The University of Portland has launched an investigation following an accusation of systemic racism and workplace harassment in the top ranks of the Catholic institution.
The allegations were published anonymously in The Beacon, the university’s student newspaper, on July 1. Two days later, Sandy Chung, UP’s vice president for human resources and Title IX coordinator, sent out an email to faculty and staff in which she stated she was the author of the unsigned opinion piece. She said she wrote it “to support our Black students and students of color who have been speaking up on Instagram @blackatuniversityportland” — a page where students, alumni and others post about their experiences at the University of Portland.
“It was terrifying to share my concerns publicly. I decided to share my identity because I need to follow your example.”
The anonymous opinion piece stated that “[p]eople of color and women join the UP community as students, faculty and staff because UP says the right things publicly.” But the column went on to claim that racism and sexism at the university happen “behind closed doors,” including a “deliberate unwillingness to address reported concerns.”
Before coming to the University of Portland in 2015, Chung, a Harvard-educated lawyer who grew up in Beaverton, headed the Employee & Labor Relations department at Stanford University and worked on gang-reduction efforts for the Los Angeles mayor’s office. In her role at UP, she’s involved in investigating allegations of harassment, sexual assault and other misconduct in the university community.
Last December, former University of Portland employee Patrick Ell severely beat one of Chung’s team members, Matthew Rygg, with a baseball bat. Rygg had overseen a 2016 sexual-assault claim by Ell’s daughter, then a student at the university.
Among the allegations in the anonymous op-ed, the author writes that “UP leadership engaged in retaliation towards me — by refusing to mitigate physical safety risks of my team and me — after I shared serious concerns with UP’s Board members.”
The column says her request for better safety procedures for her office was refused by a “UP leader” even though he knew “my team and I had handled multiple situations with significant physical safety concerns … [and] I had emailed him and then spoken to him about my concerns about the physical safety of my team and myself.”
She added: “he tried to gaslight me by accusing me of being selfish and unreasonable.”
A published update from the University of Portland’s Title IX office in May states that over the past two academic years “reports received by the Title IX Office from faculty, staff and students increased significantly.” The office’s investigations during that period led to nine “dismissals” and one suspension.
The anonymous op-ed also claims that a “senior leader” at the 119-year-old Catholic university in North Portland resists promoting LGBTQ+ employees. It also says that UP has a demonstrated difficulty in retaining “women and women of color in leadership positions. … I have spoken to other women leaders who have said that they love UP but they have considered leaving because of how they are treated by other white male leaders.”
The column says that one school administrator, when asked whether the university would celebrate gay UP alum and 2019 U.S. Women’s World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, said “something like, ‘She’s shameful.’”
The opinion piece also alleged that the University of Portland has filled top leadership positions with white men “without doing open recruitments and searches” and that UP administrators hide information from the Board of Regents.
The university’s president, Fr. Mark L. Poorman, and the board of regents announced shortly after the anonymous op-ed’s publication that an “independent, outside investigator has been retained to conduct an investigation into the concerns.”
Michael Lewellen, UP’s vice president for Marketing and Communications, told The Oregonian/OregonLive in an email Tuesday that the university “will keep the investigators retained by the University of Portland, and their methods, confidential to allow the investigation to be focused and thorough.”
He said the university takes the allegations in the op-ed “very seriously.” He added that UP “will consider sharing publicly, as appropriate, next steps and opportunities as identified by the investigative process.”
In her email to faculty and staff last Friday, Chung wrote that the university must do more than investigate her allegations.
“Many more students, staff and faculty may have concerns,” she wrote. “The University has a responsibility to thoroughly receive and investigate all concerns from UP community members and to address them appropriately in a transparent manner.”
— Douglas Perry