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SANFORD v. HOWARD UNIV.

February 26, 1976

Charlotte Rae SANFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY and Dean Jay Chunn, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL

 FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

 Plaintiff, who claims to be an American Indian, seeks damages, injunctive relief and attorney's fees against defendant Howard University arising out of her suspension from its School of Social Work where she was enrolled as a graduate student. She alleges that she was the victim of racial discrimination by the University, a predominantly black institution.

 The issues are now before the Court on the merits following extensive discovery and a bench trial. *fn1" The Court has jurisdiction as provided by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1331 because of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the federal questions raised.

 Plaintiff enrolled at Howard as a candidate for a master's degree in social work in the fall of 1974, majoring in policy. She was a mature student; age 28, divorced, with a child to support. She had had considerable experience in various child care and other programs designed to aid the disadvantaged. The Howard University School of Social Work has around 150 students, principally black. She was the only student claiming to be an American Indian which she represented herself to be from the outset. A very substantial scholarship was provided which covered her tuition and some living expenses. Plaintiff selected Howard because her fiance lived in the area, because she desired on-the-job training and community experience which was available at and through the institution, and because she wished to be near the Congress in order to further her various lobbying efforts for child care.

 Howard School of Social Work presents a full range of courses relevant to its discipline. It has an active, fully staffed and conscientious faculty which at the times in question was vigorously concerned with maintaining high standards to assure the effectiveness of its graduates. Students have easy, continuous access to faculty and advisors. The School's emphasis and primary concerns were, of course, oriented toward blacks, consistent with the origins and long-recognized mission of the university. Plaintiff knew this when she enrolled.

 One aspect of the master's program requires special note in the light of the evidence. The School has a well-established academic policy requiring a student to be enrolled in and successfully complete a practicum course each semester at the same time the student is completing class assignments. Practical field experience is deemed essential because the School believes its courses are enriched if the student contemporaneously has responsibility in practical social work in the community. To this end, a student is assigned a practicum in a particular agency or governmental office under immediate supervision of a qualified person not on the School's staff. The assignments are worked out with the student's concurrence where possible. A Director of Practicum keeps track of student attendance and accomplishment, and the practicum courses are graded for each semester. Procedures for adjusting practicum assignments have been adopted to assist students who may find an assignment uncongenial or unsuited to the student's interests. However, consistent enrollment in practicum is required. Indeed, in April, 1975, the faculty by formal action decided that failure of practicum by any student would automatically result in dropping the student from the school.

 It is against this background that the events leading to her suspension can be examined in more detail. Recollections differ as to detail. Plaintiff's accounts of the events vary, which, among other things, casts some doubt on the weight to be given her testimony in several particulars. Some faculty members also have faulty recollections, including the Dean, but the Court finds his testimony on the essential points worthy of belief.

 Plaintiff was dissatisfied with her practicum assignments from the outset and throughout her stay at Howard. While she passed her practicum at the Department of Human Resources of the District of Columbia Government in the first semester, she constantly deprecated her involvement, strenuously criticized the program and its staff and kept a marginal participation mainly because her scholarship grant depended on it. She believed the practicum was not a meaningful educational experience. She felt her work was menial and unproductive, and constantly complained to various faculty members demanding a change.

 Plaintiff was encouraged to develop her own practicum and made some kind of an informal arrangement with the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press. She urged this arrangement be approved; it was considered casually by the faculty but never approved.

 The summer semester began May 26 and ended in July. Classes started June 1. Instead of continuing with the Department of Human Resources, plaintiff went to the Reporters' Committee at $4.50 per hour believing, mistakenly, that approval would be forthcoming. It was about this time that Mark Battle, the faculty liaison representative, made plaintiff aware that the Reporters' Committee had not yet been approved as a practicum and that plaintiff was expected to be in practicum. Plaintiff, much disturbed, went to see Eva Stewart, the Director of Practicum. Stewart told her that Stewart did not know she was out of practicum and not going to the Department of Human Resources. Plaintiff then went to the Dean who saw her immediately. The Dean told her she must go back to the Department of Human Resources and referred her back to Eva Stewart. Plaintiff pushed for permission to go to the Reporters' Committee. She was excused for a week, told again that the Reporters' Committee would not be approved, and informed that an assignment at Delegate Fauntroy's local District of Columbia office was the only policy placement for her. The administration of the School made it absolutely clear there was no other course available for her. She initially agreed to this practicum but after a visit to that office rejected it and never even made a genuine effort to take advantage of a large number of varied opportunities there that were suggested. She would have received experienced guidance from Delegate Fauntroy's well-qualified assistant who was anxious to help her, but her reaction was entirely negative. She showed contempt for the Delegate and for the black people around him, and rejected on First Amendment grounds the first assignment suggested by the office which was to attend a governmental meeting as his representative. Although none of her tasks required her to compromise her political beliefs, she met no one at the office halfway and walked out. Various conferences, telephone calls and meetings ensued with different faculty people in which she voiced her complaints; during this time she was not in an approved practicum.

 By this time some three weeks of the summer semester had elapsed and the practicum assignment for that semester was not being fulfilled. The Dean had some telephone contact with plaintiff but she broke appointments. She was asked to see the Dean on Friday, June 20, but rejected the appointment, stating she had to consult her attorney. The Dean agreed to see her on Monday, June 23. A faculty meeting was called for that day to consider her case. All members of the faculty were present, together with her immediate supervisor, Delegate Fauntroy's assistant. When plaintiff arrived for the appointment with her fiance, who was a law student, the Dean told her that plans had changed and asked her to wait while the faculty meeting went forward. Following the meeting, plaintiff was advised that she had been suspended for failure to pursue practicum and because during the spring semester she had submitted a single paper in duplicate to satisfy two courses without permission of the professors involved. *fn2" She was not told of these charges in advance and did not attend the faculty meeting. The decision of the faculty was unanimous. The Dean's letter to her dated June 23, 1975 (P.Ex. 11) reads as follows:

 
I am writing in follow up to our conference earlier today on June 23, 1975 that included your ...

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