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OU Diversity Chief Terminated: “High tech lynching” or justified firing?

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By Deon Osborne

Okla. — OU’s first and former vice president for University Community, who OU Public Affairs claims resigned on Monday, July 23, has since then engaged in a war of words with the University of Oklahoma, calling his early termination a “high tech lynching,” as an internal audit reveals more than 120 misuses of a University vehicle.

Jabar Shumate, a former state senator and state representative for North Tulsa, was tapped by then-OU president David Boren to serve as the University’s new diversity chief in 2015 after a string of racist incidents on campus by Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity gained national headlines. Shumate, an OU alumnus, once served as Boren’s press secretary.

Three weeks after new OU president James Gallogly announced a shakeup of University staff and leadership, Shumate claims he was given an ultimatum to either pave the way for SAE to return or resign, while OU claims he misused a University vehicle possibly in violation of state law, made unauthorized purchases on a fuel card and lied about locations he was traveling to. 

The back and forth has caused confusion, doubt and suspicion that the former fraternity may be reinstated, according to the OU Daily.

At least one black leader in the state was displeased with Shumate’s description of his termination. Jesse Jackson, a decades-long pastor of Oklahoma City’s East Sixth Street Church and a former chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said Shumate’s use of the word lynching “rubbed me the wrong way.”

“I think it’s quite clear he was a token to save face,” Jackson said about Shumate. “He didn’t realize his protection was gone when Boren left.”

TIMELINE

March 8, 2015: Video surfaces of fraternity chanting “there will never be a [n-word] in SAE,” sparking widespread protest and national media attention.

April 2015: David Boren taps Jabar Shumate to head new diversity office.

July 2, 2018: New President James Gallogly announces restructuring plan to cut costs, reducing Shumate’s position from vice president to associate vice president.

July 23, 2018: Shumate allegedly resigns from OU after a closed-door meeting

July 24, 2018: OU Public Affairs tells OU Daily Shumate resigned to “pursue other career opportunities.”

July 25, 2018: Shumate gives press conference in OKC alleging involuntary termination, possible return of SAE.

-July 26, 2018: OU Public Affairs releases audit citing Shumate’s misuse of University assets to local media, denying return of SAE.

-July 26, 2018: Shumate expresses distrust of audit, says OU illegally shared his home address.

July 26, 2018: Student Government Association president Yaseen Shurbaji releases statement acknowledging accuracy of the audit and says a community discussion would need to take place before the possibility of SAE returning.

July 27, 2018: OU Daily publishes op-ed of student who asks why OU is quick to fire a black executive over misuse of a vehicle but defends white men who have been found to sexually harass students. 

Reactions to Shumate’s termination have been mixed, with many expressing doubt about the future of OU’s three-years-old diversity office.

“Shumate was always, always supportive of my campus leadership, especially as a Muslim female student,” former Muslim Student Association president Natasha Saya said. “This is so unfortunate.”

Saya said that funds and venue space for the Muslim Student Association were “little to none” before Shumate’s arrival. She said Shumate was influential in elevating the voice of and awareness for Muslim students on campus. 

OU Senior Hannah Grillot told the OU Daily that she was “deeply disturbed” by Shumate’s termination. She asked why is “the university turning a blind eye toward white men who prey on and endanger students” but swiftly fires a black employee for driving a car home.

Grillot was referencing former OU School of Drama donor and engineering professor John Scamehorn whose credentials were revoked after students came forward citing sexual harassment and after it was found that an investigation had been brought against him more than a year ago only to be ignored by OU leadership. 

East Sixth Street pastor Jesse Jackson, however, was not convinced that Shumate made an impact on race relations at OU. “They didn’t deal with it [SAE] the way they should have,” Jackson said. He said he feels the quick removal of the fraternity and the institution of a vice president for University Community was an attempt to offer a superficial solution to an internal, systemic problem.

When asked what Ida B. Wells, a famous 1890’s black female journalist who documented lynchings and pushed the U.S. to change its laws, would think about Shumate’s use of the phrase ‘high tech lynching,’ Jackson said he was deeply concerned.

“Evidently, he doesn’t understand the history or severity of lynchings,” Jackson said. “I don’t have anything against him. I don’t want to see anything happen to anybody, especially a brother.”

The Black Wall Street Times has obtained a copy of the audit, verifying the allegations against Shumate. OU interim vice president for Public Affairs Erin Yarbrough told the BWST in an email that the university and the national organization for SAE may both have legal claims to the former SAE house, currently the location of the University Community. 

“Because of this, as well as its location, the former SAE house is not a suitable location for long-term functions,” Yarbrough said. 

Yarbrough said there are no plans to downsize the office of University Community but discussions about future space for the Disability Resource Center and other offices have been ongoing for a while.

“The president is currently seeking an interim vice president [for University Community] and a national recruitment search will soon follow,” Yarbrough said. “This is a top priority for president Gallogly.”


20180710_161309Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has written for OU’s student newspaper the OU Daily as well as OKC-based Red Dirt Report. Deon received the Governor’s Commendation in 2017 for his videography highlighting a statewide distracted driving prevention program and runs a freelance video marketing service at indepthwithdeonfilms.com. He now lives in Tulsa, where he works as a policy intern at the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

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