Keith John Sampson, in his early 50s, does janitorial work at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), where he has been accumulating credits toward a degree in communications studies. IUPUI, however, apparently has a rather narrow view of the sort of communication that is provided by books. Recently Sampson got into a good deal of trouble by reading — on his own time and in the employee break room — a book that some of his co-workers didn’t like, or rather a word in whose title they didn’t like, Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan .
Last November Sampson received a letter from Lillian Charleston of the IUPUi Affirmative Action Office.
The letter begins by saying that the AAO has completed its investigation of a coworker’s allegation that Sampson “racially harassed her by repeatedly reading the book Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan by Todd Tucker in the presence of Black employees.” It goes on to say, “You demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your coworkers who repeatedly requested that you refrain from reading the book which has such an inflammatory and offensive topic in their presence … you used extremely poor judgment by insisting on openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black coworkers.” Charleston went on to say that according to “the legal ‘reasonable person standard,’ a majority of adults are aware of and understand how repugnant the KKK is to African-Americans …”
Sampson was ordered to stop reading the book in the immediate presence of his coworkers and, when reading the book, to sit apart from them.
But wait. There’s more.
Last week, Sampson received a second letter, dated Feb. 7, 2008, and postmarked Feb. 21, 2008, from Charleston in which the AAO says they were unable to draw any final conclusions as to whether or not Sampson’s choice to read the book was intentionally hostile, and therefore no adverse disciplinary action will be taken at this time.
The matter does not seem to be resolved, however, as Sampson has recently learned that the incident is now being investigated by IUPUI Human Resources. Todd Tucker, author of the book, has recently become involved in defending Sampson’s right to read the book, which is available at the IUPUI library as well as the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library.
I’m sure it would be helpful not only to Mr. Sampson but to concerned readers worldwide if the Affirmative Action Office of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis would make public the criteria it uses to determine when choices of reading material are “intentionally hostile.” And as an added benefit, if librarians could be educated on how to spot these “intentionally hostile” book readers they could report them directly to the nearest affirmative action office, which would save the potential victims of this hostile reading from having to undergo the trauma of observing someone reading a book whose title or cover they find offensive.
UPDATE [6 March]
Turns out I was late to this party. The Volokhers already nailed this one.
UPDATE II [7 March]
Protein Wisdom has some interesting observations about this affair, including a pointer to a remarkable document on the IUPUI Affirmative Action web site, Myths and Facts About Affirmative Action, that is a good example of what passes for analytical thought in the affirmative action industry these days. (HatTip to reader Fred Ray.) Presumably this document reflects the wisdom of Lillian Charleston, IUPUI’s affirmative action director for 16 years and, according to this bio, a “nationally recognized” expert on affirmative action.
A couple of examples:
- It is a MYTH that affirmative action involves discrimination against whites or Asians. It can’t, because blacks are incapable of discrimination.
The parameters of discrimination based on race are distinguished by the power dynamics. Reverse racism is not, therefore a reality if people of color are not in positions of power and perpetrating the discrimination.
- It is a MYTH that affirmative action involves preferential treatment of any individuals or groups based on race or ethnicity. Why? Because “race and ethnicity are not solely considered for admissions. Thus, there is no such thing as preferential treatment.”
- It is a MYTH that affirmative action harms whites and Asians. “Though affirmative action is believed to have harmed white men, this contradicts the reality that white men hold structural power in society today.”
So, there is no preferential treatment unless race is the only factor considered in admission or hiring. No whites or Asians are harmed by affirmative action so long as other whites continue to hold “structural power.” Etc.
Even though she propagates views such as the above, I don’t know that I would fire Ms. Charleston. But I do believe I would put her in Mr. Sampson’s position and him in hers.
UPDATE III [1 May 2008]
Thanks to F.I.R.E., Mr. Sampson has been cleared of all charges. Reading in public, apparently, is no longer regarded as racial harassment at Indiana University – Purdue University.