IUPUI Says Sorry to Janitor Scolded Over KKK Book

Deanna Martin, AP, July 14, 2008

A janitor whom a university official had accused of racial harassment for reading a historical book about the Ku Klux Klan on his break has gotten an apology—months later—from the school.

Charles Bantz, chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, apologized to Keith John Sampson in a letter dated Friday, saying the school is committed to free expression.

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Sampson’s troubles began last year when a co-worker complained after seeing him reading a book titled “Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan.”

The book’s cover features white-robed Klansmen and burning crosses against a backdrop of Notre Dame’s campus. It recounts a 1924 riot between Notre Dame students and the Klan in which the students from the Catholic university prevailed.

Sampson, a 58-year-old white janitor and student majoring in communication studies, said he tried to explain that the book was a historical account.

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But Sampson says his union official likened the book to bringing pornography to work, and the school’s affirmative action officer in November told Sampson his conduct constituted racial harassment.

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Civil liberties groups and bloggers who took up his cause said Sampson had been wrongly cited for reading a book that is carried by the school’s library.

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IUPUI in February informed Sampson no disciplinary action would be taken because the affirmative action office was unable to determine whether his conduct was intended to disrupt the work environment.

“My prior letter was not meant to imply that it is impermissible for you or to limit your ability to read scholarly books or other such literature during break times,” wrote Charleston, who has since retired, in a second letter. “There is no university policy that prohibits reading such materials on break time.”

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“By first finding Sampson guilty of racial harassment simply for reading a book in the break room, then refusing to admit the gross impropriety of such a finding, IUPUI makes a mockery of its legal and moral obligations as a public institution of higher learning,” wrote Adam Kissel, director of [Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s] Individual Rights Defense Program.

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But Bantz didn’t apologize to Sampson until last week, after a column in The Wall Street Journal sparked renewed criticism. Bantz also wrote to the others involved in the incident, including the co-worker who filed the complaint, said IUPUI spokesman Rich Schneider.

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Sampson, who still works for the school, said that he accepts the university’s apology but that he was hurt by the allegations and has not enjoyed being in the spotlight.

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[Editor’s Note: Earlier stories about Keith Sampson’s problems with the university administraton can be read starting here.]

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