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Besieged, bothered, and bewildered: affirmative action director charges Pitt-Johnstown president with discrimination, harassment and retaliation – University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown

Affirmative action director charges Pitt-Johnstown president with discrimination, harassment and retaliation

According to the University of
Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s affirmative action director, the institution’s
president told her that he did not believe in affirmative action and
would do everything possible to avoid implementing its principles.

Ensuing events have led Clea Patrick Hollis to U.S. District Court,
where she is suing the school and its president, Dr. Albert L.
Etheridge, for race and sex discrimination. The suit contends that
Hollis was harassed, isolated, and excluded from functions at the
southwestern Pennsylvania branch of the University of Pittsburgh as a
way tv) prevent her from doing her job.

Hollis is seeking compensation for lost earnings, damages for
emotional distress, and legal fees. She is also seeking punitive
damages. On the advice of her attorneys, she has refused to comment
publicly on the suit.

In the lawsuit, Hollis said she was demoted from the university
cabinet to a mid-level administrator, and her position was reduced from
full- to part-time. The three-count civil action charges Etheridge and
the university with sex discrimination in hiring; race discrimination
in employment; and retaliatory harassment, deprivation of civil rights
and sex discrimination in employment; and sexual harassment and

Etheridge refused to comment on the allegations. Ron Cichowicz,
assistant news and information director for the University of
Pittsburgh system, said attorneys had not been served and could not
comment on the matter.

Perceptions and Realities

William Savage, the affirmative action director of the university
system’s main campus, said that the University of Pittsburgh strives
for diversity at all five of its campuses.

Savage said the system has in place efforts to hire minority
faculty and staff members. Broad searches are conducted that target
minority groups. In cases where a search committee is used, the
membership of that committee is chosen in an effort to represent
diverse backgrounds.

Additionally, the institution aggressively recruits minority
students, offering grants to lure them into the system, said Savage.

“The university, as a whole, would like to have the regional campuses as diverse as possible,” he said.

However, Savage concedes that the Johnstown campus is not as
diverse as it could be. Last fall, 97 percent of the students enrolled
there were White; 1.5 percent were Black. At the main campus, more than
12 percent of the student population was African American. In Cambria
County, where Pitt-Johnstown is situated, African Americans comprise
2.3 percent of the population, according to the 1990 census.

Minorities are not well represented in some faculty and staff
positions at Pitt-Johnstown as well. All four top-level administrators
who report directly to Etheridge are White. And just 2 percent of the
campus’ 150 full-time faculty are Black.

Student Melvin Turner, who is Black, says he has not found racism
to be a problem at Pitt-Johnstown, despite the fact that he received
harassing, non-stop telephone calls for hours on end during his
freshman year, and being called derogatory, racist names while
attending classes.

“I don’t pay any mind to it,” he said. “That’s just the way I take it.”

A “Chilly” Climate in Need of Change

But at least one former Pitt-Johnstown employee said she saw
problems with the way the campus is run. Linda Daniels, an African
American who served as the campus’ assistant vice president of student
affairs before leaving last fall, called the college an “all-boys kind
of plaice” and said a “chilly” environment existed. Now the director of
multicultural programs at Ohio University in Athens, Daniels said there
was a buffer between her and Etheridge — unlike with Hollis, who had
to deal more directly with the president.

Still, she said Pitt-Johnstown was like other campuses, in that few
women held jobs at or near the top levels of administration. She said
the climate changed when the campus’ previous president, Dr. Frank
Blackington, was replaced by Etheridge.

“Dr. Blackington was more of a people person than this one,” Daniels said.

After fourteen years at the Johnstown campus, Daniels said she was
ready to take on a new challenge. However, she admits that her move to
Ohio University was hastened by the unfavorable climate Etheridge
brought with him.

But Gretchen Tyson, who will be leaving her post as the campus’
personal counseling center director next month, said change was
expected when Etheridge took over. She says she is leaving to move
closer to two sets of aging parents, not because of any experience on
the campus.

“Quite frankly, I think we needed change,” said the African American, who added, “I have seen positive changes.”

Tyson would not comment on the allegations raised in Hollis’s
lawsuit. She also refused to comment on whether she has seen
discrimination at Pitt-Johnstown. But she did say that she expects
there will be changes that will improve diversity on the campus.

“The history [of diversity on the Pitt-Johnstown campus] hasn’t
been as strong,” she said. “I think there’ll be some changes for the

The Suit’s Contentions

Hollis began her services as affirmative action director in the
Blackington administration. Hollis was the only woman and only minority
to serve in a cabinet-level position, but — according to the suit —
the university planned to correct the imbalance as openings were

The system’s main campus supported Blackington’s affirmative action
and minority rights policies and practices, the suit says.

When Etheridge became the university’s president in June 1994, the
institution’s administration moved away from the main campus’
affirmative action and minority support policies, the suit alleges. It
claims that Hollis was subjected to harassment because she protested
the demotion and opposed Etheridge’s view of affirmative action.

The harassment and of the work environment were intended to
pressure Hollis, with the ultimate aim of driving her out of her job
and off the campus, the suit contends.

While still a cabinet member, Hollis claims to have been excluded
from events. The suit cites a reception for cabinet-level officials and
main campus administrators at which Hollis was told by Etheridge that
she was to accompany his wife into the house so that he could “get down
to business” with the other administrators, who were all males.

Hollis’s secretary was moved to another office, leaving her
isolated. The lock on the door to the old office also was changed,
depriving her of access to her files. Additionally, according to the
suit, Etheridge had his son stack books in front of her filing cabinet
in an effort to block her access to it.

The suit also claims that lip service was given to affirmative
action by Etheridge when he was in public. But privately, he worked
against it.

“Dr. Etheridge attempted to phase out the position of affirmative
action by failing to include the position in student orientation
materials, university directories, and other university publications
which should have featured [Hollis] specifically and the affirmative
action program generally,” the suit says.

The Representation of Women

Patty Derrick, president of the campus’ Faculty Senate, said she hopes the allegations aren’t true.

“I think that I’m safe in saying the vast majority of faculty favors affirmative action,” she said.

Still, there are problems. While women are well represented on the
faculty, few are promoted into the campus’ upper administration, noted
Derrick, a White English professor.

“I think it’s more of a deficiency for students, not faculty,” she said. “I think it’s the students who are losing out.”

Other faculty and staff members were reluctant to discuss the suit
or diversity problems at the institution. However, the university has
had problems with diversity in the past.

In April 1997, a search committee set off a controversy when all of
the twenty finalists for the position of vice president of academic
affairs turned out to be men. An affirmative action review by the
system’s main campus forced Johnstown to start another search, and the
vacancy was eventually filled by Dr. Sandra R. Patterson-Randles.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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