Editor’s Note: Resignation over racial tensions means the college should listen up

By Megan Bennett, Editor-In-Chief

No institution of higher education is perfect when it deals with allegations of insensitivity toward minority races and cultures. However, with all of the abundant resources Columbia is putting toward diversity, equity and inclusion, one would think this college would be more prepared to do so.

As reported on the Front Page, tenured faculty member in the Television Department—and one of the most marketed professors on campus—Michael Fry abruptly left his position a week before the Spring 2017 Semester, which he said was because of racial discrimination that came from the top leaders in the department and School of Media Arts.

Fry left after 10 years as a full-time employee who was adjunct professor before that. The allegations have been investigated by the Office of Human Resources and no evidence of unfair treatment was found, according to a Feb. 10 statement from college spokeswoman Anjali Julka.

This departure comes at an incredibly inopportune time for the college. Columbia is currently trying to solidify its reputation as a national leader in diversity, equity and inclusion with various seminars, forums, committees and job appointments. Academic leaders are also proposing that DEI be a curricular requirement, as reported on Page 4.

If Columbia wants to effectively continue with this work, it needs to discuss plans of action following allegations like these with top leaders: the DEI committee and President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, who organized the committee. Even if the allegations are unfounded, which is the college’s stance on the matter, they still need to discuss what Fry said he was asking for all along: training that helps the predominantly white faculty and staff understand the experiences of others.

Despite HR’s decision to not move forward with Fry’s allegations, the college should not brush them off as if it never happened. If a tenured faculty member—especially one whose history with the college is drastically more storied than that of most current administrators—says there is a discrimination problem, it is time to listen.

The college could bring an independent party to speak with non-white tenured faculty members about how or if they feel respected within their department, especially because Fry is not the only full-time faculty member to make similar allegations. According to the college’s statement, Fry is in addition to four full-time faculty members who have filed racial discrimination complaints to governmental agencies within the last decade. This does not account for the possibility of faculty and staff who felt similarly but never reported, which, similar to why Fry said he waited to file a grievance, could be due to fear of retaliation.

To make matters worse, Fry’s face is still plastered on the outside wall of the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building as part of a marketing campaign that aims to prove Columbia is a diverse and accepting place. He has been removed as the face on an online banner people see when they first visit the college website following his resignation. To keep Fry attached to the college is a dishonest attempt to promote the college’s diverse faculty and is beyond inappropriate—it is insulting to him, prospective students and the entire college community.

If the college has any respect for what Fry accomplished during his time as a tenured professor, which it should considering its heavy use of his image for marketing, then it needs to honor that by listening to and accepting what he and potentially other faculty members say will help improve this institution’s environment for employees and students. No matter if they think the complaints have merit or not, the college needs to use this unfortunate loss as a wake-up call; get employees the training they need to foster a safe and positive workplace for all.

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