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American Indian university professors claim unfair treatment

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ARCATA, Calif. - Three American Indian Humboldt State University professors claim they have been unfairly treated by the administration and say an investigation by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is imminent.

Professors Joseph Dupris, his wife Kathleen Hill and Joseph Giovanetti were terminated from the university's American Indian Civics Project funded by a Kellogg Foundation grant.

The trio had been hired for the project to develop college and high school curriculum not only for Native American studies programs but also for other classes that could teach aspects of American Indian tribal traditions, such as civics and law.

Problems began when the professors attempted to copyright their materials. Hill and Giovanetti were suspended from the project by its co-directors Lois Risling, a Hoopa tribal member, and Lily Owyang, both of whom are university administrators. Giovanetti's name had been used on the initial proposal for the grant.

Next, the professors say members of the university administration tried a "programmatic elimination" of the professors by phasing them out of their jobs. Two non-Indian professors were hired by Humboldt State to replace Dupris- who was subsequently dismissed from the Kellogg program- and Hill.

Dupris agreed to mediation with the university. At this point, seven women came forth and accused Dupris of violating the Zero Tolerance for Workplace Violence policy at the university. Documents obtained by Indian Country Today show that Dupris was exonerated by an internal university investigation.

Though Dupris is able to offer no direct proof, he claims the Zero Tolerance investigation was related to administration efforts to oust him and the other professors from their jobs.

A letter by the university chief of police and a "letter of reproof" by the vice president for academic affairs subsequently were placed in Dupris' personnel file. He claims the letter had not existed when he had filed the charges.

Further he says, a university dean, Ron Fritche, head of personnel services, approached him and said that he, Fritche, would destroy all documents pertaining to the Zero Tolerance investigation if Dupris would drop the EEOC investigation.

Dupris refused and a week later he found out all the documents had been destroyed.

"The Zero Tolerance for Workplace Violence investigation was one of the central tenets of my EEOC complaint," says Dupris, who goes on to say the university administrators told him they destroyed the documents as a favor to him.

Calls to university administrators, including Risling, were referred to Sean Kearns in the media relations department.

Kearns says the university cannot comment on the matter as they regard it as internal.

"We do this not only for protection of the university but also for the individuals in question," Kearns says.

Kearns pointed out that Humboldt State has had a strong tradition in recruiting American Indian students and has one of the strongest Native American Studies departments in the state.

Sources in the California State University system, of which Humboldt State is a part, say much of the credit for this belongs to Risling, who comes from a prominent Hoopa family. The professors in question agree Risling deserves much of this credit.

The EEOC could not confirm nor deny it was investigating the project though the story is corroborated by outside sources.