A local branch of the NAACP is investigating the “racial climate” at Linfield University. This comes after past allegations of sexual harassment have resurfaced against university board members — including university President Miles Davis, who is a Black man.
Linfield faculty members say the timing of this investigation feels like an act of retaliation as they have recently spoken out about accusations from students and faculty of harassment perpetrated by Davis and others within leadership at the private university based in McMinnville.
“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People currently is investigating events of the past year at Linfield, looking at patterns of implicit and explicit racism against Black members of our community,” the Linfield Board of Trustees Executive Committee wrote in a message to the campus community Thursday.
The inquiry from the Salem-Keizer branch of the NAACP follows Davis expressing concern that some of the allegations of sexual misconduct are against Black men — though, Linfield said it did not solicit the investigation.
Late last month, Linfield English professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner tweeted that he faced antisemitic comments from Linfield leaders, including President Davis. Some of those comments, Pollack-Pelzner said in his posts, came after he reported that multiple members of the university’s Board of Trustees — including Davis — had been accused of sexual misconduct by students and faculty in the past.
Pollack-Pelzner’s tweets prompted a letter from the Oregon Board of Rabbis, calling for Board Chair David Baca and President Davis to resign.
The university also received a letter from the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, expressing disappointment and concern over the alleged antisemitic comments.
Linfield spokesperson Scott Nelson said in a statement that the people accused of making antisemitic remarks deny those allegations.
In his response to the letter from the Anti-Defamation League, Davis pointed out that two of the board members who were accused of sexual misconduct are Black men. Those two men are Davis himself and trustee Norm Nixon, according to summaries of investigative reports provided to OPB.
According to those summaries, outside investigators confirmed the alleged incidents did occur, but the investigators concluded they did not violate Linfield policies around sexual harassment or Title IX.
“Professor Pollack-Pelzner not only raised issues of antisemitism, but also alleged that three trustees of the Board of Trustees engaged in sexual misconduct (two of the three trustees are African-American men),” Davis wrote back to the Pacific Northwest Anti-Defamation League.
Pollack-Pelzner later responded to Davis’ statement in an email to OPB. The professor said that he reported to the board that not three, but four trustees “had been accused of sexual misconduct, according to Linfield’s sexual misconduct policy definition.” Pollack-Pelzner said two of men accused are white, and two are Black.
Linfield spokesperson Nelson said the university did not prompt the Salem-Keizer branch of the NAACP to launch any sort of investigation.
“I don’t know what prompted [the] ADL letter, Oregon Board of Rabbis letter or the NAACP inquiry,” Nelson said in a statement. “They’re all similar, in that outside groups are weighing in because this issue has generated attention in public. Beyond that, their processes and timelines and findings are their own.”
In its message to the campus community Thursday, the Linfield Board of Trustees Executive Committee said it is encouraging the university “to work with each of those organizations to address their concerns and advise us on ways to improve.”
Pollack-Pelzner and a handful of other faculty members were contacted Wednesday evening by Salem-Keizer NAACP President Reginald Richardson — who said he is looking to have a conversation about the racial climate at Linfield, according to an email provided to OPB.
In an emailed statement back, Pollack-Pelzner and the other professors told Richardson they were concerned about receiving an invitation to talk so shortly after they had all spoken publicly about harassment and retaliation at Linfield.
“Subjecting employees of a university to immediate outside investigation after they have reported harassment and retaliation — no matter how well-intentioned the investigation — is itself an act of retaliation,” the professors wrote.
“It is this kind of culture at Linfield — one in which people who object to abuses of power then face further consequences from those who have been accused of committing the abuses — that we have tried to change, thus far with limited effect.”
The professors said they are open to a conversation about the racial climate at Linfield, but that conversation should take place with a broad group from the Linfield community, not only faculty who have spoken out publicly. The professors also note that such an investigation should be conducted by an NAACP chapter that is outside of Oregon in order to be truly unbiased.
“Out of our admiration for the NAACP’s work, we suggest that such a comprehensive, independent investigation might examine whether Linfield has enforced its harassment, discrimination, and retaliation policies equally for all members of the Linfield community,” the professors wrote.
Outside of the external organizations that have become engaged in Linfield’s situation, internally faculty members in Linfield’s College of Arts and Sciences earlier this week voted to express they have no confidence in the leadership of President Davis and Board Chair Baca. In that vote, the faculty members also called for Davis and Baca’s resignation.
In its message to the campus community Thursday, Linfield’s Board Executive Committee said the full Board of Trustees and its committees will be meeting next week to talk about that vote.
“In the meantime, the Board’s executive committee reiterates its strong, ongoing support for President Davis and Board Chair Baca,” the executive committee said.
The executive committee also noted that Linfield deans have sent a call to the Faculty Senate for a campus-wide “mediation” in order to “facilitate a culture of understanding and mutual respect that leads to university-wide cooperation and collaboration.”