Karega Sues College, Claiming Discrimination

Joy Karega, a former assistant professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin, filed a lawsuit against the College last Friday claiming breach of contract and employment discrimination on the basis of race and gender. The lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court in Cleveland, seeks $855,000 in damages.

In February 2016, The Tower, a conservative, pro-Israeli magazine, posted a series of alleged anti-Semitic posts found on Karega’s personal Facebook page, sparking national and local controversy. Karega was placed on academic leave that month and was ultimately fired November 2017, following a nine-month review process. Her termination initiated a national conversation around academic liberties and free speech.

The posts included claims that the Israeli and U.S. governments fund the Islamic State, that Israel orchestrated the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015, and that the Rothschild family, a prominent Jewish family, controls the media, government, and oil industries.

According to the new lawsuit, Karega, the only Black woman on faculty in the Rhetoric and Composition Department at the time of the controversy, claims Oberlin actively discriminated against her by, “Instigating false charges of professional misconduct against [her]; soliciting student complaints; attempting to manipulate official college organizations in order to secure determinations adverse to the professional interest; attempting to eliminate African American members from Oberlin College’s decision making authorities; and intentionally and personally ignoring and/or not acting upon misconduct of male(s) and Caucasian female Oberlin instructor(s), professors(s), or administrator(s) use of racially derogatory language or engaging in discriminatory acts,” along with other charges.

The lawsuit specifically identifies former President Marvin Krislov, former Board of Trustees Chair Clyde McGreggor, and former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Tim Elgren, who each served at Oberlin in February 2016.

In a November 2016 Review article titled “Karega Fired After Split Faculty Recommendations,” Karega expressed no surprise at the result, citing outside pressures and agendas that forced the issue.

“The intention on day one was my dismissal,” Karega said at the time. “I’ve been very cognizant of that. There are people within the community and outside the community who, for them, that was the goal.”

At the time of her employment review, only three of the six members of the General Faculty Committee voted for her dismissal. Of the three opposing dismissals, two advocated a reprimand and one recommended suspension. Their recommendations were passed on to then-President Krislov, and after that to the Board of Trustees.

In the Board of Trustees’ statement on their decision to fire Karega, McGreggor referenced the American Association of University Professors’ “Statement of Professional Ethics,” which requires faculty members to “accept the obligation to exercise critical self-discipline and judgment in using, extending and transmitting knowledge,” and to “practice intellectual honesty.”

“The General Faculty Council, the executive body of Oberlin’s faculty, concluded that Dr. Karega’s postings could not be justified as part of her scholarship and had “irreparably impaired (her) ability to perform her duties as a scholar, a teacher, and a member of the community,” the email read. “In the face of Dr. Karega’s repeated refusal to acknowledge and remedy her misconduct, her continued presence undermines the mission and values of Oberlin’s academic community. Thus, any sanction short of dismissal is insufficient and the Board of Trustees is compelled to take this most serious action.”

Representatives from Oberlin’s communications department and Gary Benjamin, Karega’s attorney, did not respond to request for comment regarding Karega’s lawsuit.