Brandeis University hosts town hall meeting after Meehan’s firing

April 13, 2018

President Ron Liebowitz, Provost Lisa Lynch and President of the Board of Trustees Meyer Koplow ’72 hosted a town hall meeting following the recent firing of men’s basketball coach Brian Meehan. At the meeting, community members discussed issues of racial discrimination and a perceived lack of transparency on behalf of the university administration.

President Liebowitz announced Meehan was fired on April 5. This came after an initial Human Resources (HR) investigation into “discriminatory treatment, unprofessional behavior, and racially biased harassment” that began last spring, according to an email sent by Liebowitz to the student body. The university took disciplinary action against Meehan, but he remained in his position until April. After an additional complaint in late March 2018 and an article released by the website Deadspin detailing student experiences throughout the HR investigation, Meehan was fired.

According to emails given to Deadspin, students initially filed complaints with the HR department in May of 2017, and the investigation proceeded over the next six months, during which time the parties involved met to discuss allegations and experiences. At the end of the process, HR took disciplinary action against Meehan, though the students who filed complaints were not informed of the action.

In late March 2018, HR received another complaint against Meehan, and he was placed on immediate administrative leave while they reviewed the new complaint and previous complaints. Meehan was fired after the review process. Following the decision to conduct an independent investigation, Lynne Dempsey, the Director of Athletics, was placed on administrative leave.

In an email to the Brandeis student body, Liebowitz detailed the decision to fire Meehan, saying “In light of the new complaint, we began a thorough examination and review of the prior incidents. As a result of this complaint and that review, the coach’s employment with Brandeis has now been terminated.” He continued, “This incident underscores the need for us to regularly review policies and procedures dealing with the safety and well-being of all members of our community, and we are doing so now.”

Students, faculty and alumni packed into Levin Ballroom to attend the forum, where Liebowitz, Lynch and Koplow introduced the independent investigation, answered questions from students, faculty and alumni and heard their frustration and anger over the situation.

Liebowitz introduced the investigators, Massachusetts lawyer Walter Prince of the firm Prince Lobel and R. Malcolm Graham, a retired assistant attorney general. Prince spoke briefly about his background in law and his hopes to conduct a thorough investigation, noting that thorough likely will not mean fast. A day after the town hall meeting, Liebowitz released a website where students can reach out to the investigators with information and see when they will be on campus.

Bernadette Brooten (NEJS), Co-Chair of the University Advisor Subcommittee on Sexual Violence, emphasized the lack of transparency in how to report racial harassment. Until recently, the policies on non-discrimination regarding faculty and staff required a Brandeis login to view, according to Brooten.

Students were concerned about what would happen in the interim during the independent investigation if students wanted to report harassment claims. “On the more short term, we are right now thinking about ways in which to make more… opportunities for folks to come forward,” Liebowitz responded. “We will share that with you through the website and through a follow up email after this meeting because we are very concerned… that people feel comfortable coming forward.”

But students were most frustrated with the lack of progress Brandeis has achieved on race. Shaquan McDowell ’18 described his reaction to the Deadspin article as, “Disappointed, but not surprised,” echoing a previous statement made by Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Maria Madison. Students also referenced Ford Hall 2015—an 11 day occupation of an administrative building in protest of racial injustice and a lack of racial diversity on campus.

Cari Calloway, who was one of the protesters in Ford Hall 2015 spoke about the lack of progress Brandeis has achieved since the 2015 protests. “Y’all are just sitting here telling us the same thing every year. I’m pretty sure my ancestor… stood in the sames space and said the same things to y’all in 1975. And I just don’t understand…we have these every year, every semester…and there’s nothing that’s being done.”

Other students also referenced the Ford Hall 2015, and the original Ford Hall student occupation in January of 1969 where students advocated for better minority representation on campus. Also referenced was a 1975 protest by students in Pearlman Hall against university budget cuts that would have reduced financial aid, faculty and a transitional year program that was designed to prepare poorly educated students for college.

Professor Michael Rosbash (NBIO) spoke and identified himself as Meehan’s advisor during the 2017 investigation, saying he attended all of the HR hearings alongside Meehan. He criticized the length of time the investigation took and expressed his disappointment with the HR department.

“The idea is to make things better and in my view the quality of the employees is the obstacle,” Rosbash said. “How they handle complaints, how efficiently, and how sensitively and that is what I have seen, over and over again, gets in the way.”

Rosbash also questioned the culture of racism on campus and how the legal team would evaluate the success of new policies. “I don’t see a tremendous plethora of racism on campus…That isn’t to say its zero, it’s not zero, it can’t be zero…But what I’d like to know especially from a legal team who’s going to deal with this is what’s the denominator? How are we going to evaluate when we have put in place something which is especially outstanding?”

Rosbash’s remarks received murmurs from the crowd, and one student responded to his assertion that the employees were the problem in the process with, “Racism is the problem,” which was greeted by applause from the audience.

Students protested the culture of racism on campus on the Rabb steps the following day. The students, who are not part of any on-campus organization, stood at the bottom of the Rabb steps holding up signs saying, “It’s not just your racist coach” and drawing attention to the lack of diversity on campus. A second sign contained several phrases, saying, “It’s your police racially profiling black students,” “It’s your lack of staff of color at the BCC” and “It’s your underpaid black and brown staff.” The posters have remained on the Rabb steps as of April 12.

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