“You don’t look Asian because your eyes are round instead of oval.”
“She’s the most pregnant woman I’ve ever seen.”
“Prospective law students prefer to see young faculty faces rather than old faculty faces.”
“I suppose you think you owe Professor Gerber because he practically wrote your paper.”
“The law school shouldn’t engage in illegal hiring practices.”
While one might expect a storm of consequences for the individual responsible for the first four statements, the story at Ohio Northern University (ONU) unfolds quite differently.
Behind the first four comments is, of all people, the current Dean of ONU’s College of Law, Charles Rose, who, in spite of uttering such statements, received a five-year contract extension.
Professor Scott Gerber, on the other hand, who opposed illegal hiring practices, found himself removed from his classroom by campus security officers on April 14 and was escorted to a meeting with Rose, who handed Gerber a “memorandum initiating his suspension from all faculty duties.”
The ONU chapter of the American Association of University Professors raised concerns with ONU’s president and provost regarding the first three statements—said by Rose—but their complaint was buried. A grandparent of six ONU students and I also expressed our concerns about Rose’s fourth statement: “I suppose you think you owe Professor Gerber because he practically wrote your paper.” This false accusation was directed at me during a barbeque for graduating law students, openly alleging that Professor Gerber wrote my award-winning law review article.
So, what happened?
I received a boilerplate email from Human Resources saying, “our investigation is complete and has been handled in a manner consistent with university policies, procedures and guidelines. Please feel free to reach out to me at any time with any additional questions or concerns.”
I reached out in June, but have yet to receive a response, indicating a near-zero probability of a legitimate inquiry.
Tellingly, Rose’s defamatory statement about me was made one day after I donated to Professor Gerber’s GoFundMe legal fund page. Though the law review had won me a national prize, I never asked for a “congratulations.” But I never asked to be defamed, either.
The Dean’s statements likely violate the law, as do others he has made at ONU. The first three put minority persons, pregnant women, and older persons on notice that their differences are viewed in a manner creating an environment hostile to working and learning.
If the goal is acceptance, ONU would need to operate differently: Gerber’s right to express concerns about illegal hiring practices, backed by facts, would be protected. And, a dean, who utters remarks that specifically disrespect Asian people, women, and older individuals would face severe disciplinary measures. If these changes were implemented, the Martin Luther King Jr. statue outside the law school would come to represent what Dr. King truly stood for.
Sadly, ONU’s present failure to hold people with power accountable is nothing new.
According to Professor Gerber, a former dean dated students, and nothing was done about it. Another former dean was paid over a quarter of a million dollars to retire but never left. And, a pharmacy professor is suing ONU because it refuses to give faculty the retirement payouts they earned. Other examples exist.
A recent article by Ohio University’s Richard Vedder asks, “Where is the ONU Board of Trustees? Why are they, the governing body, on the sidelines of an issue of this importance?” The answer to Dr. Vedder’s questions rests in the preceding paragraphs: At ONU, the rules don’t apply to people with power who are willing to abuse it, while people doing the right thing get insulted, defamed, and fired.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.” We should remember that and take action.
Justin Marks is a recent graduate of Ohio Northern University’s College of Law. He will practice law in Ohio.