For much of the past year, rumors have been swirling at Duquesne University about allegations of gender and racial discrimination at the Catholic school. But since such complaints are generally confidential, the campus could only whisper about who might be involved.
Until President Charles Dougherty hit the "send" button.
In a May 3 e-mail, Faculty Senate President Paula Witt-Enderby wrote to Dougherty and Provost Ralph Pearson that "we are hearing from an increasing number of faculty about discrimination." Faculty members, she wrote, were speaking about filing complaints with the school's Affirmative Action Office and a faculty grievance committee. "Several have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission," she wrote -- and "several are preparing to file lawsuits."
Writing on behalf of Faculty Senate officers, Witt-Enderby added, "We are very concerned about the number of these reports, and the pattern of gender-, racial-, and age-related discrimination they allege."
Witt-Enderby did not name anyone involved in the complaints, nor discuss the circumstances surrounding them. But on May 4, Dougherty e-mailed a response to her -- and cc'ed the university's staff. Dougherty wanted to share his response to "what [Senate officers] think is an increase in the number of discrimination claims," he wrote, because "this is an issue that ... faculty and staff take very seriously."
In fact, Dougherty actually named at least some of those accused of discrimination.
"I presume," he wrote, "that among the claims you are referencing are those made by three individuals from the School of Law." Among the targets of those complaints, according to Dougherty, were the university itself and the religious groups affiliated with it, along with "Provost Ralph Pearson, Law Dean Ken Gormley, General Counsel Linda Drago, other members of the faculty and staff, and me."
"The faculty senate was trying to be respectful and helpful" by e-mailing Dougherty and Pearson, says law professor Nick Cafardi, president-elect of the faculty senate. "It really was a confidential communication. Dougherty's e-mail made this matter unnecessarily public in a way that hurts the university."
Dougherty is no stranger to controversy. As City Paper began reporting more than a year ago, accusations have been surfacing that Dougherty's leadership style has put academic freedom and collegiality at risk.
And with allegations of discrimination now circulating more or less openly, things on the Bluff don't seem likely to improve any time soon.
It's unclear exactly how many discrimination complaints have been filed at Duquesne, or where they have been filed. There are a handful of offices with jurisdiction over such matters, each with different standards of confidentiality.
Officials at the PHRC and the EEOC, which enforce anti-discrimination laws at the state and federal level, would not disclose how many complaints have been filed by Duquesne employees.
The university's Affirmative Action Office -- which investigates discrimination complaints from both students and faculty -- says eight complaints were filed in 2007, six in 2008, and eight in 2009. Nine cases are under investigation this year, office director Judith Griggs wrote in an e-mail.
Citing confidentiality reasons, university spokesperson Bridget Fare declined to say how many complaints have been filed with the University Grievance Committee, which investigates grievances like denial of tenure and other "due process" concerns. But university sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, say there have been at least three complaints filed there in roughly the last year.
In his e-mail, Dougherty assures that his administration has "zero tolerance" for discrimination. He notes programs his administration has authorized over the past few years, including "[m]andatory sexual harassment training for all university employees" and a Minority Scholarship Program, "resulting in a 53 [percent] increase in minority students in the freshman class from Fall 2007 to Fall 2009."
As for the allegations against himself and other administrators, Dougherty's e-mail says, "I am sure you appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on these claims, other than to say it is fully expected that they will be proven groundless."
If Dougherty was seeking to reassure staffers, it may not have worked.
For one thing, his e-mail focused on complaints concerning the law school, though in a May 4 follow-up to Dougherty, Witt-Enderby writes that "we have been led to understand that there are active concerns with several other schools."
Witt-Enderby did not return calls for comment, but Cafardi confirms that complaints have been filed, both internally and with government agencies, in two other schools. (He declined to name them.) "[The complaints] involve allegations of racial and sexual discrimination," Cafardi says.
"It's inaccurate to say that this is a law-school problem," says law professor Bruce Ledewitz, a vocal Dougherty critic. "But I think [singling out the law school] was strategic."
Dougherty's relationship with the law school has been tumultuous. In 2006, the president denied tenure to a popular law professor, and in 2008, he removed law-school Dean Don Guter from his post. Both decisions sparked campus protests. If Dougherty can portray the complaints as merely a law-school problem, Ledewitz surmises, then he can argue that "those [discrimination] claims are not true. It's just some malcontents."
Dougherty's decision to publicly name those accused has also raised eyebrows.
According to the university's Executive Resolutions, which set policy for the school, when the Affirmative Action Office receives a discrimination complaint, it "will invoke the internal grievance procedure with due consideration of the rights of the person being accused or against whom a complaint has been filed." It goes on to say, "This grievance procedure is entirely internal."
In an e-mail to CP, Fare wrote that "No policies were violated" by Dougherty's disclosure. The "three Law School issues are claims filed with outside agencies" not bound by school confidentiality, and the "specific nature of the complaints were not discussed."
In any case, Fare says, "There have been no objections from the co-respondents who were named in the message."
Pearson, Drago and Dougherty did not return calls for comment. Gormley declined to speak with a CP reporter about the e-mail.
Even so, says chemistry professor Skip Kingston, a member of Duquesne's Grievance Committee, "It was inappropriate to name names."
Cafardi says that including the names was inappropriate, but "Did he violate any university rules? I couldn't answer that."
Officials from the state PHRC and the federal EEOC confirm that, while commission employees are prohibited from disclosing the names of those involved in a complaint, private citizens are free to go public with such information.
That includes Dougherty, says EEOC spokesperson James Ryan. Still, Ryan adds, it's unusual for an employer to name those accused of discrimination, including himself.
"I've been doing this job a long time," he says. But "I've never heard that before."