The case isn’t closed

July 30, 2008

In less than 10 seconds, with the aid of Google, you can find a full description of the controversy surrounding Keith Sampson. If you are Sampson, this will prove to be exceedingly detrimental to your job prospects in a world where 77 percent of employers now run Internet searches on prospective employees. Of course, these online sources are in addition to the publicity that resulted from the accusations and countless newsprint stories regarding the incident that circulated for months, tarnishing Sampson’s name and reputation.

You may recall that Sampson was the IUPUI student and employee who, according to Affirmative Action Officer Lillian Charleston, "demonstrated disdain and insensitivity" for reading Todd Tucker’s "Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan," in a break room at IUPUI in front of black co-workers.

IUPUI has dismissed the entire controversy. In a letter dated July 11, IUPUI chancellor Charles Bantz states, "Since no adverse disciplinary action was taken and no information regarding the investigation was placed in your personnel file, we, therefore, consider this matter closed."

While Bantz has exhibited a trace of remorse, expressing regret for the way the situation was handled and apologizing to Sampson, in the eyes of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, this does not do much to cleanse Sampson’s name. Until he discovers the cure for cancer or something equally newsworthy, his virtual Google profile of controversial search results will endure.

IUPUI’s crude and indelicate accuse-first-investigate-later methods have not only been injurious to Sampson, but have also caused right-wing activists to criticize affirmative action. Todd Tucker, author of the book, has received support from ultraconservatives and explained, "People use this to trash affirmative action … I’m uncomfortable with that." An incident such as this one makes a mockery of the real issues concerning race and affirmative action by regarding the presence of an anti-Klan book on a university campus as deserving of reprimand. Accusing Sampson of "racial harassment" for reading a scholarly work only serves to dilute the meaning of what real racial harassment is. In any event, frivolous legal action regarding racial issues only serve to deaden the public’s perception of racial harassment as a serious issue.
IUPUI needs to do more than apologize in their attempt to correct the problem they caused. In a nation built on the ideology of "innocent until proven guilty," their wrongful yet enduring accusations must be remedied by much more than a simple letter. For Sampson and for affirmative action, the behavior of IUPUI with respect to this controversy will have long-term repercussions.

What Bantz has seemingly failed to understand is that his closure of Sampson’s case has a truly negligible impact in the areas where his university’s actions have been the most damaging. Further antidotal undertakings are necessary. While Charleston’s replacement is a start, the Office of Affirmative Action must make significant changes and reevaluate their procedures for addressing complaints and problems. Additionally, IUPUI should offer more aid to Sampson, who remains confused and uncertain in how to proceed with his education and how to go about finding a new job.