Mad River Union
HSU – Faculty and Native American students have refuted an administration official’s denial of a Mad River Union report that Humboldt State University fired a Native American educator, Jacquelyn Bolman, for criticizing the school’s handling of under-represented student programs.
Faculty and student insiders are adamant that campus officials sacked Bolman for whistleblowing. The administration official, Frank Whitlatch, emailed the Mad River Union editor, Jack Durham, last week, stating, “The Mad River Union story [front page, Jan. 28] is inaccurate, and its central claim is not true: Jacquelyn Bolman was not fired for her criticism of the university.”
Whitlatch added, “The story quotes negative statements about Jacquelyn Bolman in documents and emails released through a public records request. But it does not in any way support the claim that those statements are related to a personnel action.”
“Whitlatch is wrong,” a science faculty member declared flatly in an email and in a one-on-interview. Well-versed in campus politics, the professor disclosed the backstory of the personalities involved and pinpointed how Bolman’s criticism of the former Richmond administration led to her ouster last October.
The officials who carried out the firing were Acting Provost Jenny Zorn, Interim Associate Vice President for Retention Radha Webley and Senior Associate Vice President of Faculty Affairs and Human Resources Colleen Mullery.
“Webley and Mullery, along with Vice Provost Jená Burges and Chief of Staff Denice Helwig, wanted Jacquelyn out. They were able to end-run [President Lisa] Rossbacher, it was easy. Being new, she wasn’t really up to speed. Likewise, Zorn is a lame duck. And Rossbacher is another Rollin [Richmond] – evasive, no follow-through, always telling you what you want to hear.”
The key point, the professor explained, is “Jacquelyn is an extremely independent person. She was considered insubordinate, not a team player. Administration executives didn’t like her independence and wouldn’t put up with her criticism. ”
A dean, Rhea Williamson, complained in an internal email last year that Bolman’s criticism of HSU to federal officials who manage a minority support program called LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation) could well jeopardize important future grant funding for the Arcata campus’s under-represented students.
An eyewitness account also refutes Whitlatch. A Native American science student who asked not to be named pointed out that he, not Whitlatch, was physically present when Bolman was ordered to gather her personal effects and ejected from her INRSEP office (Indian Natural Resources and Science Education Program).
“I was sitting at a computer in the INRSEP house when Zorn, Mullery and Webley came in suddenly. They were carrying a copy of Jacquelyn’s annual report to LSAMP. It contained a paragraph criticizing the administration’s treatment and lack of support for underrepresented students at INRSEP.
“They all went into Jacquelyn’s office and closed the door. When they came back out, Zorn and Bolman were arguing in loud voices. Zorn said something like, ‘No, Jacquelyn, no, we do support students of color, you’re wrong.’ After they left, I found the copy of the LSAMP report that Zorn left behind, lying on a desk.”
Whitlatch is “stonewalling,” the Native student charged. “There’s absolutely no doubt that Jacquelyn’s criticism of INRSEP’s downgrade caused her dismissal. The simple fact is they considered her a whistleblower.”
He added in an email, “The amazing thing is that Jacquelyn’s written comments [to LSAMP] were based on the data she received from her supervisor, Radha Webley, who fired Jacquelyn for restating it! Ms. Webley herself was quoted in a 2009 North Coast Journal article in which she cited an HSU diversity report that summer that she co-authored: “‘Section by section, these pages tell a story of inequity and exclusion, a story where Students of Color on our campus feel isolated and uncomfortable... and marginalized academically.’”
“Yet she was not terminated or reprimanded for saying this,” the student remarked, incredulous.
Reading Whitlatch’s statement, activist student Ama Tierney laughed out loud. “They’re [the administration] just protecting themselves from a lawsuit. This entire time, their playbook has been to consult with lawyers. This statement reads right out of a lawyer’s playbook.”
Tierney shrugged off Whitlatch’s email to the Union as typical of the negative message the administration is sending to prospective Native American students nationwide. “The Native community communicates by word of mouth and the word of mouth is, ‘This university will cut your programs, fire your mentors and disrespect your culture.’”
She concluded, “Given that message, Native Americans are not going to come from out of state to attend this university. On the other hand, if the administration respected indigenous cultures, this could become a premier Native American campus.”
Confronted with student demands for Bolman’s reinstatement and Webley’s dismissal, the administration has stated unequivocally that both actions are non-negotiable, concede students residing in the Native American Forum in hopes of turning Rossbacher around.
Given the administration’s reputed intransigence, the science professor said CSU Chancellor Timothy White, headquartered in Long Beach, “should come up here and meet with all of the local tribal leaders. And meet them without Rossbacher or Helwig or any other administration officials present.”
Paul Mann was HSU press aide from 2003-2014. – Ed.