City Paper is not for tourists
Howard University has an old-school way of banishing undesirables.
Philosophy Professor D. Chernor Jalloh first antagonized his superiors at Howard University in 1999, when he gave failing grades to several students in his Principles of Reasoning class. After tussling with administrators and parents of the failing students, Jalloh says, the university changed the grades without his consent. Howard spokesperson Donna Brock declined to comment on the allegation.
Then, in 2000, Jalloh drew sexual-harassment charges based on complaints filed by students in the same class. Jalloh, a 17-year tenured veteran of the Howard faculty, refused to respond to the charges. In August 2000, Howard suspended Jalloh with pay from his job and later that year informed him that he would be fired.
But keeping Jalloh out of the classroom wasn’t good enough for the university. It wanted him off campus property altogether. To this end, it posted a flier around campus:
ALERT BULLETIN Dr. Chernor Jalloh, Associate Professor in the University’s Department of Philosophy College of Arts and Science, is barred from all Howard University owned properties and facilities. He is not permitted entry at any Howard University sponsored activities or events. The only circumstance under which he may enter Howard University owned or operated properties or facilities, is when he is accompanied by a member of the Howard University Campus Police.
The fliers offered no reason for Jalloh’s banishment. Nor did they issue any instructions to students and faculty on how to handle a Jalloh sighting.
Howard officials prefer not to comment on their approach to keeping undesirables off campus. Former Philosophy Department Chair Segun Gbadegesin is currently on sabbatical, and calls to Dean of the School of Arts and Science James Donaldson were referred to Brock.
“That matter is pending litigation. There is no comment,” says Brock, citing a defamation suit filed by Jalloh in October 2001.
In court documents, Howard claims the bulletin is protected by the school’s “qualified privilege.”
When the alert was first displayed on campus is a matter of dispute. In court documents, Jalloh says the alert was published in December 2000. Howard responded that the alert was not put up at that time, but the school offered no alternative date for the first posting.
The alerts were posted again at the beginning of the fall 2001 semester, and some still linger on campus, including one beneath the glass at the front desk of the university’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
Richard Wright, chair of the Faculty Senate, an independent body of professors that serves as a go-between for the faculty and the administration, says Howard failed to make its case against the professor. “Why should you be given an alert without understanding as to why the alert is put out?” Wright says. “The next question is: What are we supposed to do?”
In a Jan. 28 statement, the university’s Faculty Grievance Commission wrote, “[I]t is distasteful, disgraceful, and utter slander” that Jalloh “would be posted like a common criminal ‘dead or alive’ on the campus. It is vaguely reminiscent of the types of pictures posted during times of slavery, when a runaway slave…was being sough [sic] for lynching.”
Jalloh’s version of the story goes like this: In the fall 1999 semester, six students in his Principles of Reasoning class didn’t measure up to his standards, so he assigned them failing grades. A few months later, the professor discovered that at least one parent had been upset by his child’s failing grade. Jalloh was called into a meeting with Gbadegesin and Donaldson. Jalloh refused to budge on the F.
Jalloh says the meeting made him suspicious, so he checked with the registrar’s office, where he discovered that several failing grades that he’d given had been changed to passing ones without his knowledge. Jalloh demanded that the administrators change the grades back, but they refused.
In March 2000, the university informed Jalloh that he was being investigated for sexual harassment, on the basis of complaints filed by students in the same Principles of Reasoning class. Sharon Banks, an attorney employed by Howard University’s Office of the General Counsel, asked Jalloh to respond to the charges. He refused, arguing that the proper jurisdiction for such cases is the Faculty Grievance Commission—the university’s internal mechanism for resolving conflicts between the faculty and the administration.
The university refuses to comment on the sexual-harassment charges.
Jalloh insists that the sexual-harassment charge stems from a university attempt to punish him for the alleged grade-changing issue.
And in court documents, the professor argues that the “gender discrimination and sexual harassment [charge is] based on alleged generalized philosophico-social statements [made in class and] clearly covered, because of their generalized determination, by the doctrine of academic freedom.”
At the root of the harassment charge may be Jalloh’s admittedly unorthodox teaching style. Jason Maddox, a philosophy senior, recalls that discussions in his fall 1999 Philosophy of Law class routinely began with law but often ventured into tangents. Maddox cites an exam that featured a question about a man’s dog biting off another man’s penis as an example. Jalloh says one offended student refused to take the test without alteration to the text. The professor says he changed the question, with reservations, and allowed the student to take the exam.
“It was the sickest piece of reading material I’ve ever read,” Maddox says. “There wasn’t a sentence that went by that didn’t refer to weird sexual mutilation.” Maddox says the wild scenario did challenge him to cut through its inherent craziness to extract the law.
Jalloh is confident that he will win his defamation suit against the university and that he will teach at Howard again. The Faculty Grievance Commission appears to agree, noting that “violations of academic freedoms and due process has [sic] occurred against Dr. Jalloh.”
“All this shit happened because I discovered the grade change,” he says. “The specific goal of the university is to cover up a grade change. What I do know is that I caught them red-handed.” CP