College lawsuit pending

By BenitaZepeda

On Oct. 5, former Columbia faculty member Suriyha H. Smiley filed a civil lawsuit against the college after she was terminated for allegedly making an anti-Semitic comment to a

student.  She alleges the college subjected her to racial discrimination, which led

to her termination.

Smiley, who was a part-time faculty member in the Radio Department for more than 14 years, allegedly told one of her students, “I should have known you were Jewish by the size of your nose.”

Smiley filed a suit saying that the college did not take the proper steps to investigate the allegations made by the student, and that based on her Arab ethnicity, she was treated  differently than other teachers would have been in the same situation. She was the only teacher of Arab descent in the department.

According to the suit filed with the court, Smiley was notified on Dec. 4, 2008 about a student’s complaint, but was not informed of the complaint’s details. She had a meeting on Dec. 9 with Stephanie Downs, assistant director of Student Relations, to further discuss the accusations, but according to the document, she was still not provided with additional details of the complaint.

On Dec. 13, 2008, Smiley was contacted by Barbara Calabrese, department chair for the Radio Department at Columbia, but when asked, was still not informed of the details regarding the complaint filed against her, the document stated.

The lawsuit states that following the meeting, Smiley met with  Calabrese and Louise Love, assistant  provost, on Dec. 16, 2008. It was there when Calabrese finally revealed the details of the accusation.

The document states that Smiley denied the allegations and asked if the other students in her class were questioned about the incident. Calabrese and Love said the college was not allowed to question other students without Smiley’s consent. Smiley promptly granted her consent for the other students that were present to be questioned.

After Smiley gave her permission, Calabrese and Love said the college could not involve the students, but said they would begin an investigation. The document states that one day later, Smiley received a letter from Love informing her of her termination from the college based on the college’s Anti-Discriminatory and Harassment Policy.

The document sites that after receiving her termination letter, Smiley requested a copy of the policy, but the Information Technology Department initially said they could not locate the document. It was then located several days after Smiley’s request, which was another reason Smiley is suing because of discrimination based on her race.

When contacted by The Chronicle, both Calabrese and Love said they were unable to comment on the issue.

CAIR-Chicago Staff Attorney Kevin Vodak is Smiley’s representative  in the case.

“The unsubstantiated allegation against and subsequent firing of Sue Smiley reeks of racism,” Vodak said in a press release. “ For the school to not investigate the veracity of one

person’s singular claim before terminating instructor Smiley’s job is malicious and irresponsible.”

The document states that Smiley said she believes that Columbia did not treat her as fairly as other faculty members that are not of Palestinian or Arab decent when they were in an accusatory situation.

At the time of the incident, the filed complaint states there were eight other students and a teacher’s aid present in the classroom.  The complaint contends that several of those students confirmed that no anti-Semitic remarks were made, and that they were not contacted or questioned by the college prior to Smiley’s termination.

Because the complaint is so new and there is high sensitivity surrounding the case, neither Smiley nor college representatives were available to comment on

the lawsuit.

Smiley is requesting a trial by jury and the court date has not yet been announced.