Arizona State University tenured faculty member files civil rights lawsuit against Arizona Board of Regents, ASU President Michael Crow and other ASU officials

2008-08-13 17:23:00

    PHOENIX, Aug. 13 /EMWNews/ -- Dr. Theresa Cameron filed suit today

in the U.S. District Court in Phoenix seeking an injunction and other

relief against the Arizona Board of Regents; Arizona State University,

President Michael Crow; departing Dean of the ASU College of Design,

Wellington "Duke" Reiter; Associate Dean Kenneth Brooks; and the former

director of the College's School of Planning, Hemalata Dandekar, alleging

violations of federal civil rights and employment laws that make it

unlawful to discriminate on the basis of disability, gender or race. Dr.

Cameron was the first African-American woman to be awarded tenure in the

College of Design when she achieved that accomplishment in 2000. After

spending her entire childhood in foster care, Dr. Cameron put her self

through college and eventually obtained her Ph.D. in Design from Harvard

University in 1991. Her childhood experience is chronicled in her book

Foster Care Odyssey in America: A Black Girl's Story published in 2002. Dr.

Cameron and her book were featured in the Arizona Republic in June 2002.

    The lawsuit alleges that Dr. Cameron requested adjustments in her

teaching schedule and course load beginning in March 2005 when she prepared

to return from an approved medical leave of absence and has renewed these

requests, all of which were denied, at the beginning of each academic

semester. The lawsuit also alleges that at or around the same time, she

challenged Dean Reiter on issues relating to pay disparity in the College

of Design and offered an affidavit in support of a colleague who had filed

suit against the Arizona Board of Regents and ASU President Crow in another

federal civil rights lawsuit in Phoenix. The lawsuit further alleges that

as a result, Crow, Reiter, Brooks and Dandekar worked together to revoke

Dr. Cameron's tenure and terminate her employment.

    Dr. Cameron claims in the lawsuit that she was falsely accused of

misconduct in order to terminate her status as a tenured faculty member

under Board of Regents policies -- the most serious allegation being

plagiarism in the construction and use of six course syllabi she made

available to students in some of the courses she taught. Dr. Cameron

challenged these allegations under the Board of Regents and ASU policies

that provided for a hearing before the ASU Faculty Senate's Committee on

Academic Freedom and Tenure ("CAFT") consisting of five full ASU professors

from various disciplines within the university. The complaint in the

federal lawsuit alleges that after conducting a full hearing on the matter,

CAFT members unanimously found no credible evidence to support two of the

three charges and further found that the construction and use of course

syllabi was not a clear case of plagiarism and did not justify terminating

a tenured faculty member. CAFT unanimously recommended that Dr. Cameron be

reinstated to her teaching status and that she undergo a review process

where she would be given assistance in the construction and use of course


    Under Board of Regents policies, the university president has the final

authority to accept or reject CAFT's recommendation. ASU President Crow

did, in fact, reject CAFT's findings and recommendation and terminated Dr.

Cameron's status as a tenured professor and ASU employee and faculty

member. The lawsuit alleges the action was discriminatory because ASU

President Crow permitted a white, male professor accused of

misappropriating work of a graduate student and publishing it as part of

his own work to remain on faculty and retain his tenured status. The

incident was reported in the Arizona Republic on December 15, 2004.

    Rev. Oscar Tillman, president of the Maricopa County Chapter of the

NAACP, calls the firing of Dr. Cameron an outrage. "This is one of several

incidents involving what we believe to be disparate treatment of minority

faculty and students at ASU. The NAACP has been made aware at the national

level of the circumstances involving Dr. Cameron. The fact that a white

professor remains a tenured faculty member while a black tenured professor

is fired over something the ASU Faculty Senate saw as unworthy of

termination is deeply troubling."

    The termination has left Dr. Cameron without income or much needed

health benefits. The lawsuit seeks to overturn ASU President Crow's

decision to fire Dr. Cameron, reinstatement to her tenured faculty post and

unspecified money damages. It also asks the federal court to issue an

injunction requiring the Board of Regents to continue Dr. Cameron's salary

and benefits during the pendency of the lawsuit. No date has been set for a

hearing on the injunction request.

    Dr. Cameron is represented in the lawsuit by the Phoenix labor and

employment law firm of Martin & Bonnett, PLLC.

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