The Oberlin Review

Karega Sues College, Claiming Discrimination

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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.

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11 Responses to “Karega Sues College, Claiming Discrimination”

  1. Tom Cohn on November 16th, 2018 8:09 PM

    She got fired for posting indisputably anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook. Do you think this constitutes discrimination against her? Firing her reflected basic morality and logic. We know in principle that any institution is justified in firing someone who, even in their personal life, publicly endorses vulgar, racist ideas. For example, when yet another white person has a public racist outburst/meltdown, many on the political left identify them and call for the person to lose their job.

    Although Karega’s posts can be construed by some as being on a lesser scale than other racist acts, the principles behind her firing remain unchanged and paramount. For example, we agree that if Karega was sharing The Daily Stormer on Facebook, Oberlin would not only be right to remove her, but also within its rights to distance itself from her or any professor promoting anti-Semitic beliefs. That her posts were anti-Semitic is without question. So, for those who disagree with Karega’s firing, does that mean you’re willing to overlook only a *little* anti-Semitism?

    Similarly though less important is that publicly promoting conspiracy theories speaks to the value she places on serious scholarship and therefore her qualifications to teach college students rhetoric and composition.

  2. David Arnow on November 17th, 2018 9:23 PM

    ” alleged anti-Semitic posts”? Alleged? Don’t be absurd. There is no question that her posts were loaded with anti-semitism. No, I’m not talking about the defensible ones that critique (even harshly) Israeli government policy or even the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine. I’m talking about the conspiracy theory ones that characterize Jews as controlling the world banking system, being behind the 9/11 attacks, etc. Alleged, indeed. You might just as well talk about the “alleged racism” of the KKK. — David A., ’73.

  3. Jeffrey Goldwasser on November 18th, 2018 1:35 PM

    This article does not fully describe just how virulently anti-Semitic were the postings on Dr. Karega’s Facebook page. She does not dispute that she posted material that accused an international conspiracy of “Rothschild-led banksters” of shooting down a Malaysian passenger flight and accused Israel and the Jews of engineering the 9/11 terror attack in New York and of the Charlie Hebdo attack in France. These are not just fringy conspiracy theories. This is a repetition of the historical pattern of anti-Semitism – describing Jews as demonic spillers of innocent blood who are secretly at the heart of every global effort to plunge the world into war and criminality. In my opinion, Oberlin acted properly, and in keeping with its historical mission, by reject this hate-filled rhetoric and by separating itself from a professor who would spread anti-Semitic hate.
    –Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser, OC ’86

  4. Ummmmm on November 20th, 2018 6:30 AM

    “Alleged” antiSemitism…. you guys can’t just bring yourself to say it, can you? Like the guys who said that the anti-semitism”debate” at Oberlin was “distracting” people from the “important” issues, you just can’t face it. Real antiSemitism is alive and very well, thank you, on the American progressive left, and it is enabled by college newspapers. Peole are very willing to blame Trump for antiSemitic violence, but if one points out the naked anriSemitism in some of his opponents, it is all “oh, you are politicising it”, and “oh Karega was just commenting on Israeli politics” and so forth and so on.

    Does it not occur to you that there is a pattern of invidious editorial decision in this paper that us absolutely plain to anyone with eyes?

  5. Sam on November 30th, 2018 8:00 AM

    This article represents yet another example of the shocking amount of racism that is currently found among Oberlin students.

    If one weren’t aware of the context, one might think that describing Karega’s posts as “alleged” anti-semitism was due to a journalist going overboard in attempting to appear neutral. However, keep in mind that this publication considered calling a drink “Spicy Mexicocoa” unambiguous racism, deserving of being denounced publicly.

    So there we have it: naming a drink “Spicy Mexicocoa” is the height of racism, but Karega’s accusing of Obama, and all other US presidents, of being controlled by Jews, and her declaration that the Rothschilds are worth $500 trillion and own the news, oil and government is merely, possibly, “allegedly” racism.

    Also keep in mind that the Oberlin Review, in the issue following the Pittsburgh shooting, decided that the only article that it would publish that mentioned the anti-semitic murders was one that denounced Israel and blamed the attack on Jews. (Yes, seriously.)

    Given this, it is noticeable that this article goes out of the way to describe the newspaper that first covered Karega’s racist posts as being “pro-Israel”, as if that has any relevance to those of us who are against racism. Karega’s views, and Oberlin’s tolerance of them, sparked national concern about racism at Oberlin, a supposedly liberal school. Why, then, did the Oberlin Review, in this article, state that the issue was “academic liberties and free speech”? Could the editors of the Oberlin Review explain how the claim that the Rothschilds own 25 times the Gross National Product of the entire United States of America is a legitimate academic position?

    It also should be noted that the Oberlin Student Senate, when the news about Karega’s views broke, acted quickly: scandalously supporting Karega and formally denouncing the group that made her racism broadly known.

    I hope and trust that most Oberlin students are not bigots. Isn’t it time for you to stand up and declare that you do not support or countenance the anti-Semites that are among you?

  6. Mikaela on November 30th, 2018 11:31 AM

    Response to “Sam”: You should consistently use the word “antisemitic” instead of “racist” to describe Karega, because Judaism isn’t a race, it’s a religion. You’re trying to “defend Jews” but you’re actually playing into a common antisemitic stereotype–thinking Jewish people are a race. Jews are an ethnolinguistic group, sure, but people of any race or ethnicity can and do convert to Judaism. Even people who were born into the religion, such as myself, are not of some “Jewish race”. I’m a white person AND a Jew. I have friends who are Black and Jewish, Asian and Jewish, etc. If you want to actually defend and support Jewish people, get your facts right. Karega was my advisor and I condemn her actions, but your comment on this article is far more antisemitic than the article itself.

  7. Sam on December 3rd, 2018 8:10 PM

    Mikaela: Antisemitism is generally considered to be a form of racism, including by the United Nations.

    Although you do mildly rebuke Karega, I find it odd that you reserve your ire for me. Not for your Student Senate, who officially wrote a statement condemning people for complaining about antisemitism. Not for the people who put up posters around campus calling for the end of “Jewish privilege.” But me, who merely pointed out the recurrent and severe bigotry on campus. I understand that you might not like this fact, but shooting the messenger is hardly going to lead to improvements.

  8. Ummm on December 4th, 2018 3:53 PM

    Response to Mikaela

    Calling antiSemitism “racism” is technically inaccurate, but it doesn’t demonstrate a hostile prejudice towards Jews or Jewish culture (ie AntiSemitism). It’s a shorthand, and most people understand what the author is trying to convey by calling it racism: that it is a destructive social prejudice against an ethnicity. I don’t really see such hostility towards Jews in Sam’s reply. I’m curious as to why you do.

    Saying that the dribble Karega posted was “alleged” antiSemitism is an understatement of notable proportions, and in the context of many of the other things said in the Oberlin Review, is at least debatably construed as an aspect of cultural antiSemitism.

    I’d ask you to re-think your assertion that Sam’s reply was “far more antisemitic than the article itself”. Sometimes, people make simple mistakes.

  9. Ummmm on December 6th, 2018 4:31 PM

    To Sam: of course you are the one criticized.

    You mention the column where someone obscenely suggested that Jews were responsible for the massacre of Jews by an antiSemite. In response to that column, I pointed out that
    a) the suggestion was obscene and
    b) AntiSemitism comes from the Left as well as the Right.

    The response to my point was not that the author of the column had posted something disgusting, but that I should not politicize the deaths of Jews. Honestly. Read the comments to the column. The lack of insight is jaw-dropping and demonstrates a very ugly antiSemitism, perpetuated and even fostered in part by Jews.

  10. Tom Riesenberg ‘74 on December 15th, 2018 6:05 PM

    I really hope Oberlin counterclaims for the extensive damage Ms Karega inflicted on Oberlin. Financial and reputational. Don’t pay her a cent.

  11. Professor Paul Bennett on March 4th, 2019 5:03 PM

    It is highly distressing that the student senate supported this extreme racist bigot antisemite. Whoever hired her should be fired too. What a disgusting lesson for young people. Oberlin made a mistake that this once-fine, liberal institution — a pioneer in social justice — now might never live down.

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