Palmer’s employment ends, fight doesn’t

By Sean Noble

Although her employment at NIU ended last month, fired CHANCE program counselor Martha Palmer said the fight to regain her job is not yet over, and she also wants $2.2 million from the university to compensate for her “humiliation and injustice.”

Although she has not legally filed suit against NIU, Palmer has not ruled out that possibility. “I will take my case to the federal level, worldwide and around the nation,” she said.

Palmer’s comments came in response to the decision of NIU President John LaTourette which upheld the former counselor’s dismissal by her supervisors. CHANCE program Director Leroy Mitchell informed Palmer on June 27 that her contract would not be renewed past its Dec. 28 expiration, and his decision was later supported by Tendaji Ganges, director of the Office of Educational Services and Programs.

Palmer said she believes she is entitled to “no less than $2.2 million for all that I’ve been through.” She said she has appealed her case to the Board of Regents, but refused to comment on any other action she might take.

Regents’ Chancellor Roderick Groves said he has received a letter from Palmer, but “prior to a response, it seems premature to comment on the matter.” Regents’ Chairman Carol Burns said a response to Palmer will come sometime after the Regents meetings on Jan. 25 and 26. She added there is no regular appeals procedure past the university hearings level.

Palmer, a black woman, alleged that racism and sexism played a part in the decision to end her NIU employment. A special hearing board was established to review her charges. The board’s regular hearing sessions began Dec. 15.

The hearing process was brought to an abrupt end, however, when philosophy Professor Sherman Stanage resigned his position as Palmer’s academic adviser and left the Dec. 19 session. In a letter to Leonard Mandell, assistant dean of the College of Law and board chairman, Stanage stated he was prompted to resign because his “standards of professional behavior have been called into question by members” of the board.

Palmer subsequently told board members at the Dec. 19 session she would not continue in the hearing without Stanage and also left. The next day, Mandell said, “As far as the board is concerned, (the Palmer case) is over. Everything that could be done has been done by the board.”

LaTourette said in a Dec. 28 interview that the university administration considered the Palmer case effectively closed.

“The board was of the opinion that a decision regarding Palmer’s allegations (could) not be reached. A lack of cooperation by Ms. Palmer made this task impossible,” he said.

Palmer stated in a Dec. 20 letter to university officials that she had intended to walk out of the hearing room and not the hearing itself, in order to seek the advice of her attorney. Palmer said she believes her hearings should continue. But LaTourette said, “Enough is enough, in terms of due process.”

LaTourette said that besides the hearing board, Palmer’s case had been reviewed by Ganges’ office and the NIU provost’s office. He added that Palmer also had contacted the Affirmative Action’s and Ombudsman’s offices regarding her case, and that neither office was able to verify Palmer’s claims against her supervisors. LaTourette said he assessed “all the actions taken up to” Palmer’s walkout in making his decision to support her dismissal.

Palmer said she was treated unjustly through the hearing process because she was not allowed enough time to prepare her case, and was not allowed to have an attorney present at the hearings. DeKalb attorney Edward Diedrich, who said he currently is not representing Palmer but did “voluntarily aid” her with advising, also disagreed with the policy against allowing lawyers into the hearings.

“It’s a gross violation of constitutional rights,” Diedrich said. However, LaTourette said the policy is part of the normal hearing process and that no legal representation of the university is allowed into the hearings either.

“At this point in time, with the internal (appeals) process exhausted, outside action seems the only course” for Palmer to take, LaTourette said.

Stanage said he has urged Palmer to go to the American Civil Liberties Union and “legal aid societies in Chicago” for help with her case. He said he planned to make her situation more widely known through a “fact sheet” he was preparing about the case, which he will mail to state legislators and NIU faculty members.

Ganges said he hopes to have Palmer’s former job and another vacant counselor’s position in the CHANCE program filled by next month.