The well-done Transcript article on the Eph scandal du jour is worth going through in some detail. Kudos to author Karen Gardner for a fine piece of writing.

In a movie filmed at Williams College, “The Human Stain,” Anthony Hopkins played a professor who was charged with making a racial slur against some African-American students.

Nice start. EphBlog should really put together a listing of every movie/book with an Eph connection. Put that on the to-do list.

This past spring at an unspecified department meeting, a real-life Williams professor apparently became upset and said she did not want her area of study to be “used as a nigger,” according to a memo sent out last Friday to the entire college community.

Written by William J. Lenhart, acting dean of the faculty, the memo said the meeting of a group of faculty members — one of whom was African-American — included a female professor who raised a concern about the status of her own field of professional work relative to the fields of others.

“At one point, she made a heated statement to the effect that she did not want her field to be ‘used as a nigger,'” Lenhart wrote in the memo. “The matter was promptly brought to my attention by several of those present at the meeting and a formal complaint was made against the faculty member who made the remark. Upon investigating, I concluded that the faculty member’s behavior warranted the serious step of imposing sanctions on her, which I have done.”

Lenhart said he did so because he believed the statement she made at the meeting was a use of racist language that was meant to provoke or hurt the African-American colleague present.

I am still trying to figure out how Lenhart determined the perp’s intent. How does he know what she was thinking? The implication is that the perp is not a racist — she didn’t say n****r because she believes in the inferiority of African Americans. She said it in order to hurt/provoke. My question: How does Lenhart know this? How does he know that she isn’t really a racist — as opposed to a bully/jerk who is willing to use racist terms for the effect that they have on people?

Williams history professor K. Scott Wong, who is chairman of the Committee on Community and Diversity, was brought in recently to discuss the issue, so he knows who the tenured female professor is.

“But I’m not allowed to say,” said Wong.

“Brought in”? What does that mean? I guess that the Transcript (and where is the Eagle?) found out about the scandal, called the College and wanted to talk to someone. And then the College brought in Wong. Fair enough.

But couldn’t someone have given Wong a better set of talking points? “I’m not allowed to say,” sounds like a gambit from my 8 year-old. Something along the lines of “College policy forbids the public discussion of disciplinary actions” would have sounded better.

He also declined to identify the African-American woman present at the meeting, who currently is on a planned leave. However, he said she was the person who first took the matter to Lenhart. “And she filed the complaint,” Wong said.

This is the first we heard that it was the African-American faculty member who filed a formal complaint. Also note that this story is different than, although not inconsistent with, the story that Lenhart told. Lenhart writes “The matter was promptly brought to my attention by several of those present at the meeting and a formal complaint was made against the faculty member who made the remark.” Did several of those present go to Lenhart independently? Or did they all get their story straight and then go to him together? How long did it take other people to knock on his door after the African-American faculty member did?

None of which is that important, but we bloggers like to get all the details.

Although Wong would not identify which department was involved in the incident, he said it was neither the history nor the political science departments. He released that information because people were incorrectly pointing an accusing finger at female professors in those departments.

Which “people”? EphBlog? If different departments (and then individuals within departments) keep saying, “It wasn’t us/me,” it won’t be long before we have an answer.

The circumstance is the latest in a number of racial or racially tinged incidents at the college over the past several years.

Last May, a “KKK” flier was sent out by Williams’ music department. The flier, which included the initials “KKK,” was an advertisement for the Kechley Krazy Kookout, an end-of-the-year barbecue hosted by David Kechley, department chairman.

While Kechley did not design the flier, he took responsibility for what he called a mix-up and an oversight, he said was based on insensitivity, lack of awareness and cluelessness.

In April and May 2001, several Asian students reported they were harassed on three separate occasions at Williams by whites.

Although it was not entirely clear if the harassers were members of the campus community or of the community at large, Jonathan Chow, a Williams College student and treasurer of Asian-American Students in Action, said the incidents — which happened near Goodrich and Jessup halls — were not isolated. During the summer of 2000 there was another incident, he said, where someone driving by made fun of an Asian student by calling out to him with racial slurs.

Also in the spring of 2001, the spring edition of the Mad Cow magazine — a student-run publication dedicated to political satire — hit campus newsstands. It contained several articles judged to be disparaging toward African-Americans by many on campus.

As a result, the college council, another student-run organization, revoked both funding and college recognition from the magazine.

Blah, blah, blah. The least compelling of these is obviously the shouting of random slurs. Townies have been shouting slurs (racial and otherwise) at Williams students for 100 years.

A more interesting question is how the number/intensity/type of racial incidents at Williams over the last 5 or 10 years compares to those at similar schools.

Asked Wednesday why racial issues continue to occur on campus, James G. Kolesar, Williams’ public affairs director, said, “We’re part of society. We’re part of a world where those things continue to go on, and colleges, including this one, aren’t immune from them.”

Kolesar said that, in general, typical sanctions — or disciplinary actions — could range from a reprimand to non-reappointment. They also might include the initiation of proceedings for dismissal for cause, warnings regarding future consequences for such conduct, removal from certain teaching, advising or supervisory roles, job reassignment or other restrictions.

While Kolesar would not state which of the possible sanctions were placed upon the professor, saying it was a private personnel matter, he noted that the word “sanctions” was used in the plural form, meaning more than one disciplinary action was handed out.

Hmmm. I am not sure what to make of this. If a faculty member is sanctioned, and no one knows about it, is the punishment felt?

“From what I gather, there are some students who are upset about it,” said Wong of the incident. “I think a lot of students are more saddened by it than anything. I think most college students are aware that there’s racism. I think that they would like to think that their professors aren’t [racist]. … I think that they are upset that they could have a professor who is so closed-minded or dumb.”

A closed-minded professor? I am shocked! Shocked!

If anything, Wong said, the incident served to show students how one could be a Williams College professor and still be racially insensitive.

Yes, dear little Eph, even the larger-than-life super heroes that grace the Hall of Justice/Stetson are not quite the epitome of human perfection that you have assumed them to be, lo these many years.

But now I am just being snarky.

“I really wish the college would release enough information to quell any rumors,” Wong said. “The fact that I had to say that it wasn’t the history department or the political science department — [people] are trying to figure [it] out.”

And getting closer everyday . . .

Couldn’t the College have “bought in” someone who would at least toe the party line? What is the point of having Wong talk to the Transcript if he isn’t going to defend the College’s decisions on this?

The matter has been a focus of discussion at EphBlog, a Web site maintained by alumni that chronicles and comments on news related to the college. On the site writers ask and try to answer questions like, “Which department?” and “Who is the perp?” As more information becomes available, updates inform readers if guesses were wrong, and writers wonder what the sanctions were and “Who were the dime-droppers?”

I am dancing around in my pajamas. Go EphBlog!

Kolesar said the blog contained, “an enormous amount of misinformation and speculation.”

Speculation, yes. Misinformation, no. If Kolesar ’72 — a long time friend of EphBlog — would like to specify precisely where he finds any “misinformation” on EphBlog, we would be eager to correct it.

Note that it was EphBlog that first a) Revealed the scandal to the outside world. If your an alum interested in what is going on at Williams, you won’t find this story at b) Guessed that Ali might be the offended faculty and c) Pointed a finger at the Art Department.

With any luck, we will be the first to name the perp.

EphBlog gets plenty of stuff wrong, of course. (Apologies to the Political Science Department!) But, we correct our mistakes as soon as we find them, just as Williams taught us to do.

As with the “KKK” incident, college President Morton Owen Schapiro, wrote a letter to the campus community. The letter, also sent out last Friday, urged the college community to contribute to a special initiative this academic year toward ensuring it is one in which all members are accepted and respected.

Schapiro wrote that he is consulting with the committee on community and diversity, the Multicultural Center, the office of human resources and others on campus on the best way to mobilize the community toward the effort. He said he would invite all students, faculty, and staff to a gathering to be organized with the chaplain’s office.

“At Williams we set for ourselves the highest possible standards including, critically, in the promotion of civility, tolerance, and community,” wrote Schapiro. “We can do better. We will do better. It will take the efforts of all of us.”

Neither Lenhart nor Schapiro responded to a request for comment by press time.

The biggest question that this article raises for me is: Why did the College reveal that the African-American faculty member is on-leave and that the perp has tenure? These details were conspicuously left out of Lenhart’s letter. Did the College decide to be more open or did Wong screw up or did Gardner (the author) come up with these tidbits from someone else. EphBlog wants know!

These clues make solving the puzzle much easier than it would have been.

Finally, it would have been stylish to end the article as she began, with a reference to “The Human Stain.” How did things turn out for Anothony Hopkins at the end of the day?

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