Former WSU Tri-Cities chancellor says she didn't discriminate against man in Student Affairs Office

The former chancellor for Washington State University Tri-Cities testified Monday that she did not discriminate against an administrator when she chose someone else to head the Student Affairs Office.

Dallas Barnes, who still works at the Richland campus, is suing the university, claiming senior administrators, including former Chancellor Vicky Carwein, discriminated against him by passing him over for promotion and stripping him of duties.

His lawsuit said he was the only black administrator on campus at that time. He currently is assistant director of student services in the Student Affairs Office.

Carwein told a Franklin County Superior Court jury Monday that she had little knowledge of Barnes' background and qualifications and didn't always know about issues going on in the department.

She said she spent much of her time at WSU Tri-Cities guiding the school through a time of changing student needs and problems in the Student Affairs Office. She said Barnes was treated the same as any other job applicant for openings.

"He'd have to apply for the job and be evaluated like everyone else," said Carwein, who recently left WSU to become chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne starting Sept. 1.

Barnes' lawsuit filed in 2010 stems from his work under Jaime Contreras, then-director of Student Affairs.

Contreras resigned in April 2011 after a report from administrators in Pullman claimed he used "demeaning, derogatory racial or ethnic terms numerous times in the workplace."

A Herald story in May 2011 reported that the investigators accused Contreras of using the name "Kunta Kinte" to describe Barnes. The name is taken from the novel Roots. The character with that name is a slave.

Carwein testified she did not know if Contreras used that name to refer to Barnes.

Contreras managed a staff of about 17 and was to recruit a more ethnically diverse student body. But court files and university documents detail an array of claims that Contreras created a hostile environment for staff and students, leading to several civil rights complaints.

George Fearing, Barnes' attorney, asked Carwein why Barnes was never appointed as interim or permanent director of the Student Affairs Office, despite his decades of experience.

Carwein twice appointed interim directors.

She said she brought in outside candidates, including Contreras, because of turmoil in the office.

The first problem was in 2007 when Carwein removed two vice chancellors, the Student Affairs director and another employee after she learned they reportedly were aware that the school's enrollment numbers were being falsely reported.

Carwein said she wasn't fully aware of Barnes' qualifications for the job, including not knowing he had served as acting Student Affairs director in the '90s. And then in 2011, Carwein said, she already had hired Contreras' temporary replacement before she had learned of Barnes' interest in the position.

She testified she wasn't aware of Barnes' performance evaluation scores.

She said that it was her responsibility to make sure employees were evaluated fairly but couldn't say whether one of those evaluations was unfair. Those scores also wouldn't have been used to decide his suitability for a specific job at the university, she said.

Barnes also provided counseling services for students. Those duties were changed after an audit by Barbara Hammond, the now-retired director of counseling at WSU Pullman.

Carwein said the school needed to start providing mental health services for younger students since the Richland campus was going to start adding freshmen and sophomore classes to the higher-level courses.

"We knew the needs changed completely overnight," she said.

But Carwein said she was unaware of Barnes' qualifications as a registered counselor and also did not know he previously provided counseling to students at the WSU Spokane campus.

Attorneys representing WSU pointed out that two of the administrators Carwein consulted before filling positions in 2007 were college President Elson Floyd and Provost Mike Tate, both of whom are black.

Carwein said she learned later that Barnes' annual performance scores declined under two other administrators before Contreras was hired. He also told senior administrators that he had no counseling files to hand over.

"He said he was going to continue to do what he wanted to do," Carwein said she was told by other officials.

Hammond, who worked at the WSU Pullman campus at the same time as Barnes, told jurors that she recommended the Richland campus do more to preserve records of students receiving counseling, use a private area for sessions and bring on a clinical psychologist to work with students.

Hammond said the recommendations were influenced by recent incidents at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, where students who had received counseling went on shooting sprees.

She added that she never suggested Barnes be stripped of his counseling duties and she expected at least some of her recommendations to be phased in, specifically the hiring of a psychologist.

The trial, which began last week, continues today.

-- Ty Beaver 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com