top and mid-level administrators in the past year. Jenkins Scott plans to leave at the end of the year and a search is underway to replace her.
Also this year, Wheelock’s interim vice president for academic affairs, a post similar to a provost, stepped down after she was found to have plagiarized a letter written by Harvard University President Drew Faust.
According to the EEOC complaints, the discrimination began after Dines, Silverman, and four of her professors wrote a letter in 2014 expressing concern about a lack of inclusion of Jewish perspectives on the campus.
Jenkins Scott and several other administrators reacted with “fury and retaliation” that culminated in false accusations of racism against Silverman that were disseminated widely across campus, according to Silverman’s 40-page complaint.
The accusations were worsened by an external diversity consultant whom Wheelock hired to conduct a campus climate survey, according to the complaint.
Instead of helping matters, the consultant allegedly acted as an “enforcer” and further retaliated against Silverman by persuading the president to instigate an external investigation into his conduct and spread “hearsay and unsubstantiated random data” about him, the complaint said.
Dinses’s 31-page complaint contains some allegations similar to Silverman’s as well as others unique to her, including one about a student who allegedly complained that Dines was racist and sexist.
According to the complaint, administrators confronted Dines with the complaint but could not offer proof it was real.
School officials last week in a prepared statement said the college is committed to providing a diverse workplace free of discrimination and is prepared to defend Wheelock against the claims.
“Although Wheelock does not comment on the particulars of personnel disputes or litigation, it disagrees strongly with the allegations made in the actions recently filed against the college,” said the statement, e-mailed by Marta Rosa, senior executive director of the department of governmental and external affairs and chief diversity officer.
Silverman’s complaint describes how he was allegedly blocked from applying to several administrative positions and how he was accused of using racist language in the classroom, which the professor denies.
Both professors, who practice Judaism and explore it academically, said they felt slighted when administrators did not consult them about a performance about diversity, the Black-Jew Dialogues, that came to campus.
Silverman in a phone interview Tuesday said there is not one incident that he pegs as the worst. The worst part, he said, was that there were so many incidents.
“It was just the sort of ongoing pattern that was horrifying. It sort of took my breath away,” said Silverman, a tenured professor of American studies and psychology and human development who has taught at the school since 2006.
Silverman said the alleged discrimination damages the school’s mission of social justice.
“The college is not living up to its reputation and it’s not living up to its core ethical values,” he said.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not confirm or deny active complaints. The allegations could become public if the commission files a lawsuit on behalf of the professors, which is a last resort.
The next step is usually mediation between both parties handled by the commission. If mediation does not resolve the problem, the commission can ask the employer for a written answer to the charges, according to the commission’s website.