Shaw aware of administrators' checkered pasts

Staff WriterAugust 19, 2009 

Shaw University, deeply indebted and aggressively seeking donors, has hired a vice president who was successfully sued for sexual harassment and a dean dismissed from the only other administrative job on his résumé.

The vice president, Lee Monroe, a Shaw alumnus, was hired this summer after his 2007 departure as president of Voorhees College in Denmark, S.C., where a jury awarded $500,000 to a professor who accused him of punishing her for rejecting repeated sexual advances. A university spokeswoman said Tuesday that Shaw officials knew about the lawsuit when they hired Monroe.

The dean of arts and sciences, David Marshall, was appointed in July after his contract was not renewed in 2006 at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., for issues that include his unapproved use of school foundation money, according to records from the Louisiana state university system.

Marshall's hiring -- and the firing of a professor -- triggered a sharp rebuke from a top faculty member. In an open letter e-mailed to colleagues last week, Faculty Senate President James Nelson said that the rescue mission has been undermined by a "moral crisis" brought on by personnel decisions, including Marshall's hiring.

"We say we wish to restore our financial base," Nelson wrote. "Our actions suggest we waste much of this base on a few individuals."

The arrival of Monroe and Marshall comes at a time of turmoil for the school. Interim President Dorothy Yancy is tasked with eliminating more than $20 million in debt and has called on supporters to revive Shaw, the oldest historically black college in the South.

Top officials at Shaw declined requests for comment. Board Chairman Willie Gary, a Florida lawyer, did not return repeated calls. Yancy did not answer a telephone message or respond to written questions hand-delivered to her office.

In an interview Tuesday, Shaw spokeswoman Tanya Wiley stressed the skills and hard work of both Monroe and Marshall, adding, "There's some people out there with an ax to grind."

Wiley also said Shaw officials knew of the lawsuit against Monroe but added that it "has nothing to do with his track record for raising money. It has nothing to do with his track record as a leader."

In a separate interview last week, Monroe downplayed the impact of the sexual harassment judgment on his ability to right Shaw's finances. He said he had recently snared a big donation despite his legal defeat.

"With those court documents in place, we got a commitment for $1 million," Monroe said. "So you go figure."

Marshall said Tuesday that Nelson's letter does not represent the feelings of Shaw's whole faculty, just that of one man. "He found something, he thought it was sexy, he sent it out," the dean said.

A loyal alumni base

Shaw supporters look to the campus as the mother of North Carolina's historically black schools. As a small institution with 2,750 students, Shaw produces graduates with fierce loyalty and appreciation for the doors it opened.

In May, President Clarence Newsome accepted a year's paid sabbatical and left his post amid criticism over poor finances and crumbling infrastructure. At the time, Gary described a debt of at least $20 million and said each Shaw board member would contribute $50,000 of his or her own money. But officials also lamented the school's graduation rate, which was hovering around 36 percent.

"We've had a rough go of it," Wiley said. "There's a national economic disaster going on."

Monroe, who turns 66 this month, is a Shaw graduate whose résumé includes jobs heading three historically black schools and serving as senior adviser for education to Gov. Jim Martin.

Alumni already praise Monroe's work for the troubled school, especially his reaching out to graduates through Internet seminars.

"He has been nothing but giving," said Emily Perry, president of the national alumni association. "I have nothing but good things to say about Doctor Monroe."

But Moreen Joseph, who successfully sued Monroe in South Carolina, called his hiring at Shaw an outrage and attributed it to the network of friends who hire each other for top jobs at historically black schools.

"I am appalled," Joseph said, adding she has tried unsuccessfully to get a job at Shaw. "It's the misuse of power. They are recycling these people that they put in there. The presidents are being recycled by their friends."

Joseph collected $136,000 plus attorneys' fees under a statutory cap that reduced the amount a jury initially awarded her.

The suit filed in South Carolina was the second harassment action brought against Monroe as a college president. The first, in 1995, came from Marilyn Marshall, a former vice president at Paul Quinn College in Dallas, who alleged Monroe repeatedly made inappropriate remarks about her appearance, court records said. That suit was dismissed after a year because of a lack of evidence.

The South Carolina sex case was not his only problem at Voorhees.

In 2006, Denmark shut off water to the campus citing consistently late bills and partial payments, said city administrator Heyward Robinson. Monroe disputed the debt and paid with personal money.

"I remember he took out a check and wrote a check in my office," he said.

Shortly afterward, the city manager noted that Voorhees had also not paid for its share of a ladder truck needed to fight fires in multi-story buildings.

Stint at McNeese State

Marshall came to Shaw after several short stints as professor and chairman of the McNeese State mass communications department, according to his résumé. He received his first reprimand in July 2005 after a month on the job, according to records from the grievance committee of the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana system.

Marshall's appeal to the grievance committee was denied. In its decision, the committee cited Marshall's organizing a luncheon for a mass communications advisory board using McNeese Foundation funds without the dean's approval. A letter of reprimand was kept confidential.

As an assistant dean and chair of Shaw's Humanities Department, Frederick Jones interviewed Marshall before he was hired as a professor in 2008. The firing at McNeese was not listed on his résumé.

"He told us he had left because of the hurricane," Jones said.

That explanation stands, Marshall said Tuesday. He was financially devastated after Hurricane Rita came through Lake Charles in September 2005 and he decided to leave before he got official notice of his termination. To his mind, anything that came after the hurricane was "inconsequential," he said.

"This is one of our stars," Wiley, the Shaw spokeswoman, said of Marshall.

A secret appointment

Nelson's letter to faculty said Marshall was secretly installed as dean in March while Newsome was still president and another staffer officially held the post -- a version Jones confirmed.

The letter also criticized the June termination of mass communications professor Russell Robinson, claiming he was fired without a hearing or required notice, learning of his status only by certified mail. In an interview, Robinson confirmed the circumstances of his dismissal and said both Monroe and Marshall's hirings have upset Shaw faculty.

Marshall said he had nothing to do with Robinson's dismissal.

Jones said his experience with Marshall's hiring and Robinson's firing propelled him to resign from the school.

"This was in complete violation of the regulations," he said, adding that others share this view but fear to speak publicly. "I just don't understand it. If I could justify it, I would still be there."

Staff researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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