Tenured Spalding professor says firing was over school threat

Updated: May. 17, 2017 at 8:46 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A professor fired from Spalding University is making serious allegations about a racial divide, and being backed by a national education group.

"I was shocked," said fired Spalding University School of Social Work professor Dr. Erlene Grise-Owens of her termination.

"We had a faculty member actively disparaging and slandering a student," Spalding University President Tori Murden McClure responded.

What is clear is that Dr. Grise-Owens and President Murden McClure will never agree on the reason the tenured professor was let go.

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Grise-Owens told WAVE 3 News the trouble started with an incident surrounding a gun.

She said she was approached by social work faculty and students in Spring 2016. They were upset after one student said another showed a gun in a school parking lot, saying, "I'm tired of these people f___ing with me."

Grise-Owens said the Department Chair alerted all faculty in the social work school, except for three faculty members of color. She said she believes she was fired for speaking out about the flaws in the system that impact safety.

"What social workers do is pursue social justice, and speak up against social injustice, and so that's what I was doing," Grise-Owens said.

University officials said the professor's story is completely without merit. In the professor's defense, she has the support of an investigation by the American Association of University Professors, which found the professor was fired without due process.

"A tenured faculty member may only be dismissed after giving a full hearing," explained Joerg Tiede of the American Association of University Professors.

The group believes the fired professor never got that hearing. Spalding administrators did not respond to the group's investigation.

"They're pretty much geared to protect tenure at any cost," Murden McClure said of the investigation.

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The University President said the school's own investigation found the student showed a gun in her car's glove compartment, which is legal in Kentucky. She said the student joked with the other student about a group of people driving by being her target, but not anyone at the school.

By the professor's own admission, Grise-Owens was on sabbatical at the time of the alleged threat and only heard about it later. Murden McClure claimed
the professor slandered the student in a bad game of telephone.

"The faculty member was off-campus," McClure said. "She got absolutely an escalated, incorrect, inaccurate timetable and an inaccurate series of events."

Some of the fired professor's former colleagues are coming to Spalding University's defense. They said it was time she got the boot.

In a memo supporting the President's firing of Grise-Owens, other faculty members stated in writing that Grise-Owens' behavior included bullying and harassment of colleagues.

The School of Social Work's Chair Kevin Borders said the three faculty members of color who were left out of the threat warning did not have classes on the day of the incident.

"They weren't here on campus that day," Borders said.

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Grise-Owens said one of the professors in question did have the student in class, who was believed to have made the threat. The student was scheduled to be in class the day after the alleged threat.

Two faculty members resigned over the professor's firing.

Grise-Owens' attorney Michael Goodwin said the school can claim they met with his client, but the bottom line is Spalding did *not* follow its own due process rules.

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