Former PSU Vice Provost Douglas Samuels got his $795,000 settlement with PSU for racial discrimination in late February. If, in fact, there were instances of acts of racism within our walls, then a lawsuit and settlement seem appropriate.
But no report presents any such evidence of individual acts of racism—no one specific has been indicted, and suits of this type raise serious questions about how an institution, and not an individual, can be responsible for racism.
I’m not sure what protocols exist, but Samuels’ lawyer, Glen McClendon, wouldn’t respond to me. Maybe he didn’t want to say anything, or maybe he couldn’t. So we have to go off of available reports.
Samuels said that his pay scale was not “equal to administrators in lateral positions,” he was not able to manage his staff autonomously and did not get certain committee assignments [“Former vice provost settles with PSU for $795K,” Feb. 27].
You get the impression there are three guys standing in front of their boss, awaiting instruction. Two of them are given important jobs, and Samuels is told to take a long lunch because he’s black.
Now that would be damning. But nothing of the sort has been reported.
Specifically, he had trouble “managing his department and implementing changes that were called for in former President Daniel O. Bernstine’s Campus Climate Study, which was put in place to, in part, address the university’s lack of diversity.”
If his department resisted the changes, why does it necessarily constitute racism? Is there no room for disagreement with diversity policy?
The same evidence Samuels cited as evidence of racism could as easily suggest that Samuels was just not the right person for the job at the time:
• He didn’t get paid as much for his job.
• He didn’t get committee assignments.
• He was micromanaged (which admittedly no one likes).
• He couldn’t implement the changes he wanted to.
• He was demoted to a professorship.
The last of these is the biggest outrage. According to a Business Wire report, Samuels claimed that PSU “violated his civil rights when it demoted him to a teaching post.”
Though Samuels had some success as an administrator (he says he saved PSU $350,000), how does it pertain to civil rights if PSU decided he’d do better as a professor?
And is that his specialty? His dissertation subject was the “Upward Mobility of African American Women into Senior Level Positions in Higher Education,” according to the Metropolitan State College of Denver’s Web site.
Interestingly, he has also resigned from an administrative position there, taking a spot as a Black Studies professor. Maybe he thought he’d do better as a professor.
But it seems strange that he would get such a high-level job in the first place if discrimination were a factor. It’s not as if someone had said, “A black man might be capable of being a professor, but certainly not an administrator!”
Furthermore, in 2007, according to The Oregonian, Samuels also claimed that PSU “historically presented an unwelcoming and discriminatory environment as it related to African-American faculty and staff who were and are woefully unrepresented and underrepresented in positions of authority at Portland State University.”
This opens up the idea that the burden of proof lays on the institution to prove it is not racist. The only way to do this is to ration assignments, job responsibilities and pay, and institute informal racial quotas.
So finally, it is still unclear who exactly is responsible for the racism. No one has been fired, and PSU has not admitted wrongdoing.
This is the difference between individual racism and systemic racism. Since no one individual can be pointed at with hard evidence as the cause or culprit of mistreatment because of color, the convenient next target is the system: PSU is racist.
It’s not just any one individual, but sort of like a synergy of racism, a miasma in the air that makes it hard to be a black administrator.
And since no one person can be at fault, you have to sue the university—and in this case get a settlement of $795,000—of which PSU is paying $295,000, with the rest from the state. So much for saving $350,000.
Maybe the evidence is there—some instance of a real individual who mistreated Samuels precisely because of his race. If so, we deserve to hear it, and heads should roll. But as of yet, we haven’t heard anything of the sort.