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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Reaction to Thomas among some FIU faculty

Not surprised this is happening: The director of women's studies at FIU is organizing protests against the hiring of Isiah Thomas as men's basketball coach, relating to Thomas having been found liable (along with the Knicks and the team owner) for the sexual harassment of a Knicks employee.

I was surprised we did not hear more from these faculty members early in the week, from when the rumors of the hiring began on Sunday until the press conference on Wednesday. But it all happened so quickly, no one had time to get a statement or protest organized. But this is a legitimate objection to the hiring, one I mentioned initially and one that I hope gave the administration genuine pause before making this move. This is the one element of risk (more than Thomas' ability as a basketball coach and recruiter, where he cannot be much worse than recent past coaches) that could come back to bite the university.

Women's studies is planning to hand-deliver a copy of the FIU Sexual Harassment Policy to Thomas at the men's basketball office--a cute, but somewhat in-your-face, publicity stunt if the goal is genuinely to engage Thomas on this issue. They also want to organize a teach-in on sexual harassment and discrimination, with the hope that Thomas, athletics department administrators, and the new FIU president (who will be announced in a couple of weeks) will participate.


In an e-mail interview with The Daily Advertiser of Lafayette, LA (Louisiana-Lafayette is a member of the Sun Belt Conference), the director (a philosophy professor named Laurie Shrage) said that she had received "enthusiastic" responses to her comments in The Times (discussed above), that university administrators had assured her that Thomas would have to undergo the same training on sexual-harassment policy as all other high-level executives and supervisors, and that HR was planning several events beginning in the fall on sexual harassment, apparently in response to an extensive expression of opposition from some quarters to the hire. Of course, the cynic in me reads these comments as HR trying to stop faculty from making noise.

Here is an interesting detail, though. Shrage also said she was abandoning the plan to hand-deliver the sexual-harassment policy because some HR folks had expressed concern that the action (what I earlier referred to as "stunt") could "escalate into a confrontation that might violate Thomas’s right to work in an environment free of hostility." This does not seem right to me. No one has a baseline right to a pleasant work environment (if they did, many faculty members would be out of jobs) other than over certain issues (sex, race, etc.). And "person liable for past sexual harassment" is not a protected class. So I do not see how criticizing Thomas for his past harassment, while certainly unwelcoming, somehow violates Thomas' legal rights. What am I missing here?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 18, 2009 at 07:24 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


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