AP, August 31, 2006
Las Vegas, N.M. — A former assistant chemistry professor who was denied tenure at New Mexico Highlands University has sued the school, alleging the tenure denial was because he wasn’t Hispanic.
David Wiedenfeld, who now teaches at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., alleges unlawful termination, discrimination on the basis of race and national origin and “perceived” religious discrimination. He said Highlands officials thought he was Jewish, although he isn’t.
He is seeking unspecified damages in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Santa Fe. Defendants are the school’s regents, former Highlands President Manny Aragon and the university’s former interim provost, Janice Chavez.
Wiedenfeld, who had taught at Highlands since the fall of 2001, was one of four white professors who was denied tenure in February 2005. Aragon recommended the denial, and the regents approved it.
Wiedenfeld was replaced by a chemist who is Hispanic.
The American Association of University Professors in June censured Highlands, largely on the basis of the school’s actions against Wiedenfeld and another professor who was denied tenure and later fired, Gregg Turner.
Turner also sued. He and the school confirmed that a tentative $170,000 settlement had been reached July 22, the same day the regents approved a deal to buy out Aragon’s contract for $200,000 in exchange for his leaving the post he’d held for two years.
The lawsuit also alleges the school retaliated against Wiedenfeld for complaining to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Wiedenfeld said all of his evaluations at Highlands were strong, and peers who reviewed his work unanimously recommended he receive tenure.
“Because of a decision made by President Aragon to engage in an illegal program to discriminate against non-Hispanic faculty and staff, Dr. Wiedenfeld was denied tenure and was forced to leave New Mexico to find work elsewhere,” his lawsuit said.
He filed a grievance with a faculty committee, which agreed that procedures had been violated and urged the administration to review the tenure decision. Aragon rejected the committee’s findings.
The lawsuit also said Aragon, during a management meeting, referred to Highlands’ Faculty Senate as “17th century white property owners controlling the vote.”