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Week of September 4 - 10, 2002
B
y Roxanne Evans


UT, Communications Dean sued
Associate Prof., Dr. Paula Poindexter files discrimination lawsuit

Dr. Paula 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 treatment.
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 university’s and department’s 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.
Poindexter’s 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 males.
After that decision, Poindexter sent a seven-page complaint letter regarding the selection process to UT’s 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 UT’s 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 is 54.
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 department’s accreditation. Because there were also other areas in which the department did not meet standards, it was placed on probation.
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 distress.
As a result of failing to promote Poindexter to full professor and denying her leadership opportunities and merit increases, Poindexter’s 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 basis.
“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 hadn’t been handled properly, I would have been willing to forgive. I’ve never asked for anything I didn’t deserve,” she said.


Poindexter’s attorney is Gary Bledsoe, who also serves as the state president of the NAACP.

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