Education

White Professor Alleges Racial Discrimination at Historically Black University

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It's not easy being a white man in 2022. Just ask Richard Yaklich, who worked for 22 years at South Florida's only historically Black university, Florida Memorial University (FMU), and achieved tenure — only to be notified in early February that he was being laid off at the end of the semester.

Though the school previously told New Times the decision to lay off Yaklich and three other tenured professors wasn't "personal" and was "part of a data-driven process," Yaklich believes he was demoted, denied a promotion, and ultimately laid off because he is a 58-year-old white man. In February, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging discrimination on the basis of age, gender, and race.

"I've noticed most of the hires there have been primarily African Americans," Yaklich recently told New Times over the phone. "It just seems like they are wanting the whole school to be African-American."

After being placed on a yearlong probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges last July, FMU has taken a number of steps to address the dire financial issues threatening its accreditation. Those measures include eliminating 18 positions — staff, administrators, tenured and nontenured faculty, and vacant positions — and discontinuing 16 degree programs in the Schools of Arts and Sciences, Business, and Education. Because tenured faculty positions are indefinite appointments, tenured professors like Yaklich can only be terminated "for cause or under extraordinary circumstances, such as financial exigency and program discontinuation." 

"In order to protect the legacy and sustainability of FMU, these decisions had to be made," Sharee Gilbert, FMU's director of communications and marketing, wrote in a March 28 statement emailed to New Times. "Data proved it to not be of benefit to keep faculty and staff on and to keep programs open that were underperforming."

Yaklich was hired in 2001 as an assistant music professor and spent years working his way up to his tenured position as an associate professor.

Last August, according to Yaklich's complaint to the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) — which was filed in tandem with his EEOC complaint per a work-sharing agreement between the two agencies — he was removed as the director of assessment, a position that oversees regional and specialized accreditation efforts. The demotion resulted in an $8,500 salary reduction. Yaklich states in the complaint that there was "no discussion, no vote, and no opportunity to appeal the demotion."

Around this same time, Yaklich claims in the FCHR complaint provided to New Times, he was also passed up to chair the Humanities Department and a younger, less-experienced Black colleague got the position instead. In the FCHR complaint, Yaklich describes the new humanities chair as an "unqualified, substantially younger black female."

"I really do believe that part of that reason [she was promoted] was because that person was African-American," Yaklich tells New Times.

Faculties at historically Black colleges and universities tend to be much more diverse than those at other academic institutions. Forbes reports that overall, HBCU faculties are 56 percent African-American or Black, 24 percent white, 9.5 percent Asian, and 2.5 percent Hispanic, and less than 1 percent are Indigenous or of two or more races.

FMU declined to share the racial makeup of its faculty but wrote in the March 28 email to New Times that, of the ten faculty members who were laid off, three are Black females (ages 64, 72, and 80), two are Black males (ages 68 and 74), two are white males (ages 58 and 69), two are white females (ages 55 and 88), and one is an Asian male (age 72).

"There was no discriminatory intent; rather, all of the decisions made were legitimate, objective, and in the best interest of the university and its students," Gilbert wrote.

Yaklich, who served on the school's board of trustees for four years as president of the faculty senate, previously told New Times that he has been "very vocal" about issues at FMU. He believes his position was eliminated owing to open disagreements he had with FMU president Jaffus Hardrick during board meetings.

If the university won't agree to mediation, Yaklich's attorney, Randy Fleischer, says he intends to sue FMU on behalf of Yaklich and three other tenured professors he represents.
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Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca

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