Former dean testifies in WSU discrimination trial

The former dean of Washington State University Tri-Cities testified Thursday that a member of the student affairs faculty often spoke of institutional racism at the school and threatened several times to sue the university.

Larry James, former dean and vice chancellor for the Richland campus, told jurors in Franklin Superior Court that one of those instances came in 2000 when he told the employee, Dallas Barnes, that disabled students were threatening to sue because the university was not accommodating their needs. At the time, Barnes was in charge of disability services.

"I told him I'll take my chances with you rather than the students because I'll win," James testified.

Barnes, who is black, sued the university for discrimination in 2010. He claims he repeatedly has been passed over for promotion and that a former supervisor described him in negative racial terms.

On Thursday, defense attorneys from the Washington Attorney General's Office representing WSU began calling their witnesses, who described Barnes as difficult to work with and increasingly not meeting expectations.

"I think there was a lot of concerns about him wanting to be an administrator," James testified. "That seemed to be more important to him than getting the job done."

James, who is vice provost of academic affairs on the WSU Pullman campus, said Barnes was a nice person and that he had done some good things for the university.

However, he testified that Barnes failed to address disabled student needs as head of the campus' disability services in 2000 and other staff and administrators were concerned about his work.

That job was removed from his duties and James began negotiating with Barnes to buy out Barnes' tenure. Those talks fell apart after Barnes refused to waive any future legal claims against the university as part of the agreement.

James said he tried to get teaching assignments for Barnes. But the university's sociology department chairman refused to give Barnes, who has a doctorate in sociology, a class to teach, though a specific reason never was given.

Barnes was assigned an education class to teach, but that was discontinued after students complained about remarks he made about Mormons and racism. James said he never knew the specifics of those allegations.

James said he appointed Pat Wright, a black woman who had fewer academic credentials than Barnes, to be director of student affairsat the campus in the late '90s.

James said he chose her because of her good attitude and motivation to get work done. She was removed by former Chancellor Vicky Carwein in 2007 in connection with an enrollment numbers scandal.

LoAnn Ayers, director of the Richland campus' Career Development Center, told jurors that Barnes was assigned to help her design and carry out a student satisfaction survey in 2008.

"He wasn't helping, so I just did it," she testified.

Ayers was assigned to be Barnes' direct supervisor starting July 1, 2012, but Barnes has not been to work since then. He has been on medical leave, receiving treatment for anemia and diabetes, said George Fearing, Barnes' attorney.

An intern from Fearing's law firm read to the jury the deposition of Jaime Contreras, who was Barnes' supervisor from mid-2008 through April 2011.

Contreras, the director of student affairs, resigned after a university report claimed he used "demeaning, derogatory racial or ethnic terms numerous times in the workplace." Barnes and former university employees have said those comments were sometimes directed at Barnes.

However, Fearing said the deposition, taken in February 2011, was done before the university's report and only addresses how Contreras was hired and what he was told about Barnes when he started.

Fearing said he learned of Contreras' whereabouts a month ago but he lives out of state and cannot be ordered to appear in the case.

"It's unfortunate that we're stuck with this deposition," Fearing said.

The trial is set to continue today.

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