Dean of College of Ethnic Studies files lawsuit against SF State

The dean of the College of Ethnic Studies Department (COES) at SF State filed a lawsuit yesterday, suing the University for unlawful discrimination, harassment, retaliation and defamation.

On Wednesday, Aug. 23, Kenneth P. Monteiro, Ph.D., dean of the COES, filed the suit in the San Francisco Superior Court, after the University failed to respond to a formal administrative complaint. The suit lists as defendants: San Francisco State University, President Leslie Wong and other administrators.  

The administrative complaint said that the University, Wong and other administrators retaliated against Monteiro “for protesting annual COES budget cuts and defamed Monteiro by publicly issuing false claims” that he overspent and mismanaged the COES budget, according to a press release from Monteiro’s lawyer, Timothy Moppin.

Created in 1969, SF State’s College of Ethnic Studies was the first of its kind in the nation.

“Dean Monteiro is putting the SFSU community on notice that he will no longer tolerate SFSU’s continued subjugation of the COES and its minority students to ‘death by a thousand budget cuts’ in an effort to shut down the historic and iconic COES …” the press release reads.  

After several emergency budget cuts to the entire University in 2009, which also disproportionately cut funding for COES, Monteiro agreed with former SF State President Robert Corrigan and then Provost, John Gemello, to handle the disparity from reserves or internal strategies for the duration of the emergency, according to the lawsuit.

The shortfall — estimated at $500,000 per year — was meant to be corrected after the emergency, according to the lawsuit.  

Monteiro, in Wong’s second year as president, requested a permanent adjustment to the disproportionate budget cuts, according to the suit — the same request was denied when Corrigan was still president.  

Wong, in a February 2016 meeting with the College chairs council, acknowledged the disproportionate cuts to the department, according to the suit, but said “he had no money to correct it.”  

“You have been unfortunately screwed, but I have no money to fix it,” Wong said at the meeting, according to the suit.

Wong then said that the Provost had depleted its reserves, which, according to the lawsuit, was because of the continuous support to COES.

According to Jonathan Morales, former SF State director of news and new media, and as reported by the Xpress, the University had depleted its reserve, which was used to supplement COES overspending.  

However, according to the lawsuit, COES had received $400,000 as of the February 2016 meeting.

Soon after, according to the lawsuit, students began to organize, which ultimately culminated in a hunger strike. The strike ended after 10 days; Wong and the hunger strike participants reached an agreement that provided more money to COES and other departments, according to the suit.

“Plaintiff (Monteiro) was not a party to the negotiations,” the suit read. “Although plaintiff was not privy to the negotiations, plaintiff agreed to respect the agreement.”

The lawsuit says Wong threatened to fire Monteiro for allegedly orchestrating the activism that ensued amid COES’s budget crisis and creating safety and security issues.

The lawsuit dismissed those accusations as false and wrongful.

“Falsely claiming that plaintiff, an African American male is threatening, is one of the historically most pernicious ‘dog whistles’ in the American cultural and rhetorical arsenal, alarming and alerting others to turn against that Black man in often quite dangerous ways,” the suit reads.

Although budget cuts were implemented for all colleges at the University over the past decade, only the COES had evidence of disproportionate cuts, according to the suit.

Monteiro hopes the lawsuit will end the “systematic dismantling” according to the press release.

“As the historic 50th Anniversary of the birth of the COES rapidly approaches, it is my sincere hope that this lawsuit will serve to not only stop SFSU’s Trojan-Horse style of attacks from within that are clearly geared toward dissembling and dismantling the historic COES …” Monteiro said in the press release.

“… but also to restore the COES to its status as the national leader promoting an education that has proven to encourage intercultural understanding and universal academic success.”  

*** A previous version of this article did not properly state that Jonathan Morales was the former director of news and new media at SF State. This has since been updated. 

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  • This is the kind of stuff that drives me crazy. You have Colleges at SFSU that have stuck to their budgets, which have been cut to the bone, whose graduates make real substantive contributions to society and can make good livings and get strong sustainable jobs as a result of their educations. Yet when the College of Ethnic Studies overspends it’s budget, the administration caves and increases their budget and the status of the Race and Resistance program, while other programs have significantly increased their student body and financial value to the University and yet they are limited to the same or a slight faculty and staff increase. It is insulting to those who have work so hard at the University under ridiculous budget constraints, to see intimidation tactics win over common sense.

    We need to hold these social engineering programs to the same standards as those programs whose graduates are more necessary and productive. While COES’s and other similar courses may have a noble goal, these programs need to be practical, have sensible expectations, and not expect, or be given, special treatment by the administration. For the Dean to race bait and try to shame the administration for applying the same standards to COES as other programs was and is deplorable.

    It is sad to see the good President of SFSU, who, sadly, yielded to the usual intimidation of people in these type of fluff programs (and as a gay person, I include LGBT studies in the definition of “fluff”), get harassed by the Dean of COES. That was the President’s mistake. The Dean has reaped the benefit of the intimidation; it’s time to be sensible.