The Storm Facing Tulane's History Department (And We Don't Mean Katrina)


Mr. Shenkman is the editor of HNN.

"I was floored and devastated." This statement by Tulane historian Susan Schroeder is not a reference to Katrina. It is a comment about charges involving racism, harassment and slander that have riven Tulane's department of history, led to the filing of a lawsuit by one member against another, and made a mockery of the image of school collegiality created in the wake of the 2005 storm when students and teachers rallied to one another's support. While historians outside Tulane have frequently wondered how their peers are dealing with Katrina, many members of the department itself have been preoccupied with a post-storm fight that has prompted four of the department's ten full professors, including the former chairman, to boycott all meetings. By 2007 nearly every contentious issue common in academia had been raised by the ordeal including, in addition to racism, the treatment of junior faculty by senior faculty, gender and age discrimination, and plain bureaucratic indifference.

The origins of the imbroglio can be traced to complaints by Rosanne Adderley, the only African-American member of the department, that she was the victim of discrimination for years. Adderley, who joined the department in 1996 after receiving a PhD. from the University of Pennsylvania in history specializing in Caribbean studies, insists, according to a summary made in the course of an investigation, that beginning in 2001 she was subjected to "discrimination, harassment and unprofessional conduct, sometimes based on race, ethnicity, gender and age." In March 2005, five months before Katrina, she filed a formal 21 page complaint with Tulane's Office of Institutional Equity alleging nine different categories of offenses involving three senior members of the department: Susan Schroeder and Colin M. MacLachlan, who specialize in Latin America studies, and Richard Latner, an Americanist who served as chairman of the department during the period under review. She claimed that they marginalized her in the department, steered graduate students away from her, and publicly ridiculed her proficiency in Spanish.

Investigations of allegations like this are supposed to take place promptly, according to Tulane's own guidelines. But because Adderley had not provided many details, the school official in charge of the investigation, Deborah E. Love, apparently found it difficult to determine the merits of the case. Not until March 2006, a full year after the charges had been filed, did Love begin to notify the three professors of the claims being made against them. Latner was told in February or March, Schroeder in April, and MacLachlan in May.

While the charges remained secret rumors began circulating of trouble in the department. As one after another of the three professors came under the gun they hired lawyers and prepared to defend themselves. Fearful that something they might say or do could be used against them by Adderley, they stopped showing up for department meetings. By then it was clear to the other members of the department that something was up even if only a few were aware of the full circumstances.

Schroeder, MacLachlan and Latner denied the charges, each producing detailed defenses; Latner's ran to some seventy pages. But they admitted having had a problem with Adderley, according to the subsequent investigation. Although she had been hired as an expert in African Diaspora studies, she awkwardly had been assigned to the Latin American and United States subdivisions. Because as she herself admitted she had only an average reading proficiency in Spanish and Portuguese the senior professors felt she wasn't ideal as a graduate advisor to students who would be working in the foreign languages of Latin America. She could not speak either Spanish or Portuguese and had not done research on Latin American subjects. Her specialty was the English Bahamas.

Adderley charged that she was being discriminated against on the basis of race. But the senior faculty responded that their beef was with her credentials; she seemed ill-suited to mentor students in Latin American studies. They noted that under their leadership--one of them was serving as chairman, another as graduate student advisor--four minority graduate students had been recruited to Tulane and a $15,000 a year fellowship had been established specifically designed to attract "applications from minority African American, Native American, and Hispanic students." Tulane had never before made as concerted an effort to draw minorities as they had, they insisted.

Complicating matters, Deborah Love, the official in charge of the investigation, gave Susan Schroeder just two weeks to answer the complaints Adderley had made. Coming in April, just as classes were winding up and the burdens of teaching were becoming acute, the deadline seemed preposterous. Schroeder asked to be given until June 30 to respond; Love agreed to compromise, setting the deadline back to May 30. But bad feelings remained. Schroeder felt that Love was not being impartial or fair.

By now tempers were hot and the department was in disarray. But things were about to get even more difficult. Schroeder now laid down the gauntlet. She demanded that the charges be dismissed and threatened to file a lawsuit if Adderley didn't apologize. "The longer Dr. Adderley's vacuous allegations are allowed to linger," Schroeder's lawyer argued, "the greater the likelihood exists for permanent and irreparable damage to Dr. Schroeder's good name, professional reputation and standing within the academic community." Schroeder was said to be in danger of losing a federal grant as well as her privileges at the Newberry Library, a highly esteemed research facility in Chicago, where she and several colleagues under the terms of the grant were scheduled to spend a month a year for three years. When no apology was forthcoming Schroeder sued in state court, claiming she had been defamed. She did not ask for specific damages.

In September, somewhat surprisingly given the course events had taken, Deborah Love, issuing her findings in a secret report, sided with Schroeder and the other two accused professors. Reviewing each allegation in detail, she concluded that none of the professors were guilty of violating Tulane's Non-Discrimination Policy.

  • "There is no information to support finding that Latner discouraged students form [sic] working with Adderley in Latin American History."
  • "There is no information to support finding that Schroeder violated Tulane's Anti-Discrimination policy."
  • "Although Schroeder and MacLachlan's [sic] did question one graduate student's choice to work with Adderley as her advisor, their behavior was not a violation of Tulane's Anti-Discrimination Policy."

Adderley had charged that when Richard Latner was serving as chairman he had forced her to tears after allegedly ridiculing her for missing the deadline for submitting documents for her promotion and tenure review. Adderley had explained that the delay was owing to a mix-up; she had expected the department secretary to collect the needed materials. But she claimed that Latner lashed out at her and said she had exhibited the worst behavior of any professor he'd encountered in twenty years at Tulane. Adderley insisted this was an example of discrimination. But Love found that Latner treated many junior faculty somewhat haughtily. (Latner denies this; he told HNN, "I don't recognize myself in these statements.")

Not only did the three accused professors rebut the charges made against them, so did a graduate student to whom Adderley had referred in her list of grievances. Love had claimed that Latner had steered the student away from her even though she would have been a natural choice as an advisor given the student's academic interests. But the student told Deborah Love that Latner had never tried to dissuade him from working with Adderley. Her statements to the contrary were "categorically untrue in their entirety."

It was nearly but not quite completely a full vindication of the three professors. Schroeder told HNN that Love warned that at any time the three might be called to account on new charges of discrimination. Schroeder found this alarming. So did the other two professors.

A single sentence buried at the bottom of the report also troubled Schroeder. Love concluded the report by saying that in her opinion Adderley had made her allegations "in good faith." Schroeder didn't understand how this could be the case. The legal implications of this finding were adverse to Schroeder's position in court. When her law suit against Adderley was presented to a trial judge the court ruled that the finding of good faith was grounds for throwing out the suit. If Adderley had indeed made her complaints to Tulane in good faith then she could not be accused of defamation. She had not gone around campus proclaiming that Schroeder et al. were racists. She had presented her charges in a confidential filing with the appropriate office and she had done so believing the charges were true.

That was in late January. Today the fight goes on. After Schroeder lost in court Adderley demanded that Schroeder either drop a threatened appeal or pick up her legal bills and costs, which came to nearly $10,000. Schroeder decided to appeal.

Where was the administration while all this was playing out in the courts and at the Tulane history department? Nowhere, says Schroeder. She complained that she couldn't get the administration's attention. Some in the history department agree the situation was mishandled. Just recently the department's executive committee, tired of waiting for the administration to act, decided to convene a meeting this week to begin resolving some of the issues that led to the conflict. James Boyden, the current department chairman, told HNN that the committee will "begin a discussion toward establishing new by-laws and procedures with the hope that they will ameliorate current tensions and avert future ones."

Both Schroeder and MacLachlan insist that the only way to resolve the matter is for Adderley to apologize in writing. Only then, they say, will they have confidence that she won't file more charges against them. Only then will they be willing to return to department meetings.

And then of course there's still Katrina to deal with. Susan Schroeder faced rain and wind destruction. Colin MacLachlan suffered severe damage to his roof. And Richard Latner lost his house.

Latner for one says he's trying to remain hopeful about both his personal and professional situation. He says he doesn't plan to return to his neighborhood to rebuild; it's too far gone. As far as Tulane, he's convinced "there has to be greater protection for faculty." For the time being he plans to stay away from department meetings. "The reason I'm not attending," he says, "is because confidential matters at faculty meetings have been misconstrued, taken out of context and disclosed and miscommunicated and used against me. Even things in non-confidential meetings have been twisted into allegations."

How does a department restore trust when trust is so obviously eroded that a former chairman feels compelled to make a statement like this? So far Tulane's history department hasn't figured out quite how, but it's trying.

*Editor's Note: This article initially featured a photo of Rosanne Adderley at a rally in New York City (the only photo we could find). Some readers considered it offensive. As it has proven to be a distraction from the issues raised by this article, the photo has been removed.

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More Comments:

Tobie Meyer-Fong - 5/4/2007

I have known Rosanne Adderley for many years, and have always found her to be a person of the utmost integrity and fortitude. The HNN story is incendiary and extremely biased. Indeed, it is unprofessional--both by the standards of journalism and of history. I fear that your article has not only defamed one scholar, but also may inhibit others who might have sought to pursue their legitimate grievances through established institutional channels. After this, they may well fear being publicly labelled as troublemakers and worse.


Rosanne Adderley is a first class human being, a brillant scholar, an excellent teacher, and very supportive colleague.
She is certainly NOT "an embittered, whiny malcontent.."

Tokunbo Ayoola, Visiting Assistant Professor, History Department, Tulane University.

John Robin - 4/14/2007

The photo the editor chose and then removed was taken at a rally in New York City in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. When people in the crowd realized Dr. Adderlely was from New Orleans they pulled her to the microphone where she gave a very emotional plea to save the city that she obviously loves so much. I was there -- it was very moving.

HNN - 4/13/2007

Related Links

  • Rosanne Adderley: Colleagues rally to her defense at Tulane

  • Gaurav Desai - 4/12/2007

    Rosanne and I were hired the same year at Tulane and I know her to be a brilliant scholar and a wonderful colleague and friend. It is sad that she finds herself in the midst of a now widely publicized dispute despite the fact that, as I understand, there are confidentiality agreements in place.

    Rachel Jennifer Devlin - 4/11/2007

    We, the 35 current and former members of the Tulane faculty listed below, find that this article represents Rosanne Adderley in a negative light that in no way corresponds with her professional identity at Tulane University. Rosanne Adderley has been an extremely active, positive, friendly, hard working and helpful colleague. Moreover, she is a person of utmost integrity, and we believe that all of her professional dealings are conducted in good faith as a matter of course. We assert unequivocally that this story is misleading. A grave injustice has been done here. The Rosanne Adderley that we know is not, as the article implies, a troublemaker. Indeed, she is the very opposite.

    Idelber Avelar
    Charles Chamberlain
    Felice Batlan
    James Boyden
    Molly Burke
    Michael Cunningham
    Rachel Devlin
    Raymond Diamond
    Christopher Dunn
    Pamela Franco
    Sylvia Frey
    Joy Fuqua
    Kate Haulman
    Ladee Hubbard
    Martha Huggins
    Javier Leon
    Rebecca Mark
    Nancy Maveety
    Marilyn Miller
    Clarence Mohr
    Gayle Murchison
    Neeti Nair
    Supriya Nair
    Stacy Overstreet
    Tatjana Pavlovic
    Larry Powell
    Steven Pierce
    Natalie Ring
    Maureen Shea
    Randy Sparks
    Felipe Smith
    Richard Watts
    Edie Wolfe
    Justin Wolfe
    Lee Woodward

    Neeti Nair - 4/11/2007

    I would like to add my name to Steven's post. I taught at Tulane for just one semester in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. Rosanne was incredibly warm and thoughtful, generous with her time to both colleagues and students, and extremely committed to Tulane and New Orleans. I don't recognize her in this article either.

    Neeti Nair (formerly an assistant professor of history at Tulane University, now an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia)

    Christopher John Dunn - 4/10/2007

    Why? At Tulane we have plenty of graduate students in several disciplines, including History, that develop projects that relate to the African Diaspora in the Americas.

    Christopher John Dunn - 4/10/2007

    I join the growing chorus of current and former colleagues of Rosanne Adderley who have attested in the strongest way to her impeccable character and warm collegiality. I also join them in denouncing this one-sided report on the conflict within the Tulane History Department.

    I take issue especially with the suggestion that Rosanne has a narrow specialization in the "English Bahamas" or that she is somehow "ill-suited to mentor" Latin Americanist students. This is absurd. She has been doing so admirably for years.

    Why would it be "awkward" for an expert in the African Diaspora to be given a dual assignment in Latin American and US subfields? The best African Diasporists, like Rosanne, must know both contexts!

    It is either ignorant or disingenuous to state that "their beef was with her credentials." What kind of colleague would make that argument to a graduate student who is trying to put together a dissertation committee?

    Christopher Dunn, Chair
    Department of Spanish and Portuguese
    Tulane University

    Steven Pierce - 4/10/2007

    I was a member of the Tulane department for 5 1/2 years. The representation of Rosanne Adderley in this article bears no resemblance to the colleague I worked with. She is a first-rate colleague and, from the many conversations I have had about her with undergraduate and graduate students, a brilliant and inspiring teacher. There are many terrific people in the Tulane department, and Rosanne is unquestionably one of them.

    Steven Pierce (formerly an assistant professor of history at Tulane, now Lecturer in Modern African History at the University of Manchester)

    Richard Watts - 4/2/2007

    Mr. Geshekter is right that the article "gives the distinct impression" that all of the problems in Tulane's History Dept. originate with Rosanne Adderley. As a colleague of hers from another department (French & Italian), I believe this is the wrong impression. I am not privy to the internal workings of History, but I have collaborated with Prof. Adderley on a number of occasions and, to paraphrase another of the principals of the story, don't recognize her in Shenkman's descriptions. The breezy, sensationalistic tone of Shenkman's piece is more appropriate to tabloid journalism than to a disciplinary journal/newsletter, and the resulting caricature of Prof. Adderley seems to play to the gallery (this can be seen in many of the comments already posted, including the one I'm responding to). Likewise, the inclusion of the file photo of Prof. Adderley engaged in an activity unrelated to her role in the History Dept. was simply tendentious. For those of us who want to see History at Tulane move beyond this period of acrimony, Shenkman's largely one-sided take on the situation does not help.

    mark safranski - 4/1/2007

    "These subrosa arrangements tend to maximize billings for the firm at the expense of quick internal conflict resolutions such as through the grievance process. Might such be the case at Tulane and hence this situation? "

    Good point. I wish I'd thought of the venality aspect. I bow in homage. :o)

    arnold REISMAN - 4/1/2007

    Too many universities, especially the private ones, have a sweetheart arrangement between their "inhouse" director of legal services and some out(of the)house legal firm. These subrosa arrangements tend to maximize billings for the firm at the expense of quick internal conflict resolutions such as through the grievance process. Might such be the case at Tulane and hence this situation?

    William L Ramsey - 4/1/2007

    I'll bet you an expensive hotel Bloody Mary at next years AHA convention that the other members of the department you spoke to did not speak back.

    mark safranski - 3/31/2007

    "Both Schroeder and MacLachlan insist that the only way to resolve the matter is for Adderley to apologize in writing. Only then, they say, will they have confidence that she won't file more charges against them. Only then will they be willing to return to department meetings"

    Perhaps Tulane and other universities as recipients of texpayer funds and Federal GSLs need to begin respecting Constitutional due process rights of faculty and students more than race/gender PC ideology. Speedy resolution is part of due process.

    The issues here should have been resolved within about a week at most, with the evidentiary burden of proof being on the accuser, rather than the people being accused. When Dr. Adderly "refused to provide many details" to investigative officials, her charges should have been summarily dismissed as unfounded.

    Universities need to get out of the business of facilitating disputes that are primarily malicious personal and political vendettas.


    HNN - 3/30/2007

    I spoke to other members of the department.

    This isn't though a dissertation. It's a news story.

    I am sure there are multiple interpretations.

    Just after the article went up somebody claiming to be a member of the Tulane department anonymously posted a screed attacking my outline of events. Unfortunately, they did not provide their name and did not provide any facts. (Because they did not provide their name the comment was removed.)

    I will add a photo line at the bottom to alert readers who may not be aware of the use of mouse-overs.

    William L Ramsey - 3/30/2007

    I still worry that the picture is misleading, especially for visitors who prefer not to manipulate their cursors while reading.

    I’m also curious about how other members of the Tulane history department view these events. Were any other members of the department contacted? Are their views reflected in the essay?

    HNN - 3/30/2007

    The picture shows Professor Adderley at a Times Square rally for a social cause, as indicated in the caption, which you can see if you mouse over the picture (using an IE browser).

    It was the only picture I could find of any of the principal figures in the story.

    William L Ramsey - 3/30/2007

    Well, then, if Dr. Adderley was the only professor who chose not to speak publicly, I wonder if it is a little misleading to include an image of her using a public address system. Unless, of course, this is a picture of Dr. Adderley using a P.A. system to broadcast her views about this particular dispute publicly. Is it?

    HNN - 3/29/2007

    I am afraid that Professor Adderley declined to speak to HNN.

    William L Ramsey - 3/29/2007

    I admire Dr. Schenkman and HNN a great deal. He has published my essays in the face of controvery in the past, for which I am grateful. But. . .

    Why are there numerous first-time quotes from Latner, Schroeder, and McClachlan in this essay but none from Adderly. All Adderly quotes are from documents and not interviews. Did she refuse to speak? Did I miss that acknowledgment?

    This essay is troubling to me because I am a Tulane Ph.D. graduate. I taught for a year as an adjunct while Dr. Adderly was beginning at Tulane, and I admired Dr. Latner, Dr. McClachlan, and Dr. Schroeder. But I also admired Dr. Adderley. And I feel obliged to say that, in contrast to the comments that have been harvested by this unfortunate essay, she was one of the most collegial, friendly, and humble professors I ever encountered at Tulane.

    Douglas Robert Keberlein - 3/28/2007

    The root of the problem lies in the following telling passage: "Although she had been hired as an expert in African Diaspora studies, she awkwardly had been assigned to the Latin American and United States subdivisions." It should hardly come as a surprise that few graduate students were assigned to her. As I recall, she was hired to fill an undergraduate curricular need.

    Tulane Historian - 3/28/2007

    Comment removed. The poster did not identify himself as HNN rules require.

    Rob Willis - 3/28/2007

    Hit a nerve? Then by all means, give us a cited, scholarly report on the real problem. Otherwise, stop the personal attacks, please.

    Oh, and collegiality does not seem to be a strong suit at "Tulane" if your post is any indication.

    Charles Lee Geshekter - 3/28/2007

    Amen to all that. A succinct and accurate summary of a tawdry situation that's far from unique.

    George Robert Gaston - 3/28/2007

    Seems like a good price to pay for PC and Human Resources driven world they have helped create. In some ways I can only grin and think they had it coming. Sometimes the monster you create eats you.

    Charles Lee Geshekter - 3/28/2007

    The descriptions, photo and facts provided in this pathetic story give the distinct impression that Adderly is an embittered, whiny malcontent who probably gets away with a lot just by charging racism or sexism at any slight or perceived criticism.

    The other members of the beleagured department deserve combat pay or a hardship differential for having to endure her insufferable angst.