Colo. dental school faces racism charges

An African-American professor has charged the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine with racism, the latest in a series of legal actions against the school.

In a notice of claim filed April 23, Morris Clark, D.D.S., accuses the university leadership and his colleagues of paying him a reduced salary, delaying promotions, socially ostracizing him, and making bigoted remarks to him because of his race. The 65-page notice reaches back to the day Dr. Clark arrived for his first interview before being hired in 1981, and alleges a pattern of discrimination continuing up to the present.

"As a result of the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine's mistreatment of him, Dr. Clark has sustained a substantial loss of income and other harm, both economic and noneconomic," writes his attorney Diane King of Denver in the notice of claim, the preliminary step before filing a formal lawsuit.

Among Dr. Clark's allegations:

  • Pay discrimination: Dr. Clark earns a salary of $110,000 per year, while some of his colleagues get nearly twice as much, and one of Dr. Clark's students was hired three years ago, immediately after graduation, at a salary of $150,000, according to the notice. Dr. Clark also receives smaller stipends than other faculty for taking on additional duties.
  • Promotion discrimination: Dr. Clark only received tenure after 15 years at the University, more than double the typical seven years, according to the notice.
  • A broader pattern: The school has shown general discrimination by hiring very few other African-American faculty members and admitting very few African-American students, the notice charges.

In addition to racial discrimination, the notice charges that Dr. Clark's First Amendment and whistleblower rights were violated because he was harassed for speaking out about discrimination against students. He is seeking both compensation and punitive damages. tried unsuccessfully to reach several of the people named in the document, but some of these individuals issued statements. "We take these allegations very seriously," said spokesperson Jacque Montgomery in an e-mail. "Dr. Clark has worked at the School of Dental Medicine for nearly 30 years. The appropriate places to report concerns of racial discrimination are to the Office of Human Resources or to the Employment Rights Compliance and Investigation Officer. Neither office has a report from Dr. Clark during his time here. We are investigating his allegations."

In a written statement, Don Kleier, D.M.D., chair of the department of surgical dentistry, suggested that Dr. Clark should have brought up his complaints sooner. "Never, during the 20 years or so of our professional relationship, did Dr. Clark complain to me about my conduct or about his work environment," he said. "Never, to my knowledge, did he avail himself of the available administrative mechanisms to address his allegations."

Denise Kassebaum, D.D.S., M.S., dean of the dental school, said the university's investigation into the claims has been delayed by an injury to Dr. Clark. She doesn't address the accusations of personal discrimination in the written statement she issued, but she defends her record in hiring women and minorities and in recruiting a more diverse student body. "This year's entering dental class at the University of Colorado is the most diverse we have ever enrolled, and we are proud to be above the national average relative to diversity of our entering class," she wrote.

The legal notice is the latest in a series of widely publicized complaints against the school. Earlier this year, patients' filed notice of potential suits against the school for allegedly permitting faculty with lapsed licenses to practice dentistry.

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