White administrators charge college with racism – Houston Community College

Houston

White administrators at Houston Community College (HCC)
have accused the institution of racial discrimination in a lawsuit
filed in federal court.

Lois Avery, dean of academic development for HCC’s Northeast
Campus; Tom Baxter, jail program coordinator; and Roger Simmons,
technology center coordinator, said they have not been able to get
promotions because the board of trustees has been favoring Blacks and
Latinos.

The nine-member board is dominated by five Black and Latino
trustees, said George M. Kirk, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, who are
seeking unspecified compensatory damages. The board is elected in a
single-member district system that is supposed to ensure minority
representation among the trustees.

“The point of the case is that the majority has adopted a sort of a
board politics system of race-based preference so certain wards are for
different races,” said Kirk.

Under this system, according to Kirk, positions at the Northeast
and Central campuses are being given to Blacks and the Southeast campus
is for Latinos. The other two campuses are in mostly White areas The
system follows the racial demographics of the wards that the trustees
were elected to represent.

Although the system has increased the number of Black and Latino
appointees, Kirk said it isn’t an affirmative action plan. It was never
ordered by a court or worked out as part of a settlement of any
complaint against the college.

HCC Chancellor Dr. Ruth Burgos-Sasscer said that the college
doesn’t have an affirmative action, plan and there is no effort to hire
administrators according to racial patterns.

“We are an equal employment opportunity agency, and we do not discriminate,” she said.

The chancellor refused to comment further on the issue because it is a matter of litigation.

HCC has five regional campuses with a total enrollment of 53,000
students, 38,000 of whom are taking classes for credit. Among those
taking courses for credit. about 39 percent are White, 23 percent
Latino, 23 percent are Black, and 14 percent are from other groups,
said Tom Kennedy, a spokesman for HCC.

There are 105 administrators at HCC. Fifty-five percent of them are
White; 22 percent are Black, 20 percent are Hispanic, and 3 percent are
from other groups, Kennedy said.

Kirk, who said he has been specializing in employment
discrimination law for twenty years, said the 1996 Hopwood decision
laid the groundwork for this lawsuit That case destroyed affirmative
action in admissions at Texas public colleges and universities.

“With Hopwood, the Fifth Circuit Court has come full circle from
being the most advanced court in the country … [to] one of the most
conservative,” Kirk said.

He claims HCC used three tactics to make sure that Latinos and
Blacks had better chances to be hired in the top positions and to keep
Whites, like his clients, from being able to compete fairly for
promotions they wanted.

The first was to hire people under month-to-month contracts so the
jobs they obtained did not have to be posted or the applicants
screened. A second was to hire people as acting administrators. After a
period of time, the board was inclined to award these interim
administrators permanent positions, regardless of their qualifications.
The third tactic, said Kirk, was to hire Blacks and Latinos as
consultants.

Reportedly, the HCC case will be heard by U.S. District Court Judge
Lynn Hughes, who struck down the affirmative action policies of the
Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1997 and is considering a
similar case against the city of Houston. Last year. Houston voters
approved the city’s affirmative action program.

As yet, no court date has been announced.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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