Communications Dean sued
Associate Prof., Dr. Paula Poindexter files discrimination lawsuit
Poindexter, an associate professor in the School of Journalism, filed a lawsuit August 23
against the University of Texas and Ellen Wartella, Dean of the College of Communications.
Poindexter alleges that she was denied a promotion to full professor and other
opportunities because of her race. She also said she was the victim of retaliation after
she earlier complained to the UT President and Provost about other discriminatory
With the filing of this suit, the two minority women with the most seniority have now
charged the College of Communications with discrimination.
Although Poindexter, an African- American, said she met the qualifications for a full
professor and even though a majority of external and internal professors and professional
experts deemed her qualified based on her academic record and other factors, the
university declined to promote her in December 2000.
In addition to fulfilling the universitys and departments promotion
requirements, Poindexter contends her record compared very favorably to a White male
colleague who had been promoted to full professor the previous year. Poindexter said an
analysis of the dossiers of Whites revealed that separate and unequal standards were used
in promotion decisions in the college and that race was a factor. My case is not
unique, said Poindexter. There have been at least 83 EEOC complaints filed against
UT since 1999, she said.
Poindexter is a former Los Angeles Times manager and executive, and KPRC-TV, Houston news
producer and reporter who returned to her Texas roots in 1991 as a visiting senior
lecturer at the UT. In the fall of 1992, she was appointed a tenured associate professor.
Poindexters dream, she said, was to become a full professor. Her dream was denied by
Wartella, the suit claims. In addition to being denied a full professorship, Poindexter
alleges she was passed over for the position of Chair of the Journalism Department,
despite support from fellow faculty members.
Instead, Wartella appointed a White male favored by Wartella and her husband, Charles
Whitney-a senior journalism faculty member. All full professors in journalism are White
After that decision, Poindexter sent a seven-page complaint letter regarding the selection
process to UTs President Robert Berdahl, with a copy to then Provost Mark Yudof.
Yudof was named Chancellor of the UT System in June.
Poindexter contends she was told that since she was not a full professor, she was not
eligible for the position. But a White female, who also was an associate professor, was
named chair of the Department of Speech in the College of Communications, she said.
Poindexter said she was not alone in being overlooked for leadership positions and other
benefits given to Whites. The only other African-American faculty member in the Journalism
Department was also overlooked.
She alleges Wartella hired many administrators, including department chairs, associate and
assistant deans and division heads, but she never hired an African-American until after
Poindexter complained about being denied her promotion. Earlier this year, Wartella hired
Lorraine Branham as director of the School of Journalism.
Another minority faculty member claims Mexican-Americans fare no better in the College of
Communications. Dr. Mercedes de Uriarte, who has been an associate professor in the
college since 1987, has been the victim of racial discrimination and harassment for years,
she said. De Uriarte, a former assistant editor at the Los Angeles Times, has received
numerous awards, fellowships and other honors from journalism groups and organizations
across the country.
She is widely considered an expert on Latin American affairs and is widely sought as a
panelist and presenter by minority journalism organizations. She currently heads a
$190,000 research project funded by a major foundation.
De Uriarte believes the university in general and her department in particular are also
hostile toward women. A review of the history of tenure denials and faculty
departures indicates a non-supportive environment for women, she said.
In 1998, de Uriarte filed a grievance against her department alleging hostile environment.
That grievance was heard in 1999 and the complaint was subsequently dismissed.
She said that as far as she can determine, there is no record of any faculty member ever
winning a grievance against the university. The system forces you to sue or bear
unfair treatment, she said.
The treatment of de Uriarte has attracted the attention of the national organization FIRE
(Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) which has intervened on her behalf. In
2001, FIRE wrote to UT President Faulkner citing numerous violations by the University of
her constitutionally protected due process rights.
Poindexter also contends that institutional racism is pervasive at the UT Austin.
According to data provided by her attorneys, although UT is the largest university in the
country, and the flagship university of the State of Texas, it has a very small percentage
of African-Americans in top positions.
According to UT statistics, only 5% (33) of 665 executives, administrators, and managers
are Black. There is one Black vice president. There is also one Hispanic vice-president.
The suit also contends that UT lags behind the nation in its percentage of
African-American students and faculty. Blacks represent only 3.5% of UTs total
student body population. Of 2,162 full-time faculty at UT, only 3% (67) are Black.
Whereas, across the country, 4.9% of faculty are African-American. When part-time faculty
are added, there are 76 (2.9%) Blacks out of a total 2,580 at the university. Blacks at UT
are concentrated at the service maintenance level. Of 1,165 service maintenance employees,
20% (228) are Black.
Women also fare poorly at UT. Of the total tenured faculty there are 957 men compared to
255 women. The number of Blacks with tenure is 40 and the number of Hispanics with tenure
These charges are not the only charges of racism that have been levied against the College
of Communications. In 1990, the Austin Association of Black Communicators, an affiliate of
the National Association of Black Journalists, challenged the accreditation of the
Journalism Department because of its failure to comply with the ACEJMC Standard 12. That
is the standard set by the national journalism accrediting body that requires journalism
departments to recruit, retain and advance minority students and faculty.
In 1996, AABC again challenged the departments accreditation. Because there were
also other areas in which the department did not meet standards, it was placed on
However, after significant lobbying by department officials of their journalism peers
within the accrediting body, the vote to put the department on probation was reversed by
one vote. Wartella referred calls to the UT public affairs department.
Poindexter said her professional and academic contributions have been demeaned by UT and
that this has damaged her career. As a result, she has suffered considerable emotional
As a result of failing to promote Poindexter to full professor and denying her leadership
opportunities and merit increases, Poindexters career advancement, prestige, salary
and retirement monies have been affected.
In her lawsuit, Poindexter seeks lost wages and back pay, payment of court costs and her
attorneys fees. She also demands a promotion to the position of Full Professor in
the School of Journalism, with seniority and salary to be determined on an equitable
I tried to work within the system, said Poindexter. I wanted to handle
it internally. But these people are so arrogant. If they had only talked to me and
acknowledged that my promotion hadnt been handled properly, I would have been
willing to forgive. Ive never asked for anything I didnt deserve, she
Poindexters attorney is Gary Bledsoe, who also serves as the state president of the