He might as well have been reading Jack and Jill

Dateline: Tue 08 Jul 2008

The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz Monday lowered the boom on the silly shenanigans at IUPUI, which has accused a student janitor of racial harassment for reading a book about the role of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana.

A brief recap: Student Keith Sampson was taking 10 from his janitorial duties last October and reading a book in the break room, "Notre Dame Vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan." The book was checked out from the university library.

That was not justification enough for co-worker Nakea William, who chose to be so offended by Sampson's reading of the book that she reported him up the line to the union steward and eventually to the school's affirmative action police.

To cut to the chase, the university, after sending threatening letters to Mr. Sampson -- who engaged the services of the American Civil Liberties Union -- is now furiously back-pedaling. University spokespersons -- those hapless public relations people who must carry the water for foolish academics -- are left trying to explain their actions, or in this case, deny them.

Says Rabinowitz: "It would take a heart of stone not to be moved, if not much, by the extraordinary efforts of these tormented agents trying to explain that the first letter was all wrong: No reading of any book had anything to do with the charges against Mr. Sampson. This means, I asked one, that Mr. Sampson could have been reading about the adventures of Jack and Jill and he still would have been charged? Yes. What, then, was the offense? "Harassing behavior." While reading the book? The question led to careful explanations hopeless in tone, for good reason, and well removed from all semblance of reason. What the behavior was, one learned, could never be revealed.

"There was, of course, no other offensive behavior; had there been any it would surely have appeared in the first letter's gusher of accusation. Like those prosecutors who invent new charges when the first ones fail in court, the administrators threw in the mysterious harassment count. Such were the operations of the university's guardians of equity and justice."

She also reports that University Chancellor Charles R. Bantz finally responded to the ACLU and the watchdog group FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) assuring them that the university is indeed committed to free expression.

Says the writer: "So far as can be ascertained, the university has extended no such expressions of regret to Keith Sampson."

To paraphrase Ms. Rabinowitz, such harassment cases are not rare, but this one is in a class by itself: a college has brought a case against a student for reading a book.

One other thought: this story has gone largely unnoticed by the Star. A reader of this blog sent me notice of the case last autumn; the story got wide blog circulation.

However, it took my reader calling the Star and finally getting thru to now-departed editor Pam Fine before a word was printed. Pathetic, because it is such a fascinating -- and egregious -- example of pretentious misunderstanding and mishandling that it cries out for ink.

Here is the link to Monday's WSJ piece:

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB121538889902431161-lMyQjAxMDI4MTA1NzMwODc4Wj.html

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