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Bluefield State College strikes agreement with Feds – racial discrimination

Discrimination investigation closed after school pledges to change its ways

The U.S. Department of Education has reached an agreement with
Bluefield State College resolving a racial discrimination and
harassment complaint filed last year by a former faculty member of this
West Virginia school.

Last fall, Dr. Garrett Olmsted, a White sociologist, helped
spearhead a community effort to publicly criticize the college’s
administration, led by President Robert E. Moore, for allegedly
eliminating Black faculty. Olmsted lodged a formal complaint with the
Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), charging that the
college discriminated against Black faculty on the basis of race. He
also charged that he had been threatened and harassed by White students
because of his efforts to protest alleged discrimination at the
historically Black institution.

On April 30, OCR wrote to Moore, informing him that the complaint
was being closed because the school “has submitted written assurances”
to take specific actions to recruit and hire Black faculty. OCR
indicated that it had not pursued the racial harassment charges because
Olmsted had already filed “an internal grievance with the College.”

“OCR may terminate its complaint resolution process if a complaint
containing the same issue has been filed with another federal, state,
or local agency,” read OCR’s April 30 letter to moore.

As part of the written assurances to OCR, Bluefield State officials
will report to the agency for a period of five years with detailed
records of its hiring practices. College officials also are required to
submit a more detailed compliance plan to OCR by June 30, 1998.

Jim Nelson, a Bluefield State College spokesman, says the present
agreement includes measures which the school had already undertaken
prior to its coming under federal scrutiny. In early February, for
example, the school hired a director of multicultural affairs to manage
its minority recruitment and hiring efforts, according to Nelson.

“It was gratifying to the president and to the college that OCR did
not seek a site-based investigation. We’ve been in dialogue with OCR
and some of the assurances we agreed to were already being
implemented,” Nelson said.

The complaining professor considers the OCR agreement to be a positive step for the college.

“I think it’s a very good development. [Bluefield administrators] are having to make amends,” Olmsted said.

Although Olmsted said he would prefer to see the institution both
reinstate the former Black faculty members whom he alleges unfairly
lost their jobs and hire a Black president, he cautioned, “My feeling
is that there were wrongs committed that won’t be corrected.”

This past academic year, Bluefield State College had no Black
faculty for the first time in its 102-year history. The college has a 7
percent Black student enrollment, and it receives more than $1 million
annually in federal funding because of its status as a historically
Black institution.

In January, Olmsted was fired from his tenured teaching position at
the college after he refused to come onto the Bluefield campus because
he feared for his safety. He still does not work for the institution,
and the OCR complaint does not involve his employment status because
that changed after the complaint was filed.

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