The Florida Courier investigates the turmoil at Florida’s largest private HBCU. This week – Eight instructors fired; eight lawsuits filed against the school. A common theme: Lack of due process.
By The Florida Courier Staff –
(NNPA) A Florida Courier search of federal and state courts in which Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) has been sued reveals that at least eight lawsuits have been filed in less than two years against the school – and personally against B-CU President Trudie Kibbe Reed – by instructors or former high-level employees.
The Florida Courier also has learned that B-CU has been put on notice that two additional lawsuits are forthcoming – one by a female student who said she was raped on the college campus, but refused to press charges; and one by former B-CU Head Basketball Coach Clifford Reed, who was fired for allegedly refusing to cooperate with the school’s investigation into those same rape allegations levied against Reed’s son C.J. – a star on the men’s team – and C.J.’s B-CU teammates.
Various reasons, same theme
The plaintiffs filing the lawsuits were terminated for various justifiable reasons, at least from the school’s perspective – for criminal activity, for having sex with students, for abandoning the job, for poor performance, for falsifying academic credentials.
But the eight current lawsuits have common themes – that the individuals filing the lawsuit were all terminated from B-CU improperly, either in violation of the school’s own procedure, their employment contracts – or both.
Consistent with report
As the Florida Courier has reported for the last three weeks, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a non-profit group that represents the interests of college and university instructors around America, harshly criticized President Reed after she terminated seven B-CU instructors in 2009.
In October 2010, AAUP issued an extensive report that resulted in B-CU being listed as one of 49 institutions nationwide where conditions for academic freedom and tenure are considered to be "unsatisfactory." The report concluded that B-CU denied terminated instructors "virtually all aspects of academic due process" – a charge that virtually all of the lawsuits make.
Five of the seven instructors mentioned in that report sued the school – and Reed personally.
What and where
Two lawsuits were filed in federal court and allege violations of federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Leave Medical Act.
Six were filed in the state circuit court in the Daytona Beach-Volusia County area and allege violations of state law, including the Florida Whistleblower’s Act.
As to the "whistleblower" allegations, Reed is accused of firing instructors who allegedly "blew the whistle" on illegal acts they witnessed on campus: students with guns, sexual harassment, unsafe environmental conditions, embezzlement of funds and grants, campus theft, "ghost’’ workers, and unauthorized sale of school property – among other things.
The fact that five of the lawsuits were filed personally against Reed means that she may be personally liable for payment of money damages to the former instructors who filed the actions – if they win. Six of the eight lawsuits claim that as a result of how they were terminated, B-CU, Reed, or both destroyed their academic reputations to the point where they can no longer find work as teachers.
Last week, in a written statement, Reed seems to give little credence to the due process argument, saying "...our priority is to protect the welfare and safety of our students," especially with regard to protecting students against sexual harassment by teachers.
In the lawsuits the school has formally answered, the plaintiffs’ allegations have all been denied.
Florida Courier reporters Andreas Butler, Ashley Thomas, James Harper and Jenise G. Morgan all contributed to this report.