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Volume 68, Issue 46, Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Opinion
 

Did UH give prof immunity?

Ken Fountain
Opinion Columnist

On Friday, a federal jury ruled in the University's favor in the complaint of former College of Technology lecturer Beverly Gor. 

Gor, a dietician, claimed that in 1996 she was denied a job as an internship program director in retaliation for writing a letter in 1994 that reported certain behavior of Ira Wolinsky, a full professor in the college's Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Wolinsky was the initial chairman of the search committee for the job Gor sought.

In all the testimony the jury and I heard from the various witnesses, at least one thing was evident: whatever the merits of Gor's allegations, Wolinsky was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

In her 1994 letter to a former faculty member, Gor reported that Wolinsky had called her "foolish" for being a Christian. She also reported that several students had complained that Wolinsky, a nutritionist, had in class openly criticized the field of dietetics and personally insulted students.

Gor's allegations were only a few of a litany of complaints that had been leveled against Wolinsky over the years. Behavior reported, some of which Wolinsky admitted to in his testimony, ranged from almost junior high-like pranks to racially charged remarks to full-blown misogyny.

It's bad enough that Wolinsky, an apparently highly esteemed nutrition researcher, felt secure enough in his tenured position to do these things without considering the feelings of the people around him. The larger problem is that whatever attempts were made by his superiors to rein him in were ineffectual at best.

Wolinsky testified that Barbara Stewart, his department chair, advised him at some point to undergo sensitivity training. When he didn't, no effort was made to follow up or discipline him. Even though Wolinsky testified that he was "embarrassed" by much of his behavior, it apparently continued until as late as August 2000, when current COT Dean Uma Gupta felt it necessary to meet with him to discuss "several complaints" of "improper conduct." This was nearly four years after it was clear Gor's allegations were going to court.

Wolinsky may have indeed learned the error of his ways, but nearly everyone connected with the trial, including the jurors, the judge, even the University's own defense attorneys, was quite clear in their distaste toward what had been reported about him and what he admitted to.

There are people on this campus who believe protecting wrongdoers is a systemic problem at UH. As evidence, they'll often point to the large numbers of lawsuits filed in recent years. I'm not going to go that far; the whole story is usually much more complicated.

But in this case, it's clear that a man who felt immune hurt several good people. Given the number of years over which this behavior occurred without real consequence, you have to wonder ... Perhaps he was.

Fountain, a senior communication major, 
can be reached at kenfountain@hotmail.com.

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