Former professor accuses college of discrimination

By Matt Day

A former Macalester professor has filed a complaint with a state agency accusing the college of discrimination, an administration official confirmed Wednesday. Provost Kathleen Murray said Smadar Lavie, a former international studies professor, has filed a discrimination complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

“I can confirm that the complaint has been filed,” Murray said. “We have, as we always do, internally investigated the things in the complaint and are convinced that it is entirely unfounded.”

Murray declined to comment on the contents of the complaint, citing the ongoing investigation and confidentiality of personnel issues. She referred further questions to Macalester’s attorney, Dan Wilczek of Faegre & Benson, who would not comment.

E-mails and calls to Lavie by The Mac Weekly on Monday and Wednesday were not returned.

Lavie was hired in the spring of 2007 to occupy the Hubert H. Humphrey Distinguished Professorship. The position has a two-year contract, with the possibility of an extension.

Lavie’s predecessor, Mohammed Bamyeh, held the post for four years before leaving after the 2006-07 school year.

Murray said Lavie’s contract was not renewed for the 2009-10 school year, but would not say the decision was related to the charge of discrimination. Lavie filed the complaint with the state May 20.

Complaints are brought to the human rights department by anyone who feels they were discriminated against in matters of employment, housing, public accommodations, public services, education, credit and business contracts, according to the department’s web site. The department, which has no legal enforcement power, remains neutral and acts as an investigative and mediating body.

After a complaint is filed an investigating officer reviews the initial questionnaire to determine if the case merits further study. A positive finding does not indicate that there has been a violation of the law.

The investigator is then charged with determining if there is probable cause to suspect that discrimination occurred.

If the investigator finds probable cause, the parties are encouraged to come to an agreement to settle the dispute. If no reconciliation occurs, civil legal action is the most common result, said Yi Lao, human resources specialist with the St. Paul Department of Human Rights, which uses similar practices to the state office.

Lao said it could take as long as a year before investigators reach a conclusion.

“I would like to think this would be resolved more quickly than that,” Murray said. “But I won’t even guess at this point.”

Murray said Wilczek drafted the college’s response to the complaint after she investigated its claims.

Murray said she did not know the current status of the investigation. “It’s in their hands,” she said, referring to the Department of Human Rights.

David Moore, chair of international studies, and Ahmed Samatar, international studies professor and dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship, both declined to comment on the complaint. Moore said that he was advised by college administration officials not to talk about the case.

The HHH Distinguished Professorship is vacant for this academic year. Both professors declined to comment on the status of the search for a new faculty member to fill the post.

Lavie is listed on the University of Virginia’s Web site as holding an associate professorship in women and gender studies.