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3 quit NCC faculty over alleged bias.

Byline: GREG BOLT The Register-Guard

The only black faculty member at Northwest Christian College and two colleagues say they're quitting over the firing of their department's dean, who they say was dismissed for speaking out about allegations of racial bias.

Associate Dean Betsy Clewett learned of her dismissal Dec. 11, and since then faculty and students have rushed to her defense. NCC President James Womack said Monday that he can't comment on the circumstances surrounding Clewett's departure other than to say they "have absolutely nothing to do with race."

"We don't teach discrimination, we don't practice it and we don't tolerate it," Womack said.

The controversy involves allegations that minority basketball players were treated differently from white players and reports of discrimination or racial insensitivity in financial aid, housing and student life programs. Faculty member Cloe Veney sent a letter to the chairman of NCC's board of trustees outlining the allegations and calling for an investigation.

The dispute has raised a cloud over the small, faith-based college, which has lived a mostly quiet existence in the shadow of its much larger next-door neighbor, the University of Oregon.

The school, associated with the Disciples of Christ church, offers programs in Christian ministries, business, communication, psychology, music, teacher education and school counseling for an enrollment of just more than 500 students.

Veney, the first and only black faculty member at NCC and the school's diversity coordinator, said in the letter that she is resigning over the treatment of students of color. She also said she believes her department's strong defense of minority students is what led to Clewett's firing.

"I believe that these and other events constitute a clear pattern of mistreatment of students of color," Veney wrote.

"As a well-educated black woman with 25 years of experience in public and higher education, I have a much better understanding of racial discrimination and harassment than most Oregonians," she wrote. "It is clearly present at Northwest Christian College, and you are well advised to investigate thoroughly the incidents described above."

Clewett, who directed the teacher education and school counseling programs, said she's been advised by her lawyer not to comment on the controversy.

The dismissal came after Clewett sent a strongly worded e-mail to the president reminding him of state nondiscrimination rules and the college's commitment to diversity and equal treatment, said Louise Karther, a full-time faculty member in the teacher education program.

Karther said she also quit over NCC's treatment of Clewett. A third colleague, Mary Ellen Arbuckle, also has said she is resigning.

The three and Clewett teach the bulk of classes in the teacher education program, Karther said. Womack said the college is interviewing potential replacements for any faculty vacancies and will be ready to resume a full schedule of classes when winter term begins Jan. 6.

Womack said he hasn't seen Veney's letter, but that any allegations that NCC faculty or students consciously engage in racial harassment or discrimination are completely wrong. Individual students or others may have made occasional mistakes in matters of race, but they aren't accepted and the college has addressed each one, he said.

"We're a student body and a faculty that's in Eugene and in Oregon, and I would not for a minute say there's no latent racism in our culture," he said. "But to suggest that students and faculty of this college are intentionally racist is absolutely incorrect and misses our deepest commitments."

One incident addressed in Veney's letter concerns a student fund-raiser last year that was to feature a "slave auction." When told that the event would offend people of color, student life staff members said that was being "overly sensitive," Veney wrote.

Womack gave a different version. He said that when staff members told students that the event would be offensive to many other students, the sponsoring students changed it and apologized to the campus community.

"We make mistakes," Womack said. "We try to make those mistakes learning events so students will grow in their understanding and eliminate from their vocabulary and their actions anything that could be perceived as racist."

Veney's letter also outlined alleged incidents involving black basketball players being held to a different standard from white players and being recruited from an inner-city high school in Los Angeles with little regard to their academic needs.

She described a recent incident that allegedly involved a shoving match between a player and the coach after an opposing team member voiced a racial epithet.

Basketball coach Dave Lipp said the college's attorney has advised him not to discuss the incident. But he said he and the player discussed it later and he thought it was resolved. "We dealt with what happened at that game, and he apologized," Lipp said. "We hugged and prayed, I said `I love you,' and he said he loves me and he was reinstated to the team."

Veney's letter said the player may bring assault charges and is transferring to another school.

Veney attended meetings with administrators and black athletes to try to resolve such issues, but she wrote that the college didn't keep promises made during those meetings and that the athletes continued to be treated unfairly in playing time and performance expectations.

Lipp denied that he treats black players any differently.

"I love all the people that God made," he said. "When I look at a person, I don't see black or white, I just see people. I feel that God made everyone special."
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Title Annotation:Higher education: Charges of discrimination in athletics, financial aid, housing and student programs roil the college.; Higher Education
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 24, 2002
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