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Sept. 21, 2020

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Clark College expands discrimination decision

School finds former employee violated policy in 4 instances

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:

Clark College ruled on four discrimination complaints against it on Tuesday, saying a former employee violated college policy in every occasion.

The decision revises and expands a Sept. 3 decision by the Board of Trustees in which only one of four allegations of violations of the college’s discrimination and harassment policy was deemed as founded.

Details remained thin on the nature of the four complaints, including who filed them and against whom they were filed. But after the Sept. 3 decision, three of the people who filed the complaints appealed the college’s lack of action, and the board on Tuesday unanimously acknowledged a “preponderance of evidence” that discrimination had occurred in all cases.

Separately, the board rejected a request from the person the complaints were made about to also reconsider the ruling. That person has only been identified as “a former employee.”

“We have taken these complaints very seriously and have considered the findings made by an independent investigator. At the request of those involved, we deliberated a second time; closely reviewing the college’s policy as it relates to the complaints,” Trustee Chair Jane Jacobsen said in a college news release. “We support our employees and their right to be heard.”

At a September meeting, Clark College trustees described “concerning” information gathered by Seattle firm, D Diamond Consulting, in the process of the investigation. The college paid the firm $13,000 to review the complaints.

Interim Clark College President Sandra Fowler-Hill is supposed to propose new and updated policies by the end of March 2020 in response to the investigation:

• To review and update the performance evaluation process for the college president and members of the college’s executive cabinet, a team of vice presidents and college directors.

• To establish standard practices for setting salaries for staff serving in an interim position.

• To establish a process for complaints made against the college president, executive cabinet members or board of trustees.

The rulings come in the midst of ongoing scrutiny about how Clark College treats its students and employees of color.

Clark College doesn’t have a permanent leader in its Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion after now-retired President Bob Knight put a halt to the hiring process at the end of May. Public records show Knight said candidates who had already been identified by a consulting firm did not meet the “minimum qualifications” for the position. His decision was met with frustration by other members of Clark College staff.

Public records also show a senior level staff member in the college’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion quit in October 2018 after experiencing “stress-related illness due to the hostile work environment I endured.”

The employee notes, in particular, “well-documented bias issues at Clark College against women of color,” as well as an “increasingly unsafe environment … caused by white nationalist hate groups.” Clark College responded to a series of racist and anti-Semitic posters hung on campus in 2017 and 2018, and canceled class one day in October 2018 when far-right agitators Patriot Prayer demonstrated on campus.

“It is clear that a reasonable person would determine that the aforementioned breaches to standard workplace safety are severe and pervasive enough to warrant such action,” the staff member wrote.

It’s unclear whether the woman made an official discrimination complaint with the college.

The Columbian has filed a records request for the work papers for the investigation. College staff say the material will likely be made available in November.

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