Trial Of Delaware State University Professor Who Said He Was Fired For Teaching “Too Black” Starts Monday

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[COURT NEWS]
History Professor Dr. Jahi Issa
Photo: screenshot

Dr. Jahi Issa: fired because his teaching style was deemed "too Black" at a HBCU?

The trial of a Delaware State University history professor who said he was twice passed over for a promised promotion before being fired for his “too Black” teaching methods, will start in Delaware next week.

Was history Professor Dr. Jahi Issa fired by Delaware State University because his teaching style “too Black?”

Next Monday, the case of Jahi Issa v. Delaware State University (DSU) will begin in the U.S. District Court of Delaware. Also named in Dr. Issa’s suit are several DSU administrators and officials, including former DSU President Dr. Harry Williams, former DSU Provost Alton Thompson, and DSU police officers Harry R. Downes, Dominick Campalone, and Justin Buchwald.

The upcoming trial is the result of seven years of litigation in federal court between Dr. Issa and Delaware State University. Among the allegations Dr. Issa has made against DSU, is that he was twice denied a promotion, was the victim of repeated harassment, and was eventually unfairly arrested before being fired. He is seeking reinstatement—plus millions in damages. Nine counts of discrimination are alleged in a court document filing dated April 23, 2019.

Dr. Issa was hired, by DSU, in August 2008, as an Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies, in the Department of History, a position which should’ve allowed him to become a tenured teacher. However, that September, Dr. Issa was allegedly told, by the Acting Chair of the Africana Studies Department of History, that his teaching methodology was “too Black.” He was supposedly told he should be careful what he taught students in his African-American history class—or, he would be terminated.

Two years later, in the fall of 2010, Dr. Issa applied for a promotion, as an associate professor. He was told it had been approved by a committee majority. Yet, the promotion was apparently overridden by Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Dr. Marshall Stevenson—and possibly by Dr. Williams too. Allegedly, at this same time, the department promoted two White females, who Issa said "were not as qualified" as him.

In February 2011, Dr. Issa filed a complaint with DSU’s Human Relations. He was told, after an investigation that no action would be taken. Issa, in court documents, has alleged “a history of harassment and discrimination throughout his time at DSU.” Among other things, he has stated “his office was entered without his consent” and “items were removed.” He alleged that someone “urinated in his office” and “a flyer depicting a lynching was put under his office door.”

In July 2011, Dr. Issa went to the Delaware Department of Labor and filed a charge of discrimination against DSU. He documented the instances of harassment and being passed over for promotion.

n September 2011, Dr. Issa sent a letter to the DSU Board of Trustees informing them of the harassment he had undergone at DSU and expressing his reasons for filing a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge. Issa “raised concerns that African American tenured faculty at DSU comprised less than 30% of all tenured faculty, that only 7 of 43 full professors were African American, and only 14 of 65 associate professors were African American." He lamented the fact that “DSU was moving away from its roots as an historically Black university.” Moreover, he “cited an article he had written that had been recently published on September 6, 2011, entitled ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Historically Black Colleges & Universities in the Age of Obama, Part 1 of 3."

In his letter, Dr. Issa requested “DSU save its African American faculty and make DSU the best historically Black university it could be.” He again applied for an associate professor position. He was informed, in November 2011, that his application was approved by a majority vote in the committee.

However, allegedly, on January 13, 2012, Dean Stevenson sent a letter to Issa again reversing the committee’s decision. Dean Stevenson purportedly then referenced Issa’s critical article, published on September 6, as an "opinion piece-not a work of thoughtful scholarship." The next month things got worse.

On February 29, 2012, a group of students approached and asked Dr. Issa—who is well like by students—for his support in staging a peaceful protest against DSU President Dr. Harry Williams. The students were critical of the manner in which Dr. Williams was running the university. They, like Dr. Issa, felt DSU was abandoning its roots as a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Issa supported the students’ request and the protest was scheduled for March 1, 2012.

The protest march led to more acrimony between Dr. Issa and DSU officials.

On the day of the march, DSU Police were called to stop it. DSU Police told the students they must disperse because they needed a protest permit. DSU spokesman, Carlos Holmes, told reporters at the time “DSU is just like any other municipality. You cannot go and have a parade in Dover unless you have a permit. We have the same rules at DSU. You cannot have an event unless you go through the proper channels.”

Issa, and the students, resisted the attempt to stop the protest. In the ensuing chaos, Issa was arrested for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, offensive touching of a law enforcement officer, and inciting a riot. DSU spokesman Holmes said Issa was arrested “when he became verbally abusive to police.” Interestingly, Holmes wasn’t quoted as saying Issa threatened police. So, what exactly does “verbally abusive,” mean here? Dr. Issa said something police didn’t like? Issa has maintained his First Amendment right was violated.

Consequently, this incident made a bad situation worse. It fast tracked the firing of Dr. Issa.

After spending several hours in jail, Issa was released and purportedly pressured into signing a notice prohibiting him from entering DSU. Then, one day after the incident, Issa was sent a letter advising him he was now on administrative paid leave—pending an investigation into what happened at the protest. By April 4, 2012, he was sent a letter by DSU’s counsel asking him to sign a document admitting to wrongdoing. He was asked to admit to using his "teaching time at DSU to encourage the students” in attacking the “principles of an HBCU.” He was also asked to admit he “used a flyer which was racially inflammatory and depicted the lynching of an African American,” and that he “planned and encouraged the students to demonstrate” unlawfully.

Allegedly, DSU also wanted Dr. Issa to admit to disobeying DSU Police—and to assaulting them. After refusing to acquiesce to these, and other demands, Dr. Issa was sent a termination letter on August 17, 2012. After he was fired, DSU went ahead with prosecuting Issa on four criminal charges.

By January 20, 2015, all these charges had been adjudicated in Dr. Issa’s favor.

However, Dr. Issa has suffered much in the intervening period. Besides losing his teaching job, his reputation has been slandered and he has suffered emotional trauma from these events. Dr. Issa is now seeking to be reinstated—and is seeking monetary damages for how he has been treated.

Dr. Issa’s accusations against Delaware State University are serious. Was he terminated because his teaching methods were “too Black?” Was he denied a promotion, while “less qualified” White colleagues were promoted? It surely wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened.

Unfortunately, many of the people involved here are tight-lipped about Dr. Issa’s case. The Black Star News was unable to get a response from the DSU's provost, regarding Dr. Issa accusations, by publication time. The dropping of the criminal charges against him suggest those charges were weak in the first place. The charges of discrimination, allegedly, by high-ranking DSU officials, must now be answered.

Perhaps those answers will now be revealed when Dr. Issa’s lawsuit gets underway next Monday.

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