7th: No evidence supports race discrimination claim by IU professor

Lack of evidence doomed a black professor's argument that he was denied tenure at Indiana University because of his race, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found Tuesday.

Indiana University hired Ray Haynes as an assistant professor in the Instruction Systems Technology Department of the School of Education in 2008. Haynes, who is black, was offered a six-year probationary contract, at the end of which the university would decide if he qualified for tenure.

To earn tenure at Indiana University, a candidate must provide his curriculum vitae, a personal statement and a list of twelve proposed external reviewers. The candidate and the university together select six of those reviewers to write letters evaluating the candidate’s application, and the entire dossier is submitted for several levels of faculty review that ends with a recommendation to the provost, president and board of trustees.

Candidates are evaluated on research, teaching and service and must be “excellent” in at least one area of his choosing and “satisfactory” in the other two. By the end of Haynes’ application process, 27 faculty members had voted, with 18 finding Haynes’ teaching unsatisfactory and 19 concluding his research was not excellent.

Thus, Haynes lost his bid for tenure, prompting him to allege the university denied his application because of his race in violation of federal law. He lodged a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and ultimately filed suit against the university and several of its administrators in their individual and official capacities.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana eventually granted the university’s summary judgment motion, concluding Haynes’ claims failed as a matter of law because there was a lack of evidence to support the allegation that the university denied his tenure application because of his race.

Haynes appealed in Ray K. Haynes v. Indiana University, et al, 17-2890,but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling on all fronts, noting a plaintiff’s case needs compelling evidence that “clear discrimination” pervasively infected the final tenure decision. The court found such evidence lacking in Haynes’ argument, which focused primarily on his own allegations of chicanery during his tenure review process.

 “Haynes has no evidence that any of these people sought to sabotage him because of his race,” Judge Diane Sykes wrote for the unanimous court. “He must base the core of his claim on something other than bald speculation.”

Specifically, Haynes contended he once obtained a research grant, won a teaching award and earned an “exemplary” performance review several months before tenure was denied, and requested the 7th Circuit consider those facts.  But the 7th Circuit said it does not sit as an academic review board and “’second-guess the expert decisions of faculty committees,’” noting scholars, not courts, “’are in the best position to make the highly subjective judgments related with the review of scholarship and university service.’”

Haynes also pointed to a letter from one of his reviewers, arguing it evinced unmistakable racial bias that tainted the university’s entire review by saying Haynes offered nothing “new” beyond his “unique specialization of ‘inclusion’ and his identity as an African American.” But contrary to Haynes’ argument, the 7th Circuit found the letter cited Haynes race as a factor in his favor when it stated that the writer lamented the fact that she could not “support and endorse a colleague who is a member of an underrepresented minority.”

“But even if this comment were somehow problematic, there is little evidence that it poisoned the final tenure decision,” the court concluded. “…All of the scholars who had a role in this decision could weigh the letter as they saw fit.”

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