According to news reports, the story began last October with a 58-year-old communication-studies senior at Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) by the name of Keith John Sampson. He was a student employee at IUPUI working as a janitor.
During his break, Sampson was reading Todd Tucker's book titled Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan, a book which was also carried in the university library.
The next thing Sampson knew, the Anglo student got a visit from his representative from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union who told him not to bring that book back into the breakroom. A co-worker by the name of Nakea William had complained.
Sampson protested that the book was an ANTI-Klan retelling of an historic event in 1924 when the students of the University of Notre Dame disrupted a Klan rally in South Bend, Indiana and drove the Klan out of town. The rep ignored the explanation and repeated his warning.
Now that was bad enough. But this incredible story didn't end there.
Next Sampson was called into the campus Affirmative Action office where assistant affirmative action officer Marguerite Watkins read him the riot act. Sampson's protests about the scholarly nature of the book and the anti-Klan bias did him no more good there than it had with his union rep.
Reminder: This incident took place on the campus of an university, a bastion of higher education and intellectual freedom.
The WSJ reports the next chapter in this ludicrous story which took place in November:
Mr. Sampson stood accused of "openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black co-workers." The statement, signed by chief affirmative action officer Lillian Charleston, asserted that her office had completed its investigation of the charges brought by Ms. Nakea William, his co-worker – that Mr. Sampson had continued, despite complaints, to read a book on this "inflammatory topic." "We conclude," the letter informed him, "that your conduct constitutes racial harassment. . . ." A very serious matter, with serious consequences, it went on to point out.
Sampson sought the help of the Indiana state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union which contacted the university. Things began changing after that. In February, the same chief affirmative action officer who had concluded he was guilty of racial harassment without ever speaking to him sent a new letter that essentially rewrote history. According to the WSJ:
. . . she wished to clarify her previous letter, and to say it was "permissible for him to read scholarly books or other materials on break time." . . . She had meant in that first letter, she said, only to address "conduct" that caused concern among his co-workers.Meanwhile FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) had taken up the case. According to the Star Press, an online newsletter in Indiana, Adam Kissel of FIRE said that second letter was not good enough:
“By first finding Sampson guilty of racial harassment simply for reading a book in the break room, then refusing to admit the gross impropriety of such a finding, IUPUI makes a mockery of its legal and moral obligations as a public institution of higher learning.”Clearly feeling the heat from FIRE, Chancellor Charles Bantz wrote a letter to both the ACLU and FIRE, saying he regretted what had happened. However, his regret did not extend to writing an apology to Sampson.
Mr. Sampson told his own story in a May edition of the New York Post here. He said his shop steward told him, "You could be fired," that reading the book was "like bringing pornography to work."
Sampson closed his first-person account in the New York Post with these words:
The unchecked power of such campus bureaucrats needs to be restrained. And if a union like AFSCME won't protect its workers' constitutional rights, it should go out of business.On Monday of this week (after the Wall Street Journal account), the Star Press reported:
If they can stop me from reading one book, then they can stop any American from reading any book.
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Chancellor Charles Bantz apologized to Keith John Sampson in a letter dated Friday, saying the university is committed to free expression.I will be the first person to say that racial intolerance should not have a place in today's society. However, that knife cuts both ways. When people are so overly sensitive that they see offense where none is intended AND persist in that belief despite clear evidence to the contrary, things need to change.
From the top down.