F&S noose incident prompts probes

F&S noose incident prompts probes

URBANA — A University of Illinois groundskeeper was fired earlier this month after tossing a noose on a worktable used by a black co-worker, and two civil rights organizations are looking into the matter, officials said this week.

Representatives of the Champaign County NAACP planned to sit down again today with interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson and other campus administrators to discuss the incident as well as employee complaints about discrimination in the UI Facilities and Services department, NAACP President Patricia Avery said Thursday.

The organization also sent the campus a joint letter signed by the National Action Network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991, asking that the campus publicly denounce the noose incident, Avery said.

"It's totally unacceptable," she said.

Avery was hesitant to say much in advance of today's meeting, saying UI officials have cooperated with her organization.

This will be the second time the two groups have met, and the campus Office of Human Relations is conducting a climate survey at Facilities and Services in response to the longer-term employee concerns, said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

"We are still investigating the incidents that have been going on with F&S employees," Avery said. "The University of Illinois has been very cooperative. We get regular updates. We know what's going on. But this noose thing has just taken it to another level."

The incident took place on April 6 and was first made public by Urbana patent attorney and blogger Andrew Scheinman, though Avery said her group is not working with him.

An employee who had been on the job only a couple of months fashioned a hangman's noose out of a piece of rope and left it on a table in a work area, "which understandably intimidated colleagues," according to an email account by Allan Stratman, director of Facilities and Services.

The employee, who was still on probation, was fired the next day, according to the university.

Stratman also sent an email to F&S employees on April 7, saying "such behavior is inappropriate, offensive and unacceptable."

"My expectation for all employees is that we treat each other with respect and dignity. We will not tolerate threatening, provocative behavior. We all are privileged to be representatives of one of the world's best universities. We need to work together to live up to that responsibility," the email said.

Avery argued that the campus should have gone further and issued a "public denouncement."

"We know that the gentleman was fired, so the immediate threat has been removed," Avery said. "The employee, at least, doesn't have to worry about that co-worker harassing them any further.

"We certainly believe this is not the University of Illinois' guiding principles or policies, but I think they should make that known, that it will not be tolerated and that ... this display anywhere on the campus will be met with swift and certain action," she said.

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said such messages are typically sent to the group of people closest to the issue who are most affected by it. In this case, the incident wasn't widely known on campus, she said.

Kaler noted that Stratman's email was sent to about 1,250 F&S employees.

Avery said the campus has responded "in a more appropriate fashion" in other cases. The day before the incident, on April 5, someone chalked defamatory messages about immigrants outside the UI's Latino/a Studies Building, including "Build the Wall" and "Trump Deportation Force." Wilson sent out a mass email to the campus about the "painful" impact offensive messages can have.

Urbana City Council member Aaron Ammons, a UI building service worker and president of Service Employees International Union Local 73, called the incident "extremely serious," especially for black employees whose own ancestors may have been the victims of lynchings.

"Apparently, the university did the right thing," he said, "but what else was there to do in a situation like that?"

"It gives you a very clear glimpse and window into some of the circumstances and the situations that many employees, especially African-American employees, and I would dare say students, faculty and staff, have had to cope with working here over the years," Ammons said.

Ammons said he heard about the incident from community members and co-workers, and his foreman also discussed it with employees and emphasized that that kind of behavior "would not be tolerated."

Avery questioned how an employee of the university, who was still on probation, would feel comfortable enough to throw a noose on the desk of a black co-worker.

"Who does that?" she asked. "I'm very concerned about the culture."

Avery said the NAACP has been working for months with a group of nine to 10 employees who complained of discrimination and unfair treatment at Facilities and Services. She reiterated that the university has been "very responsive."

Through the climate survey, the campus is reaching out to every employee in Facilities and Services "just to see how things are going, to see if there are widespread concerns or there are pockets of challenges" or isolated incidents, Kaler said.

So far, about 200 employees have been interviewed, she said. The survey is confidential, but the data will be aggregated into a report detailing any improvements needed, Kaler said.

"We certainly do appreciate that they are cooperating. We're just seeking resolution to these situations," Avery said. "We know that no one should be subject to any type of harassment."

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IlliniwekMerica wrote on April 29, 2016 at 8:04 am

This incident was deplorable and should not be tolerated, which it clearly wasn't, shown by the immediate firing of the employee who did it.

I don't think any group should be pressuring the campus to formally denounce the incident. That just gives more credence and press to an awful act performed by a single person; seems to me the University did the exact right thing in firing the employee immediately and taking steps to gather the opinions of other employees so something like this won't happen again. 

aking wrote on April 29, 2016 at 8:04 am

I disagree. This climate is long standing. Yes it has improved and yes more action is being taken but I do think the public should be made aware and yes I do think the campus should formally denounce such vile acts and take a strong stance that such acts will not be tolerated.

The university did not immediately act to terminate the employee. The supervisor did not contact HR the same day it happened.  Once the supervisor determined who did it, he was allowed to go back to work.  Pressure had to be given to admin to terminate the employee...which is still a controversial stance.  It is highly problematic that the supervisor and other employees did not immediately see the severity of the situation and act accordingly.

This isn't one bad egg, one department, its all of campus.  We have to address these issues as a community and come together to do better and stop the finger pointing.  All of our hands are dirty and we are all accountable in creating resolutions.

aking wrote on April 29, 2016 at 9:04 am

And now swastikas are found spray painted in our buildings. Again not an isolated occurance.

andrewscheinman wrote on April 29, 2016 at 9:04 am

Go read dissident-startups.org, it's NOT an isolated incident, it happened after the unity had been under scrutiny for a year by UIUC, it happened after countless meetings by worried employees with top admins, including Killeen and Wilson.

It happened because the racism was condoned and ignored.  It has nothing to do with outside pressure, it has to do with a failure of the university to act to protect employees and keep them safe.

Another worker was punished for filing EEOC complaints.  How?  He was assigned to work in a 95 degree basement with dangling asbestos and mold and vermin.  And when he complained safety did nothing for MONTHS.

NOT an isolated incident, NOT a single bad actor.  No police report by UIUC on what is certainly a hate crime.

And on and on and on.

andrewscheinman wrote on April 29, 2016 at 9:04 am

"Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said such messages are typically sent to the group of people closest to the issue who are most affected by it. In this case, the incident wasn't widely known on campus, she said."

So there was no reason to send out TO EVERYONE the story of a noose on a black man's desk in a unit already under scrutiny with multiple EEOC and ODEA complaints.  Why even send it to all F&S, why not send it to the two people involved and no one else?

Kaler at her dissembling best.  Are those the principles the university stands for: do as little as possible, tell as few people as possible and reveal as little as possible while claiming the moral highground of "we solved the problem, we fired him?"

And btw, the firing was only after intervention by a high up black employee at F&S; otherwise the guy would still be at work.  And no police report was filed.

Moral high ground.

andrewscheinman wrote on April 29, 2016 at 10:04 am

Yes the noose throwing was horrible, but ask yourself, "where did this idiot come up with the idea of doing this," especially on the same day Wilson was sending out her massmail about the chalk on the sidewalk.

The guy might be evil, but he's also a fall guy for the administration's failure to act.  The people responsible for a safe work environment are the managers and the administrators.  You don't make a work environment safe by fixing problems ONLY WHEN THEY HAPPEN, you make it safe by prevention.

Do you treat exposed electric wires by fixing them when workers are electrocuted?  No, of course not.  Do you treat dangling asbestos by ignoring it until workers get asbestosis?  Of course not.

Do you treat an environment of systemic harrasment that's been reported as such over a year of repeated conversations, EEOC and ODEA filings, and horror stories by WAITING until someone is lynched?

No.

RonaldJerome wrote on April 29, 2016 at 4:04 pm

I asked myself "where did this idiot come up with the idea of doing this", and I answered "out of his idiot brain". The problem with this answer is that is does not provide the justification for Andrew Scheinman, Patricia Avery, National Action Network, Champaign Co. NAACP, or any other social justice warriors to beat the drum and cry institutional racism and disregard for human rights.

I particularly enjoy Mr. Ammons comment: "Apparently, the university did the right thing," he said, "but what else was there to do in a situation like that?" They did the right thing, BUT? Do the right thing, do the wrong thing, it doesn't really matter, because that's not the point. Feeding the cravings for attention of the social justice knights in shining armor IS the point.

andrewscheinman wrote on April 29, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Wrong.  So very wrong.  The entire unit's been under scrutiny for over a year for racism at the top, another worker was put in a 95 degree basement with dangling asbestos because he filed EEOC complaints.

This is SO clearly not a one-off, 7 to 30 black employees raising red flags to UIUC's Wilson and Killeen for a year, an ongoing investigation, 7 EEOC filings, countless ODEA filings.

But sure, can't be any of that.  It must be a desire for attention on my part and that of other people.  Couldn't possibly be anything else other than a single man doing something stupid out of no background toxicity.

And pigs have wings.

hokyshmokes wrote on April 30, 2016 at 9:04 am

Yeah, actually, the latter does sound like the more logical, reasonable scenario. Thanks for reiterating that. 

Bulldogmojo wrote on April 29, 2016 at 4:04 pm

It’s truly unfortunate these kinds of menacing acts are taking place on this campus but let’s lay some blame where a good deal of it belongs, the rise of an ugly undercurrent of Conservatism that seems to reflect the ‘Dixie-crat’ segregationist ideology. Anti-immigrant, racist, separatism. The notion of making America great again when it is already enlightened and great and in danger of a large scale return to these kinds of hatreds as a matter of due course of life. We see the blaming of poor people for the economy, anyone of brown skin treated as an intrusion of some absurd notion of divine right and every shade of ugly drunken twisted sense of entitlement thwarted dressed up as mock patriotism. These same bigots are the first ones to decry a liberal arts education which provides us with an understanding of culture and each other’s humanity. Other people don’t have a real existence to them and they are a genuine threat to the safety of everyone with their brand of irrational fear and hate mongering. Call them out and keep the discussion open.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”~ Elie Weisel

K. Mitchell wrote on April 30, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Please, the alt-right is a response to the budding totalitarianism and unyielding intolerance of the campus leftists, not a factor in their creation. The left preaches segregation while the right preaches unity. The left limits free speech while the right defends it. They call for discussion, but only want to lecture. Their minds have been closed to new ideas since grade school. It's only natural that there would be a backlash, but unfortunately that backlash has been equal in its insanity yet opposite in its direction, instead of moderate as it should have been.

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 01, 2016 at 1:05 am

 

Well, you seem stable

K. Mitchell wrote on May 01, 2016 at 4:05 am

I'm plenty stable. You just don't seem to be able to tolerate different opinions. "Ugly drunken twisted sense of entitlement thwarted dressed up as mock patriotism". Does that word salad give any semblance of stability?

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 02, 2016 at 2:05 pm

 

Your poor reading comprehension skills are not my concern. I tolerate opinions, not racial bigotry and its apologists.

Carry on with your stability...

Boss Hog wrote on April 30, 2016 at 8:04 am

In my opinion this was a minor incident - Probably just a gag.  There's no evidence that it involved racism.  But they just can't resist playing the race card and trying to get attention.

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 02, 2016 at 3:05 pm

 

In what context is a noose tossed on someone's desk at work a good thing? Where do you work? So I can avoid doing business with that place.

andrewscheinman wrote on April 30, 2016 at 11:04 am

Since I know the person it happened to, let me correct your statements about "just playing the race card."  There was no playing of the race card, and nooses are not "just a gag," in the same way that grabbing a woman's behind isn't "just a sign of affection."

Workplaces are not the wild west, Women can't be harrassed and threatening signs can't be left.  Workers can't put up obscene calendars, they can't make derogatory statements: that's not called "supression of free speech," it's called "progress."

The guy here reported it, expecting there to be followup given that this is a unit under investigation for racism.  If a woman had her beind grabbed would you call it a "gag" if it was a one-off?  Perhaps.  Would you call it a "gag" if other women had been groped and the company was under investigation for systemic sexual harrassment?  Of course not.

I apologize for going on about this, but what happened was so plainly wrong that I don't get how people could excuse it.  My guess is that there's fair compassion for the idiot who did it, and I share that.  He's an idiot, but it's the fault of the unversity for letting that environment become so toxic that someone -- even an idiot -- could feel it was okay to do what he did.

The people responsible are UIUC administration, all of whom are still getting their large salaries, this guy is out of a job, and the whipping boy for UIUC.  Does he deserve a kicking?  Sure.  But he's not the source of the problem.