The dean of the admissions committee is accused of discrimination against employees | Tech US News


An outside law firm is investigating Tufts’ admissions office following complaints from employees alleging discrimination by the office’s leadership, according to current and former admissions officers and emails obtained by the Daily.

Since the arrival of current admissions dean JT Duck in fall 2019, employees say the office has suffered from questionable leadership, sudden departures, retaliation and behavior from a dean that employees have described as racist, sexist, transphobic and anti-Semitic.

At least 22 employees, who would represent about half of the office staff today, have left the undergraduate, graduate and SMFA admissions offices since August 2019.

In interviews with the Daily, nine current and former employees at the receiving stations — who spoke on condition of anonymity — described how a “toxic” workplace culture contributed to the departures of many of those staff members.

Employees also alleged that Duck ignored reports of discrimination and punished criticism of his management, prompting at least two employees to file complaints against him with Tufts’ Office of Equal Opportunity.

McCarter & English, the law firm hired by OEO, interviewed current and former staff about their experiences in the admissions office and working with Duck, according to emails obtained by the Daily and interviews with former admissions officers . The investigation has been ongoing since at least June. It remains unclear when it will end.

McCarter & English and the Office of Equal Opportunity did not respond to requests for comment. Duck declined to comment on the allegations, citing “respect for university processes and procedures and important reasons to preserve the privacy of all involved.”

Tufts’ executive director of media relations, Patrick Collins, said the university does not normally comment on personnel matters. “When allegations are made by members of the community regarding workplace matters, the university regularly reviews those allegations in accordance with applicable policies and procedures. The existence of any such review shall not constitute evidence of infringement; this is the first step in the fact-finding process,” he wrote in an email to the Daily.

Employees said some of the conditions that led to their departures, including what they described as low pay and heavy workloads, are common in higher education. But the allegations run counter to the university’s public commitment equity and inclusion.

Sources also claimed that workplace pressure has not only affected the employees but also the applicant pool. At least one former admissions officer was asked to read as many as 90 to 100 applications a day and work on weekends, so they spent no more than about five minutes evaluating each applicant.

“At the end of the day, I couldn’t remember anyone I read. I’ve never worked in an admissions office where I didn’t have three or four standout candidates that I remembered at the end of the day,” said the former assistant director of admissions. “This sheer volume made it feel like we were disrespecting our candidates who were applying.”

One former employee recalled that Duck allegedly mislabeled applicants and made jokes about pronouns, while another claimed that an administrative push to recruit more “conservative” Jews created hostility toward Jewish applicants while favoring some over others .

“I have always strived to create an environment where differences are respected and the values ​​of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are embraced, and I remain committed to doing so moving forward,” Duck wrote in a statement to the Daily. “As a leader, I fully support the right of individuals to bring their thoughts and concerns to me and to seek redress through established university processes if they feel their concerns have not been heard.”

The allegations come just months after both served as chief diversity officers at the university left their positions following an administrative reshuffle in the provost’s office and amid allegations of a workplace culture at odds with anti-racism commitments. The revelations also coincide with a period of heightened public scrutiny of diversity in admissions, as Supreme Court outweighs the ban on affirmative action.

Duck ignored reports of discrimination, employees claim

At an admissions office meeting following the killing of George Floyd, Duck openly encouraged employees to talk about their experiences with racism in the workplace, current and former employees said. But when they did, it became clear to some that Duck’s rhetoric was “performative.”

The former staffer and alum said Duck “opened Pandora’s box” in sparking the debate about discrimination.

“People started talking about what they were experiencing, who was doing what to them, how it was affecting their work and well-being and how they were reporting up the chain – but nothing happens,” the former employee said. “From what I experienced, JT Duck was overwhelmed, I didn’t realize that [were] so much trouble in the office and tried to close the box but it was too late.’

After the 2020 killing of George Floyd, Duck allegedly asked two black female employees to lead a “professionalism workshop” for the entire admissions office, a task the former employee said was not included in their job description. It has been described as an emotional burden and an act of performative alliance on the part of Duck.

Several former employees said Duck had an “open-door policy” for people to share their experiences of discrimination in the workplace, but he denied claims of discrimination during the discussions.

One of the former employees claimed that Duck punished them for questioning his decisions.

“JT rewards loyalty to him above all else,” the employee said. “And on the other side of the coin, he punishes what he perceives as disloyalty to him. … There were a number of people who spoke in staff meetings about concerns about various processes – and JT focused on them, including me.”

During a performance review, a process they said affects employee pay, the employee said Duck “blindsided” them after allegedly overriding at least two levels of management to lower their rating.

The employee claimed that the performance review, which was lower than expected, was punishment for their tone in the meeting.

Another former employee told the Daily that they experienced “a culture of anti-Semitism in the Tufts admissions office.”

According to former employees, Duck asked the admissions staff at a group meeting to hire “more conservative Jews.” But when asked to clarify whether he was referring to politically conservative Jews or members of the conservative Jewish movement, Duck reportedly did not know how to answer the question.

After the meeting, the employee said the rest of the staff was confused about what Duck was thinking. They argued that Duck’s question—and the resulting confusion—created resentment toward Jewish applicants.

Employees say they were overwhelmed while their concerns went unaddressed

Several sources recall feeling overwhelmed when reading apps. One source said they worked 60-hour weeks for several months. Another employee said that at one point the office was “like a mill: we were trying to produce, to meet our expectations, but we were also overloading ourselves.” Another said they “do the work of at least two people.”

“Covid-19 has brought everything into focus — all the stressors, all the demands on people to make sacrifices and put themselves second for the students, when it’s really only benefiting the administration,” said one former employee. “There was a lot of talk about work-life balance, but none of it came structurally. We were asked to do twice as much work in less time.”

The former assistant director of admissions said they read three times as many applications each day as at her previous job at a large public university.

“This volume … felt like a mountain that you climb every day, and the next you fall off the side, and you keep trying to get up, and you never feel like you’ve gotten there,” they said.

The assistant director worked in the admissions office for seven months, then quit in the middle of the application period.

“I didn’t get a job that would underpay me for a crazy amount of work, where I get yelled at 24/7 and told to help students and end up finding myself burning out on both ends,” they said. “I planned on going to college my whole career, and Tufts pretty much broke that for me.”

At one point, for one former employee who identifies as black, alleged workplace microaggressions—along with the additional stressors of the pandemic—triggered physical health issues.

“[Duck said] just do your job,” they said. “And at the same time, [microaggressions are] it affects my mental health, my physical health. My doctors are seeing an effect. My family and friends see the impact.”

The clerk later left the admissions office, partly out of concern for their health.

“You wouldn’t have to take medication to do the job; You shouldn’t need to seek a therapist for the anti-black racism you experience in the workplace,” they said. “That’s why I left, regardless of being a student.”

‘That’s not how you treat your friends’

Several employees described Duck’s behavior as “toxic positivity.”

“He started every meeting with ‘Hello, friends!'” said one former employee. “That’s not how you treat your friends. … You don’t allow your friends to be discriminated against and then be despised when they bring you [discrimination] to your attention.”

Former employees alleged that Duck knowingly encouraged people who had formal complaints of discrimination against them, despite his willingness to listen to workers’ experiences of discrimination.

Employees also recounted Duck’s alleged microaggressions. In one case, a former assistant director of admissions claimed that Duck repeatedly misrepresented applicants despite being corrected.

“I found myself fixing and fixing… [Duck and] directors about the pronouns of the applicants,” she said. “It felt like there was less sensitivity to queer, trans, and non-binary students, which really hurt me as a queer person.”

The same employee recalled reporting instances of sexism to HR, but said her complaints were largely ignored. In the end, she decided to leave without having another job.

“Duck was deceiving Tufts from what I enjoyed about the university and the admissions,” she said. “I couldn’t stay any longer.”


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