Harris-Stowe State University placed their trust in the wrong administrator. Would they have promoted Latisha Smith to Dean, knowing what they know now? Knowing her decisions led to a $5 Million court ruling against them?
That’s 5 Million dollars that could have been used any number of better ways — upgrades to the campus and facilities, adding new courses, tuition assistance for struggling students, child care spaces for single moms — the possibilities could be endless. But instead, it is compensating people whose rights were violated by the school itself.
This could have been preventable, had somebody challenged the thinking that led to this problem. You see, Latisha Smith held to a particular set of ideas. These ideas, like all ideas, had consequences.
She reportedly subscribed to a “black power” ideology. Her us-versus-them, zero-sum thinking led her — as an aggrieved “victim” — to use her position in the school to retaliate against the perceived enemy. In her economy, this meant white people.
Her position allowed her to fire people without just cause. And she used this power to its full effect. Of the white professors on staff while Ms Smith was Dean, only the one protected by tenure avoided firing. By comparison, the only black prof she let go was one who was convicted of a sex crime.
Naturally, she couched the firing in the right language. (Blaming budget cuts.) But the courts saw that for the lie it was, since the two black profs hired to replace her had a combined income greater than her own.
What gave Ms Smith away? She deleted a lot of emails, but not all of them. It’s the ones she missed that gave her away. One such email included complaints about her prejudice by another black instructor. The quote: “I am floored to know that we have an interim leader that has voiced her prejudice so openly to me and others…”
Even though she is no longer working for the school, her actions cost them almost $5 Million. If she’s in a similar position of authority elsewhere, I hope her hiring and firing practices are scrutinized there as well.
What lessons could be learned here?
That adage about evil triumphing when good people do nothing applies. Something stopped people who knew what was happening from stopping it. Were they afraid of special interest lawsuits? Of labels of racism, or white privilege? Of retributive firing? Who knows?
But the signs of the problem were present long before she had purged all non-tenured whites from the faculty, had anybody truly faced them.
And maybe it’s finally time we show greater respect people of every ethnicity, by holding everyone to the same ethical standard. Racism is wrong, whether your skin is pink, yellow, brown, or any other color.
If the school had treated her racist attitude the same way we’d treat some racist white guy, she’d never have advanced to a position to do such harm in the first place. Imagine all the better ways one might use that $5 Million. It’s an expensive lesson. I hope someone learned from it.