Officials upset by NIU ‘racism’

By Sean Noble and Susie Snyder

Two Chicago-area legislators said Thursday night that NIU President John LaTourette would “feel the wrath of the (Illinois) legislature” for the controversial dismissal of CHANCE counselor Martha Palmer, which they said was prompted by institutional racism.

At a student hearing organized in the Holmes Student Center by the Students for the Freedom of Martha Palmer, State Rep. William Shaw of the 34th Legislative District and his brother, Chicago 9th Ward Alderman Robert Shaw, listened to student testimony about personal beneficial experiences with Palmer as a counselor.

About 14 students spoke out against the dismissal of Palmer, who was informed in June that her contract would not be renewed in December. Many of the students also said that Palmer’s firing was a product of racism and sexism on the part of NIU administrators.

The two legislators said they were surprised by the students’ testimonies of what students referred to as racist attitudes.

“I didn’t have the wildest dreams that these kinds of things were happening in Illinois in 1988,” Alderman Shaw said.

He said he wrote the university administration a letter asking LaTourette to reconsider Palmer’s firing when he first learned of the issue from a Chicago radio show in which NIU students participated in September. However, Alderman Shaw said he has not received a reply from LaTourette concerning the matter.

“This university should address the questions of blacks, hispanics and women. There is absolutely unequivocal racism here,” Alderman Shaw said. He said that in Palmer’s case, administrators were using “two blacks (Educational Services and Programs Director Tendaji Ganges and CHANCE Program Director Leroy Mitchell) to get rid of another black (Palmer).”

The two legislators promised their assistance to the students but told the students they could not promise to save Palmer’s job.

“Our job is to keep the minority population within this institution,” Rep. Shaw said. He said that without Palmer at NIU, no one will remain to give support to black students and help them graduate.

Rep. Shaw said he will contact LaTourette Monday to inform the president of the legislators’ disapproval of Palmer’s firing. He said, “I have a knife given to me by my district … and it is sharp.

“I know the president won’t want to disagree with me.”

The representative said he will try to establish an investigative committee of state legislators to look into the racism issue at all Illinois state universities.

“I serve on the state’s appropriation committee in Springfield. I will not vote for funds for any university” that practices racial discrimination, Rep. Shaw said.

Alderman Shaw said, “I don’t think a single black legislator in Springfield would want to spend a dime to promote racism.”

Both men said they will air their grievances at the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 Board of Regents meeting at NIU. They said they wanted to “shut down” the meeting much like student protesters had done at the Sept. 15 Regents meeting at NIU.

Alderman Shaw invited students who live in the Chicago area to contact him at his ward office on Nov. 23 to plan a Nov. 25 demonstration at the Chicago City Hall.

“Let’s get together in Chicago and put some real heat on (the NIU administration),” Rep. Shaw said.

The legislators will begin their actions of protest Sunday night at 11:30 with a discussion of the Palmer situation on Chicago radio station WVOM, AM 1450.

LaTourette could not be reached for comment.