Following Logan Isaac’s September 2016 federal complaint, a compliance officer with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) interviewed the Duke University Divinity School interim Dean, among other managerial employees. The interview was conducted on campus on January 31, 2017. Here is a link to the OFCCP interview notes which we received through a Freedom of Information Act request. Some commentary is provided below the break which may provide some context as to why this interview is significant.


Context

On February 29, 2016, the office of the Dean sponsored an “Implicit Bias” presentation by the University’s Chief Diversity Officer. Isaac received an invitation in January 2016 from the former Registrar , stating attendance was optional, but an RSVP was required to secure a slot. The presentation went from 10 to 11:30am, then Isaac met with the Interim Dean for a pre-arranged meeting at 2:30pm. No mention had been made of veteran status in the presentation, but he did find the University’s Affirmative Action Plan for Veterans and People With Disabilities as a result.

Before discussing details, Isaac told the dean he needed her to keep the conversation in confidence because he was asking questions about hiring and employment decisions made under the dean’s watch. Duke University and Health System is North Carolina’s third largest employer. Isaac had been assigned an unusual and inconvenient evening teaching section, which he told the dean would conflict with duties as a father when his first child was to be born the following fall.

Isaac was the only teaching assistant he knew of who had an evening section, which had never been offered in the three years he spent as a student. Further, he had only been assigned half the number of students as other teaching assistants in his lecture course. These circumstances appeared to Isaac to reflect a lack of trust in his skill or experience teaching, which were documented in the resume he provided prior to being hired. He had also been very open about his 2008 medical diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and he worried that misconceptions and stereotypes about his diagnosis may have influenced decisions that would affect his career aspirations. Isaac reiterated his concern for confidentiality by telling the dean that, as a contract worker in an at-will state, “the squeaky wheel gets replaced.”

It is important to note that acting deans are named by the University’s Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) (p.9) as as the responsible party for EEO and affirmative action programs for their individual college or professional school.

Transcript Reflections

Question 7 is interesting because it appears that Duke’s retained legal counsel was either present at, or revised/updated the testimony of managers as they were interviewed by federal investigators.

In question 12, the Dean recalls that, as late as February 29, 2016, Isaac did not have any “allegations.” Until June, when he filed an internal complaint, he was trying to understand what resources existed for veterans and how he could help make Duke a better place for his peers.

Attention turns to a Senior Director in question 13, in which it appears as though the position for which that individual was hired failed to meet the standards required by law. The interim dean oversaw the hiring process for the “senior director of admissions and financial aide” but cannot recall if any veteran applicants were rejected. This cuts against their responsibility outlined by the University’s AAP. This suggests that the invitation to self-identify was either not in compliance with the law or did not exist, a violation of federal labor law. Was a veteran turned down for this position? We may never know, but we can reasonably infer that the hiring process was not in compliance with either the University’s own AAP or applicable federal law.

To her credit, the interim Dean points out that it is the responsibility of the university’s HR department and the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) to ensure compliance with the law, not her own. Unfortunately, OIE’s senior leadership will sooner alter materials after the fact rather than promote diversity and inclusion at the university or adhere to federal law protecting under-represented populations. As with other interviewees, the interim Dean insists that supervisors are “absolutely” held accountable to EEO policy, but does not provided the requested explanation as to how accountability unfolds. (q.24)

Question 22 stands out as well, given it’s context and reflections from student veterans. In it, the interim Dean references a “public gathering outside the Chapel.” The event in question was held on May 10, 2014 and organized by Duke Divinity Veterans, a group Isaac founded in 2011. The group called it a “Liturgy of Confession and Reconciliation.” Duke alumni and retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey was to speak for commencement, just a few days before memorial day. Intended as “a witness of the Christian community to the seriousness of [military suicide] and a plea to General Dempsey to allow Christian communities to be a part of the solution.” The Chaplain opposed the event, leading one student veteran to reflect

things do “not look rosie for [Duke Divinity Veterans] in the coming years” and with the appointment of [the Chaplain], I think its going to be worse. Think back to the prayer we had last year in front of the chapel to call attention to military/vet suicide: she was one of the “concerned” people that wanted us to move and not disrupt the baccalaureate.

The idea that this even represents an example of what the Divinity School has done to support veterans is therefore misguided. Rather, it discloses the efforts of managerial staff willfully ignoring and even actively suppressing the full veteran participation in, and benefits of, activities at a prime contractor like Duke University.

History of Anti-Military Bias?

One remark that begs for clarity is the interim Dean’s comment which the transcript has recorded as “I knew from years past that we had veteran students in the past and don’t always feel that their voice is prominent at the divinity school.” It is not clear if this is something she is remembering Isaac say, or if it is something she is actually saying herself. If the transcript is to be trusted, then it is her own statement (“I knew”), but it’s very possible it is in fact an error or mistake on the part of the recorder.

If it’s assumed that the transcript is accurate, and she is indeed reflecting from her own experience, then she is stating that student veterans have approached her in the past who did not feel their voice was being heard at the Divinity School. Let’s also assume that she does not have in mind any of Isaac’s own advocacy on campus, which began in 2010. Perhaps she is referring veteran activity in 2008, when a Duke student veteran committed suicide not far from East Campus.

Alex Ney’s death was the catalyst that created the organization known as Duke Vets and inspired the Office of Student Affairs to voluntarily take on responsibility for student veterans at Duke (for which there is no oversight). In February 2009, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta promised three things would change for student veterans;

  1. formalize veterans’ programming as part of Duke’s new student orientation
  2. add military status to the admissions information collected by Duke’s schools
  3.  a campuswide half-day workshop on serving veteran students

By the time Isaac arrived in 2010, none of the above efforts had come to fruition. But the flurry of activity surrounding Alex’s death may have been what the interim Dean had in mind when she referred to student veterans lacking the representation they felt was fair. At least Alex got a memorial service in Duke Chapel, overseen by the Chaplain, who was Director of Worship there at the time of his death.

Memorial Services should not be the only way in which the voices of student veterans are given prominence at Duke University. 

 


Other OFCCP interviews can be found here.

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