Professor blames Moravian of retaliation for DEI work

Nicholas Creary moved to Moravian University, in Bethlehem, Pa., from Iowa State University last year with high hopes. After serving as associate director of Iowa State’s Center for Diversity and Enrichment, Creary wanted to serve as a chief diversity officer somewhere, and so he gladly accepted a post as Moravian’s associate provost for academic inclusion and innovation. The job came with the promise of a fast-tracked tenure appointment to the history department.

Things quickly went south. As of last week, Creary is no longer employed by Moravian—as a diversity officer or as a professor.

In a memo Moravian sent to Creary’s lawyer after it abruptly cut off Creary’s email access, the university said that Creary had committed an “egregious regarding violation of university policy” confidential data. Specifically, the university accused Creary of “1) sharing data outside the scope of your role, 2) sharing data with people who do not need to know within our community and without supervisory authorization, and 3) sharing data to unauthorized and unaffiliated third parties .”

The memo doesn’t say what confidential information he shared. But Creary says it’s a reference to the minority faculty retention data he got from the university’s office of institutional research—not through confidential human resources channels—and shared with colleagues out of concern that nonwhite employees were leaving Moravian at an alarming rate.

Creary also suspects that Moravian is far more concerned about how the faculty attrition data he’s shared make it look than about employee privacy.

Just prior to his termination, for instance, Creary drafted a resolution for the faculty to consider, proposing that Moravian form a task force to “investigate, collect data and examine the causes of the low persistence and high attrition of BIPOC.” [Black, Indigenous and people of color] members of the institution’s workforce, including but not limited to a campus climate survey.”

That resolution says that people of color are about 10 percent of the workforce at Moravian, with about 40 percent of those employees serving as non-tenure-eligible adjunct faculty members and 25 percent as athletic coaches with no real job stability. Some 13 BIPOC faculty and staff members “will have departed or been dismissed from the institution during the last three semesters, constituting approximately 20 percent of the full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty and staff,” the draft resolution also says.

A second, related resolution Creary proposed asks the faculty to establish a task force to “investigate and collect data concerning the institution’s responsibility to make reparations for its complicity in and benefit from the use of enslaved labor.” The resolution says it’s “beyond dispute that the Moravian Church ‘owned’ enslaved people and exploited their labor in Bethlehem.”

Creary said in an interview that “the reality is that talking about BIPOC attrition and reparations for slavery is freaking the president out because he’s got a Board of Trustees meeting coming up on April 22. He does not want to have any of this stuff being discussed . And the provost is trying to shut this down so that it wouldn’t come up at this Thursday’s faculty meeting.”

While these resolutions certainly ruffled administrative feathers (including pushback from Moravian’s administration about the accuracy of Creary’s numbers), problems with Moravian didn’t start there. The first major sign that something was wrong? Last summer, when Moravian abruptly fired fellow diversity officer Daisy Purdy, an Indigenous woman who was hired at the same time as Creary, after she made a land statement acknowledgment at the university’s intercultural graduation ceremony. (Purdy did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but other faculty members corroborated this account.)

Days Get Numbered

Just a few months later, Moravian removed Creary from his diversity officer position and made him a full-time faculty member. Creary says he was told at the time that his statements to colleagues about Purdy’s termination, along with an internal email he wrote objecting to Moravian employees having to work on Labor Day, were “too negative.”

Then, Creary says, Moravian backtracked on its promise of an easy path to tenure, requiring new procedural hurdles. Creary’s offer letter, signed by Provost Cynthia Kosso, says that she, the president and the history department all “have determined that you meet the scholarship and service criteria established by the Moravian College history department for being awarded tenure. Thus, tenure will be awarded after (1) the successful completion of a probationary period of no more than 18 months and (2) [quoting from the faculty handbook] the successful demonstration of ‘effective teaching in one’s discipline within the context of a liberal arts college.’”

When Creary effective teaching for “two consecutive courses, tenure will be granted,” Kosso added. But that’s not how things played out. Contrary to the terms described in the letter, Moravian ended up insisting that Creary seek approval anew not only from his department’s tenure and committee, but also the university-level tenure and promotion committee.

While Creary’s department colleagues approved his tenure bid unanimously last month, the university-level committee rejected his case—in part, Creary says, because he was unable to provide them letters from Moravian alumni he’d taught, as he’d only been teaching at Moravian since January 2021. Creary says the committee received letters from students he’d taught before coming to Bethlehem, but these letters were dismissed because they weren’t from Moravian alumni.

Creary learned of his tenure denial late last week. That same day, after 5 pm, he was invited to a meeting the next morning with administrators and a human resources officer. Because the meeting seemed suspect, Creary says, he insisted that the meeting be pushed back so that he could consult his lawyer. But he says he was warned that not attending the meeting would amount to insubordination. Later that evening, Moravian cut off his email access. He says he’s since been “scrubbed” from the university website.

For these reasons, among others, Creary says he believes the unfavorable tenure decision was part of a bigger plan by Moravian’s president and provost to “disappear” him. After more than a year at Moravian, Creary said he isn’t necessarily surprised but that he did not expect to be fired in the middle of the semester, with students counting on him.

“I guess that they needed to put an end to this conversation before the Board of Trustees meets on the 22nd of this month,” he said. “That’s my guesstimate as to why this is all happening the way it did.”

Michael Corr, university spokesperson, said via email that Creary’s employment was terminated last week “for cause, for reasons unrelated to his claim. Per university policy, I cannot comment on the details around his employment or termination.” Corr also said that the task force proposals remain on the faculty meeting agenda for Thursday.

One Moravian professor who did not want to be identified by name said Tuesday that Creary is “an outspoken member of Moravian and interested in real, institutional change and engagement around issues of race and DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion]. I believe it is his outspoken presence that has put him at risk.” The professor said that Creary, who is Black, is also “routinely dismissed or outright ignored by the provost and president” when he brings up these and other issues in faculty meeting.

Before Creary ever got to Moravian, he said, a former boss told him that one of the “real dangers” of doing institutional DEI work is that “if you do your job well, you run the risk of getting fired.” Creary said that some of this tension is because institutions hiring diverse officers aren’t “clear and transparent about what their expectations are. If they’re really looking for transformational change to make the institution more inclusive and more equitable, then they should be clear about that. They should say so, and they should provide support to the people that they’re bringing in to do that.”

If institutions aren’t really looking for change, he said, they should find a way to say that, too.

“Nobody’s gonna say, ‘Well, no, we don’t want to be more inclusive. We don’t want more equitable,’” Creary said. “But if you’re saying, ‘There are only so many things that we can do—we’re kind of constrained by X, Y or Z, and we have to go slowly,’ then at least be open about that.”

Creary has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Moravian is also facing a lawsuit from a professor of English who says she was forced to change jobs within the institution after she complained that a colleague used a racial slur to refer to a student in conversation. Moravian has declined comment on that case. The parties are discussing a settlement agreement, according to document updates.

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