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Hull called to intervene in UA racism complaint

By Tate Williams
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 29, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

The office of Gov. Jane Dee Hull recently received a letter alleging there is a "hostile" racial environment at the University of Arizona.

Attorneys for Gov. Jane Dee Hull yesterday reviewed a complaint of possible race and gender discrimination filed by the Africana Studies' core faculty members and the program's former director.

Francie Noyes, Hull's press secretary, said that the governor's office recently received a letter alleging there is a "hostile" racial environment at the University of Arizona. State lawyers are waiting for more information until they react to the situation, she said.

The letter, signed by four UA faculty members, states that racism is "so endemic to the University of Arizona that something desperately needs to be done here to dispel the hostility to African-American women and other people of color."

Mikelle Omari, a UA arts professor and former Africana Studies program director, and three Africana Studies professors asked for outside assistance to remove the department's acting director, Julian Kunnie.

"There is no department that is forced to work with a head that the faculty doesn't want - this is a clear case of discrimination," said Ikenna Dieke, an Africana Studies professor who signed the letter.

Faculty members Lansana Keita, and Tolagbe Ogunleye also signed the letter calling for the replacement of Kunnie, and the reinstatement of Omari.

Dean of Humanities Charles Tatum said Omari will not be reinstated, adding that a nationwide search for a permanent director will begin eventually and include Kunnie as a candidate.

The complaint letter singles out Tatum for allegedly breaking university guidelines, and the UA administration for ignoring the faculty's complaints.

Tatum yesterday said that the letter was an "act of desperation" and welcomed further investigation to "straighten out the facts." He said that he believes the government will refer the matter back to the university.

"When you can't get your needs met through the proper procedure, you often see these sort of acts," Tatum said.

The feud within the Africana Studies Program dates back to 1996, when Omari was terminated as director and reassigned to be an arts professor. Omari filed a lawsuit in November, claiming Tatum discriminated against her based on gender and race.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reviewed Omari's claims and found she "was terminated because of her sex and national origin, black American female."

"I want (Hull) to intervene and honor the EEOC's ruling. The university showed a lack of respect for the U.S. government," Omari said of the Nov. 25 ruling.

Tatum confirmed that the university has asked the commission to reconsider the ruling, and has not taken further action.

Despite complaints about Kunnie, Tatum said he is performing well and the problem is a divided issue in the department.

"This is not a racial thing; there are other African-Americans in the department who will give a very different story," he said.

Tatum said that Omari will not be reinstated because the same faculty members that now protest the reassignment had specifically requested Omari's removal in 1996.

In the Jan. 10 letter, however, those faculty members declared Omari "fair, ethical, competent administrator."

"We had some little problems with Omari and wanted her to change, instead the dean simply fired her with no due process or explanation," Deike said.

Deike, one of the professors who originally complained about Omari, said he had not intended to call for her removal, but simply wanted to settle minor issues.

The letter argued that the core faculty unanimously wants the removal of Kunnie, which, according to university guidelines, should lead to a premature review of the director.

The University Handbook for Appointed Personnel states, "If a petition calling for an extraordinary review of a dean or department head, signed by one-half or more of the tenured and tenure-eligible faculty members.... is presented to the Provost or dean, the Provost or dean shall initiate a review."

Three of the five Africana Studies listed faculty members petitioned for a review of Kunnie.

Tatum said that the provision in the handbook does not mention the case of an "acting director," making any petition irrelevant.

Kunnie and UA President Peter Likins were unavailable for comment.

Read previous stories about allegation of bias in the Africana studies program that have centered around acting director Julian Kunnie:

Dismissed prof alleges bias (Nov. 9, 1998)
Ex-director files suit against UA (Nov. 9, 1998)
Affirming Affirmative Action (Guest commentary by Julian Kunnie, Dec. 9, 1997)