John H. George's bid for tenure at Youngstown State University last year looked good for a while. The director of the School of Technology supported him as did the tenured faculty. But after upper-level administrators rejected his bid last fall, George sued the university in federal court, saying that it discriminated against him based on age, sex and race. Among other things, George accuses Youngstown State of setting aside positions for minority applicants, a charge institution officials deny.
Jim Lieber, George’s lawyer, declined to provide a copy of the complaint or to comment further on the lawsuit, which seeks back pay, reinstatement, legal fees and damages. But he confirmed the basic outlines of his client's arguments, as laid out in an article that appeared in the local newspaper, the Vindicator.
George was hired in 2000 into the School of Technology, and signed a tenure track contract in September 2005, the same month that he won support from the technology school's faculty. However, the dean of the college that oversees the school and the provost recommended against tenure in October. In November, faculty in the school again supported George’s bid for tenure, but Youngstown State's president turned him down.
According to George's account, a three-member tenure appeal committee recommended last February that he be tenured. But in May, he received a letter from the president denying tenure. He was terminated later that month.
George told the local newspaper that he discovered last March that the university had created a special hiring category for members of minority groups to fill five faculty slots. He charged that his position had been singled out for one of those hires. George filed a discrimination claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a "right to sue" letter last September.
Larry Watson, an associate regional lawyer with the EEOC, said that he could not comment on any particular case. But he said that after the agency has investigated a complaint and found no probable cause, people are routinely given a right to sue notice. However, the notice does not imply that the EEOC backs the complaint.
William Wood, director of the School of Technology, confirmed the basic outlines of George's account. However, he did not know if faculty positions had been set aside specifically for minority candidates. "I have no information on that," he said.
Ron Cole, a spokesman for the university, said that he had not yet seen the notice of the lawsuit and could not speak to its specific charges. “The complaint was initially filed with the EEOC, and they found no probable cause and dismissed it,” he said.
Cole added that the Board of Trustees passed a resolution last fall to increase faculty diversity, but there are no set-asides for a specific number of minority faculty positions. "That effort has nothing to do with this tenure case," he said.