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Fired Dean Sues UW-Whitewater for Discrimination

Once seen as a leader who could bring diversity to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a former dean fired for financial mismanagement has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit claiming he was ousted because he’s Black.

Lee Jones argues in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court that top university officials singled him out for an audit that unfairly criticized him and cost him a career in higher education. He says he’s suffered a loss of income, humiliation and emotional distress as a result.

University officials have denied his allegations of racism and say Jones’ own actions are to blame for his downward spiral from a young Black scholar nationally known for motivational speaking to a disgraced ex-dean.

The lawsuit filed last month names the UW System Board of Regents, UW-Whitewater Chancellor Martha Saunders, provost Richard Telfer and former university officials Jim Freer and Indra Mohabir-Engstrand as defendants. Jones first threatened to sue after the audit’s release in December 2005.

The audit said Jones, who had been at Whitewater for one year, did not comply with university rules in the use of two campus credit cards or frequently traveling out-of-state. It questioned Jones’ use of university money to support a scholarly group he founded and rebuked the university, saying it had not exercised adequate oversight.

A separate audit alleged Jones used a university cell phone for personal calls.

Saunders removed Jones from his position as dean of the school of graduate studies and continuing education and demoted him to a professor’s job guaranteed in his contract. He resigned from that job last year while the university was moving to fire him for misconduct.

“No reasonable person could have been expected to withstand the hostile, demeaning, humiliating and discriminatory treatment to which Dr. Jones was subjected by the defendants,” says the lawsuit, filed by Madison lawyer Robert J. Kasieta.

While university officials say Jones repeatedly violated school rules, the lawsuit portrays him as a victim of a lack of training and a conspiracy among top officials to oust him after the man who hired him, then-Chancellor Jack Miller, left the school in 2005.

The suit contends the university agreed when it hired Jones to support his travel to speaking engagements across the country and spend $50,000 on a group called Brothers of the Academy. Jones founded the group to help Black men succeed in academia and advance African-American research.

But after the audit questioned Jones’ use of university funds for airfare, food and lodging for members attending a May 2005 symposium in Madison, school officials denied promising the financial support.

UW-Whitewater spokeswoman Sara Kuhl says the university stands by the way Jones’ case was handled. She would not comment on the new allegations in the suit, including a claim that Saunders told Jones she was aware of the discrimination and that the campus auditor “berated, harassed and yelled” at Jones.

The lawsuit seeks attorneys’ fees and an unspecified amount of money in damages.

Jones was the first of two Black deans to allege discrimination at UW-Whitewater. Howard Ross made similar allegations after Saunders fired him as liberal arts dean last year and demoted him to a professor’s job.

An audit said Ross had repeatedly flouted rules on spending over a six-year period in which he racked up $310,000 on university credit cards. In October, UW-Whitewater ordered Ross to repay $113,000 in credit card expenses he had failed to justify.

— Associated Press

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