We demand accountability. Since its founding in 1838, Duke University has held itself up as an exemplar of ethics and integrity. It takes seriously its reputation in the world, demanding only the best and most honest work at all levels—from students to staff to faculty. We commit ourselves each year to the Community Standard: not to lie, cheat or steal in our academic endeavors, to conduct ourselves honorably in all endeavors and to act if the Standard is compromised.
In recent weeks, through stories published in the Duke Chronicle, the Duke community learned of transgressions committed by high-ranking Duke officials: Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III, Vice President Kyle Cavanaugh and Duke Parking & Transportation Services (PTS) Director Carl DePinto. Their actions, individually and collectively, have compromised the Duke Community Standard. This standard becomes meaningless when it is not applied as equally to Duke’s administration as it is to the institution’s broader community. As we all have a responsibility and obligation to protect our Community Standard, we must therefore act accordingly.
On August 31, 2014, after failing to produce the required parking permits, Dr. Trask hit parking attendant Ms. Shelvia Underwood, an employee of McLaurin Parking Services, with his car. By his own admission in a statement published in the Duke Chronicle on February 29, 2016, he left the scene without an apology or an offer of assistance as she picked herself off the ground. And according to Ms. Underwood, Dr. Trask added insult to injury by hurling a racial slur as he fled from the scene of the incident. Dr. Trask failed to conduct himself honorably. He failed to do what was legally required of him, pursuant to North Carolina law (N.C.G.S. § 20-166)—to at minimum stop his car and provide Ms. Underwood with his name, address, driver’s license number and plate number, and perhaps summon law enforcement for objective assessment, appropriate documentation of findings and accountability. Instead, he became, in his own words, “extremely frustrated” with Ms. Underwood, and drove away after he produced the required parking permits.
Ms. Underwood sustained injuries to her arm, including a “muscle contusion and possible fractured elbow,” as assessed at the VA Hospital on September 1, 2014—the day after the incident. Following her attempts to file a police report with the Duke University Police Department (DUPD)—a department that Dr. Trask and VP Cavanaugh oversee—she received a call from Steve McLaurin, owner of McLaurin Parking Services, suggesting that she accept “a sincere apology” from Dr. Trask instead of pursuing legal accountability. Fearing for her job, she complied with his request, receiving a two sentence apology note from Dr. Trask, through Vice President Cavanaugh, on September 20, 2014.
By intimidating Ms. Underwood via her boss, Dr. Trask, the DUPD and VP Cavanaugh not only acted dishonorably, but also attempted to circumvent North Carolina law. Apologies, sincere or otherwise, are no substitute for law enforcement. Their actions demonstrate a profound abuse of power and lack of respect for Ms. Underwood’s safety and well-being. Duke University cannot function without the labor and support of our staff, both contractors and employees. They deserve our utmost respect and care. Most importantly, this institution can have no ethical standing in our community, or in the world, if it concedes to such corruption and maltreatment of any person on or off campus.
To make matters worse, we have also learned, through follow-up reporting by the Duke Chronicle on March 1, 2016, that this incident is part of a much larger pattern of discrimination, disrespect and hostility within Duke PTS, led by VP Cavanaugh who reports directly to Dr. Trask. According to 12 current and former PTS employees interviewed by the Chronicle, PTS Director Carl DePinto, with the support of VP Cavanaugh, has purposely mistreated employees and created a workplace environment filled with fear, hostility, racism and retaliation since his arrival in October 2014. These employees cite numerous offenses, including racial harassment during special events, which are “swept under the rug” by the administration. Further, according to these employees, specific complaints against Mr. DePinto, filed through Duke Human Resources, the Office of Institutional Equity and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, have not been meaningfully addressed.
Since the beginning of Mr. DePinto’s tenure, five of the employees of color have been removed or driven away from the Parking division of PTS, many of whom devoted over a decade of service to the department. As of March 1, 2016, the Parking division’s workforce is now 93 percent white (13/14 of employees).
We cannot ignore such glaring evidence offered by Dr. Trask himself, by Ms. Underwood and by so many long-term PTS employees. Furthermore, the lack of institutional response to this matter 20 full days after it was first reported in the Duke Chronicle gives us no explanation of these events and no reason to deny their validity. The ongoing litigation between Ms. Underwood and Dr. Trask is not a valid excuse for the administration to remain silent about the larger institutional issues plaguing the Duke community. Our administration has repeatedly made the choice to overlook, defend, and cover-up the racist actions of its employees and Duke’s workers have suffered the consequences.
The unlawful, reckless and discriminatory behavior that is present in this chain of command should not be tolerated and cannot be ignored. For these reasons, and in the interest of upholding ethical commitments set forth by the Duke University Community Standard, we demand the immediate removal of Dr. Trask, VP Kyle Cavanaugh and PTS Director Carl DePinto, from their positions at Duke University. We also demand a full and transparent investigation and resolution of the complaints filed by PTS employees, along with a statement from the administration to the Duke community addressing the steps it has taken to resolve these complaints.
Finally, we demand a transparent hiring process to replace these administrators with officers who have a long-standing record of vigorous commitment to workplace inclusion, equitable hiring practices for people of color, women, trans* and gender non-conforming people, people of all abilities and people of all sexual orientations and gender expressions. We must ensure that these transgressions are not replicated in future administrations.
We stand in full solidarity with Ms. Underwood and all current and former PTS employees. We support all efforts to struggle against the culture of institutional racism and violence at Duke University, and we demand that the administration address these issues appropriately and immediately.
Duke Students & Workers in Solidarity
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Lisa Adkins, Former Special Events Coordinator, PTS
Franciscas Akins, Bus Driver, PTS
Felicia Arriaga, Doctoral Candidate, Sociology
Uzoma Ayogu Pratt '17
Dipro Bhowmik, Trinity ‘18
Levi Brice, Trinity ‘17
Marian Brown, Former Lead Transit Supervisor, PTS
Bennett Carpenter, Doctoral Student, Literature
Ashley Claw, Trinity '18
Kareem Cross, Former Parking Services Assistant, PTS
Mohamad Chamas, Trinity ‘18
Micah English, Trinity ‘17
Mina Ezikpe, Trinity ‘17
Zachary Faircloth, Trinity ‘18
Katie Fernelius, Trinity '16
Lara Haft, Trinity ‘17
Sarah Hakani, Trinity ‘17
Anastasia Kārkliņa, Doctoral Student, Literature/AAAS
Wahneema Lubiano, Associate Professor of African and African-American Studies
Cindy Li , Trinity ‘18
Reymond Milan, Former Event Parking Specialist, PTS
Danielle Purifoy, Doctoral Candidate, Environmental Policy/AAAS
Alice Reed, Trinity ‘18
Sydney Roberts, Trinity ‘19
Gilbert Singleton, Former Transit Supervisor, PTS
George Sellars, Former Van Services Supervisor, PTS
Shadman Uddin, Trinity '18
Joyce Wagner, Former Transit Supervisor, PTS
Amy Wang, Pratt ‘16
Rachel White, Trinity ‘14
George Williams, Former Event Parking Specialist, PTS
Jazmynne Williams, Trinity ‘18
Stanley Yuan, Pratt ‘16
Yuan and Roberts are members of The Chronicle's editorial board and Carpenter is a Chronicle columnist.