Turner: Griffin Victim of Sexism, Racism

Responding to criticism of the rather unorthodox proposals of new Charlottesville school superintendent Scottie Griffin, the always-calming UVa Dean Rick Turner declared in a speech at the Rotunda yesterday that “she’s being dragged through the mud because she’s black and female,” helpfully pointing out that he doesn’t “think white people in Charlottesville will do anything for black folks.” Turner believes that, if Griffin were a white man, everybody would be fine with her proposal, which would cut five student-contact positions and replace them with four administrators. Kate Andrews has the story in today’s Progress.

19 thoughts on “Turner: Griffin Victim of Sexism, Racism”

  1. Turner is just so phenomenally unhelpful. He’s taking a standard conflict — teachers disagreeing with new boss — and turning it into a racial division. There’s no evidence of any such division. Her proposals are ones on which intelligent minds may disagree. Instead, he’s got to racialize an issue in which race likely plays little to no role.

    I don’t mean to say that there’s no room for discussion on the role that race plays (consciously or subconsciously) in such matters. There certainly is. But that’s a far cry from standing up in the Rotunda and saying that whites won’t do anything for blacks in Charlottesville.

  2. Of course, Waldo is right. I’m still a little concerned that Griffin is in over her head and didn’t really know how deep the water was before jumping in. Knowing the details of the school system, culture and history are arguments in favor of promoting from within. But outsiders often see things more clearly.

    What about the "stark racial divide" Waldo talked about a couple years ago? Has the community been discussing this issue? Is the charge of racism still effective in dismissing the critics?

    I’m a little concerned that calls for "constructive criticism" at recent forums are a new way to limit the flow of ideas. Constructive criticism proposes changes so we can keep doing whatever, but do it better, more cheaply and with fewer negative impacts.

    Negative criticism is where you say stop doing this bad thing altogether. The idea that the city stop issuing car decals could be dismissed as negative. But this is constructive criticism: you still tax the cars. Saying you should release the info on the new fancy computer system for the city is not the same as saying you oppose the upgrade.

    Saying you want to realign policies and programs with the Bill of Rights is constructive, not destructive. Or am I on another planet, light years away from the true local culture?

  3. Rick Turner is the biggest racist I have encountered in Charlottesville.

    To insist that people must always disagree because of race or gender is an insult to all people. I know I can disagree with someone intellectually, regardless of the color of their skin. Rick Turner on the other hand, can’t see past the complexions of people who engage in a debate.

    Instances of racial divide do still exist in this town, but would be much less stubborn to banish without racists like Turner stoking the flames. The man’s ignorance far outpaces that of any other because he uses his position to shout slurs into a microphone. This man cares much more about the black and white of his name in print than about the people of this town.

    If the University is truly interested in a campus and a society where people are judged for their actions and ideas instead of the color of their skin, their first step should be to dismiss Rick Turner.

  4. Exactly. If there is any evidence that objections about a large budget have anything to do with Griffin being black and/or a woman…point it out. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    Are we to presume then that any possible objection to her plans is rooted only in not liking the fact that she’s a black woman?

    I’m not naive enough to presume that race doesn’t factor in at all. I’m certain that there are people who don’t like the fact that a black woman holds the superintendent’s position. Of course, there would also be people who would be upset about a white man holding the spot.

    But, I don’t see how Turner advances anything with his comments. Surely there are reasonable objections to Griffin’s proposed budget. Many people have different thoughts about what priorities ought to be and how one ought to reach them. Intelligent people can disagree thoughtfully.

  5. What about the “stark racial divide” Waldo talked about a couple years ago?

    I see the division in Charlottesville differently now than I did a few years ago. I really think that it’s far more economically-driven than racially-driven. It happens to manifest itself primarily across racial boundaries, but I think that race is correlative, not causative.

    That said, the divide’s as bad as ever, and it’ll only get worse with Rick Turner driving a wedge in there.

  6. Couldn’t agree with Waldo more on this one. The achievement gap, while basically considered an issue of race (and correctly so, to a point) is also very much and perhaps more vitally at this point an issue of economic status. Its a hugely complex set of issues that cut across most of society and race/racism certainly plays into it. But a real area to focus on is the difference between those with money and those without.

  7. ugh. i feel particularly disturbed by this whole spectacle–the disagreement over the budget, the invective being hurled about. in less than a year, i’ll be the parent of a cville city school child–a white one. i’ll probably be an involved parent. my kid will probably be on the safe side of the achievement gap. maybe even benefitting from gifted and talented programs.

    how horrible am i, a selfish racist white parent only concerned with my lily-white darling and not willing to lift a finger for black folks in charlottesville.

  8. "Turner believes that, if Griffin were a white man, everybody would be fine with her proposal, …….."

    I can`t believe Turner believes that although he may so profess. There are few, if any, proposals, from any source, white, black , fucshia , you name it, in Charlottesville, that don`t meet with objections from some quarter – and that is as it should be. Public outcry in Charlottesville is indicative of diversity in thought not racism.

    Mr Turner enjoys a "bully pulpit" in Charlottesville and utilizes it very well. The question is "What are Mr Turner`s motives?" From what I have read to date his motivation seems to be one of creating disharmony based upon a biased opinion unrelated to facts.

    I fault the media, in part, for publishing his remarks as seemingly the position of black leadership in Charlottesville. Maybe it is, and maybe it it isn`t, but good and responsible reporting would seek opinions from other individuals and not rely upon a self appointed spokesperson. Rebuttal and counter- rebuttal leads to the truth, not onesided commentary from one individual, with a track record of negativism.

  9. It’s interesting how naive white people are when it comes to issues of race. This issue is far more complex than people being disgruntled at Dr. Scottie Griffin’s policies. Historically, white people have problems being led by blacks in authority. One could argue against this position but an objective person will agree. Dr. Turner, by his position inthe black community is privy to information that most people black or white are not privy to. He has received emails and been told things in confidence that would absolutely startle most people who are shocked by the blanket labels that he uses. I urge those of you frustrated by his assertions to look a little deeper, consider that other things may going on that you are not aware of. Have you seen the 2004 test scores? They are appalling. Yes, black parents have to do more to support their children. However, it’s no secret that mass tracking takes place in the city schools, it’s no secret that expectations are low for these children, and it’s no secret that for the last twenty years not one of you who call Dr. Turner a racist lifted your voice with the fervor that you resist Dr. Griffin to demand that the schools do better by all children. If the tables were turned, white folks would be hysterical about the future of their children. So, Dr, Turner has a choice, he can call it racism or hypocrisy and stupidity.

  10. "So, Dr, Turner has a choice, he can call it racism or hypocrisy and stupidity."

    No, I’d say Dr. Turner has this choice–he can choose to work productively towards a solution that respects everyone’s position and brings everyone on board or he can choose to publicly ridicule and denounce parents who sincerely believe that cutting guidance counselors and PE teachers and replacing them with more administrative staff, who believe that alienating and disrespecting teachers and principals, is bad for the WHOLE system, thus inflaming the whole discussion so that it gets personal and completely alienates parents/teachers/principals who don’t like Griffin’s budget. or her methods and approach thus far.

    He’s chosen Option B. He’s chosen to be a divider, not a uniter. he’s not choosing to work productively with people; he’s choosing to turn people further against one another than they already are. there’s no way I can respect that approach. no matter how pissed-off he is with race relations in Charlottesville, this approach just doesn’t work. there’s no good outcome to be had from calling half the parents in the school system racist crackers.

  11. Historically is largely talking about an era from approximately 10 to 50 years ago. The reality is that most parents, in the city particularly, have no problem with a black in authority. Let’s see – did our city Democratic leadership go all out for Douglas Wilder for governor – resoundingly yes! There goes that argument. Do we all love our local sheriff – a black woman – Cornelia D. Johnson, resoundingly yes!. I mean, come on, it has nothing to do with that. This really is about Scottie Griffin making off with school money and not feeling like she needs to account for it, not wanting to give well deserved raises to support staff. Did you know that teacher assistants make about $14,000,00 a year with a $500.00 bonus for four years of college? I mean, come on.

    The test scores are abysmal and I think you will find that most parents, white, black, red, yellow, etc. are largely in agreement that we cannot just stick with the status quo, that more needs to be done, but we need a leader who can work with those beneath her instead of shamefully insult them and go to China for multicultural studies instead of stay here and focus on the problem. She clearly knows, after nearly eight months on the job (approximately the same amount of time she spent in New Orleans for less than half the pay) almost nothing about our school system. And I will continue to maintain, she cannot answer a simple question without asking staff for information. She’s a disaster. Let’s admit it and hire another African American school superintendent who can really lead our schools and knows what he/she is doing. This truly has nothing to do with race. Maybe ten years ago; maybe now there’s a handful who feel that way, but honestly they are not the people who are speaking out. The people who are speaking out are the parents who go into the schools, who volunteer with all children, who do Book Buddiesl (bless their hearts). These people are not racists.

    Rick Turner is a smart man. He knows his role in the community depends on creating the belief that you just described; that we cannot know, because we are not privy to "inside information", because he is a foolish, foolish man and he finally is showing his true colors.

  12. Let me restate that. White people have never had a problem with a black leader that makes them feel comfortable. It’s funny how the black leaders you name are ones that many in the black community don’t particularly admire. Maybe you are miss liberal and don’t have aproblem with it, that’s understandable. The word racism probably has never left the lips of our great sheriff’s mouth. Teacher assistants have been underpaid long before Dr. Griffin got here. It really is fine to criticize her performance thus far. It is also fine for those of who have other information to criticize the racism that is also present. Rick’s role in the community depends not on a belief that he creates but on the racism that continues to grow because of the utopian fantasy of pseudo liberal white Democrats in the Charlottesville.

  13. Ok, perhaps I’m naive. ..probably not, I tend to pay attention, but you never know. That said, if Dr. Turner is privy to things the rest of us aren’t, he should make us privy to them. Keeping everything to onesself while making blanket statements doesn’t advance anything, especially intelligent debate. Certainly this whole thing is taking place against a backdrop of a country and a locality that has deep racists roots and traditions. Much of it isn’t questioned and wouldn’t be recognized as racism anymore because things are so entrenched that people cannot see how things could be any different.

    Its absurd, though, to state that any objection to a large budget proposal is based on the fact that Scottie Griffin is a black woman. As I said before, I’m sure there are people who really are upset that she is…but there are also certainly people who simply disagree with her proposals on the merits of the proposals.

    I’m not thoroughly educated about the budget process for the city schools. I’m also not entirely familiar with Dr. Griffin’s proposals nor the reasons for them. I glanced at some of the coverage and I can see arguments on the surface level both for and against her proposals that make sense to me.

    I grow tired of arguments based in information that some people have that they don’t make available along with their arguments. On any level, whether I disagree with the basic assertions or not.

    I agree that this whole thing is far more complex than objections to Dr. Griffin’s proposed budget…but Dr. Turner really kept it rooted right in those objections when he labelled all possible disagreement as racism and sexism. And that portion of what he had to say, is as Waldo pointed out, unhelpful.

  14. February 3, 2005

    Dear Dr. Griffin:

    This letter is in response to the memorandum that you directed Mrs. Ivory to write yesterday on your behalf and intend to give to me, detailing your expectations for my work with the school improvement process and your perception that there is a lack of evidence that I am doing the work that I was hired to do related to improving student achievement for all students. Had you taken the opportunity to discuss the Academic Review Process with me, the two lead reviewers from the VDOE, any of the trained, division level academic review team members, or the administrators of the schools in review, you would understand that the Academic Review Process is intended to be informative and not punitive. Your intention to reprimand me by linking the Areas of Improvement outlined in the Clark Academic Review Summary directly to my performance is quite punitive and conflicts with the spirit and intent of the process. Although I am tempted to try and defend the type, quality and quantity of work that I have done since arriving in Charlottesville on September 18, I choose instead to let my work and professional presence in our community speak for itself.

    I can no longer be supportive of your leadership in this division and can no longer behave in a manner that suggests to the staff in the Charlottesville City Schools, the youth that we are here to serve, and the greater community, that everything is as it should be. Many present the argument that current unrest is in response to your leadership style and the reform efforts that you are attempting. Others assert that the problems exist because of race. I have a different view. As you know through my background and experiences, I have learned to view my work through a critical race lens. Most of my professional work and volunteering have been done in urban settings in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. I have served under many Black supervisors, on predominately Black non-profit Boards, with numerous urban, faith-based organizations, and at one point in my career was the only white administrator at my level in the East Cleveland City Schools. I also understand and teach "between and within group differences," cultural differences, modern racism and internalized oppression. From my point of view, one can never take race out of the picture. However, there are many more dynamics than race influencing teaching and learning in our city schools. The purpose of this letter is to let you know that from my perspective the decisions that you are making and the behaviors that you exhibit as our Superintendent, are significant barriers to the success of our efforts to close the achievement gap and to provide excellent educational experiences for all students. It is my intent to make public the four following concerns that I have consistently experienced in the last five months.

    Your behavior to members of the administrative team, support staff, Board and community members can be described as bullying. Within my first two weeks here in Charlottesville, you were so verbally abusive to me that I contemplated not signing my contract. You probably recall that I told you I doubted the decision I made to work for you and that in my 25 year career I had never experienced this type of unprofessional behavior. With pointed fingers, your response to me was patronizing and you indicated that you did not have time to hold my hand during these chaotic times. Your behavior changed following this early confrontation. In public sessions and during small team meetings, you have marginalized me, interrupted me, excluded me, and at one time directed Mrs. Ivory to hang up on me. Perhaps the most disturbing form of marginalizing has been your directive to me that I run all of my ideas and written work past Mr. Miles, Mr. Thompson, and/or Mrs. Ivory. A bully operates in ways that cause people to fear him or her. You frequently make public comments about firing people who are not supportive of you. My anger now overrides my fears of being fired. I am willing to take the risk of responding to you in this manner even though my husband is retiring next month, we are selling our home in Ohio, we have two children in college, and will be closing on a house in Crozet on April 1.

    As a leader you are extremely controlling, offering the Associate Superintendent, Assistant Superintendents, Directors, Coordinators and school level administrators absolutely no professional autonomy. I was not given the opportunity to interview and choose my own secretary. You made that appointment in early October without my input. You give orders, dictate letters, rewrite memos and constantly direct central office administrators to do work that often interferes with the work that we are expected to do. In many instances, we are told what to do and how to do it. For example, I have been asked by you dozens of times to put interventions in place at the schools, to spend time researching programs such as FOSS, PLATO, Remediation Plus, I Can Learn, and many others. On numerous occasions I have told you that we need to focus on processes, procedures and practices rather than specific programs, and you have dismissed me each time. It is my perception that you are influenced by vendors and that you frequently make hasty decisions without much information. It is insulting and a waste of time to sit with a Superintendent who tells me how to write, what to do, and what to say.

    I have not been supported in my attempts to do the work that I am capable of doing and am being held responsible for doing. In mid-October I presented you with a plan for using content-advocates as a means of on-going, sustained professional development and I was dismissed. In late October I requested the opportunity to work collaboratively with several schools on work associated with closing the achievement gap and culturally responsive teaching. I was directed by you that I was not to be involved in professional development, especially work related to diversity and culturally responsive teaching and leading. In order to do the work that the principals and I felt needed to be done, I facilitated workshops on the division wide staff development day at Buford and at CHS by indicating that the work would focus on data analysis. Actually, the work that needed to be done focused on seven pre-requisite skills to effectively and appropriately using data to close the achievement gap. I have successfully done this type of work in Ohio and North Carolina, as well as with professional organizations such as the National Council of Exceptional Children, NCATE, the Eastern Educational Research Association, and in partnership with ASCD in South Africa. In November, I shared a draft professional development plan with you which you dismissed. In December you directed me to significantly reduce my proposed role in professional development in a collaborative project with UVA. Perhaps the most significant lack of support is in the area of reading instruction and benchmark testing. You have dismissed recommendations made by Mrs. Ivory and me related to the administration of PALS and the implementation of Open Court. You have also made it impossible for principals and staff to share concerns and observations about the relationship of Flanagan tests and the SOLs.

    Finally, I need to let you know of my anger and frustration with your lack of collaboration at the central office level and with your administrative team. The ideals of working with a professional learning community, of collaboration, and in the spirit of teamwork that you described during my interview and, that is alluded to in my contract, are not at all typical of the way that this system currently functions. This lack of collaboration has resulted in many poor and potentially expensive decisions. I do not support parts of the proposed budget due to lack of collaboration and communication. For example, the central office team has made it clear to you that we do not support both an ELA coordinator and a literacy coordinator. It was your decision to propose a full-time Fine & Performing Arts Coordinator in an attempt to hire someone new. There was no input solicited of the Associate and Assistant Superintendents regarding the pay raise and change in title for the Supervisor of Testing. I have repeatedly informed you that there is not currently a need to purchase additional hands-on science and elementary level reading materials, and my feedback has been dismissed. Furthermore, you are misleading the community by indicating that the schools have input into the proposed math and reading interventions. For example, Dr. Heard and I attended a meeting with you and two I Can Learn vendors last fall. At that time you indicated that we will do this algebra program beginning second semester and you directed your two central office team members not to tell Mr. Flynn that the decision had already been made. The trip that the Buford math team made to Washington DC to observe this math intervention was an attempt to make it appear that there was staff in-put and buy-in to this program. We are now aware that the FBI is currently investigating this vendor. Under your leadership and direction, I have often struggled with my own integrity in order to not appear insubordinate.

    The Charlottesville community has the right and responsibility to hold their school administrators and staff to high standards. The community also has the right to know what has been going on behind the scenes. In my opinion, it is disturbing that you are attempting to influence the Black community by perpetuating the myth that you are a victim of racism.

    Ironically, Dr. Joseph Johnson is scheduled to be the key-note speaker at an upcoming Title I technical conference in Richmond. It was my privilege to work with Dr. Johnson in Ohio. Dr. Johnson served as a professional reference for me last spring, writing, "Dr. Purnell’s background as a principal and district administrator gives her a practical perspective-yet she is very conversant with research and literature related to achievement gap issues." (Joseph F. Johnson, Jr. Ph.D., Special Assistant to the State Superintendent, Ohio Department of Education.) Dr. Johnson espouses that closing the achievement gap is a moral, legal and economic imperative for all of us and that communities must work collaboratively to address this complex social issue. We can no longer afford to alienate staff of the Charlottesville City Schools, community-wide social service agencies, our colleagues at the University of Virginia, civic organizations, and the parents who send their children to our public schools.

    It is my intention to send this letter via email today to School Board members.

    Laura Purnell, Ph.D.

    Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction

    Charlottesville City Schools

  15. Dean Turner has no voice without the racism card. What power could he possibly have without enciting a common enemy: the white-ruled system. He has fought racism so long he doesn’t know what to do in a situation free of racism (the school superintendant problem, Pizza delivery problems to Black neighborhoods etc). So, if a Black person or community is involved with a non-Black person or community, andnthere’s a problem afoot, it must be a Black/White thing with racism at the root. If not, then Rick Turner would have to be speechless…so he makes it all up.

    Trouble is, he’s not the only Black community leader who does this…and they’re the racist ones, fomenting their own racial hate and projecting it on others. It’s vile, and bless you Waldo for pointing out what a bomb-thrower this guy is.

  16. White Independents and Republicans (read not Dems, and not Liberals) came to the aid of Cornelia Johnson when she was running for Sherriff in the Democratic Primary. She was the recipient (note: not a victim) of a White old-boy tactic to make sure she didn’t win the Democratic nomination. It was a "Who does she think she is…?" racism, if ya know what I mean. To make sure she won, Indies and Republicans got on the phone and made sure the racist Dems component didn’t scuttle her chances. She won. And we non-Dems love her. Hate will not win out, nor will racism, and Sherriff Johnson has made us proud. But she never made herself a victim…she simply asked for volunteers…and man, did she get them! That’s overcoming the obstacle of racism, not crying "victim" every time you uncover it.

    Notice now that most of the racism involved around Sherriff Johnson is dead and gone. That’s because she won, and after winning, has proven herself not only a great Sherriff, but a class act of a person, too. That’s how you beat racism. She beats it every day in her life, and we as a community beat it back when we saw it. Racism exists, but we can all choose to give it no power; give it no voice!

  17. UVA needs to fire the racist/reverse-racist Mr. Turner. His remarks are so blantantly projected racism that he needs to be dismissed for reasons of incompetency. He can no longer hide behind his First Amendment rights to free speech if his speech is riddled with racist half-baked assertions. In his position of Dean at UVA, he needs to be non-prejudicial to make sure all students of all colors get treated fairly. His open disdain for whites is so apparent as to make him unqualified for the job.

  18. Moderate racial rhetoric

    from the Thursday Cavalier Daily

    The brothers of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. unexpectedly came under fire from a leader of their own community this week. Dean M. Rick Turner, head of the Office of African-American Affairs, announced that "Martin Luther King, Jr. … would roll over in his grave if he knew that these young men made this move" from the Black Fraternal Council to the Inter-Fraternal Council. Turner, while an esteemed advocate for African-Americans, has a long history of inflammatory remarks. As the public face of blacks at the University, he needs be careful in choosing what to say and when to say it; otherwise, he risks doing more harm than good.

    No discussion of Turner’s complex and controversial figure can begin without listing his laudable accomplishments. Since taking over OAAA in 1988, Turner, who did not return a request for comment, has established impressive peer advising programs, community outreach efforts and the academic-oriented "raise the bar" initiative, among a number of other projects. Under Turner’s leadership, OAAA has helped catapult the University to the highest black graduation rate of any public university in the nation at more than 85 percent. As Alpha Phi Alpha Secretary Cameron Webb put it, Turner "commands respect."

    While respecting Turner’s success, however, it is necessary to sound a note of concern. Turner has caused differing levels of unnecessary and destructive controversy many times the past several years, an alarming characteristic for someone tasked with promoting better race relations. The incidents range from mild, such as writing a letter to the editor to The Cavalier Daily pointing out how "odd" it was to have no black cheerleaders, to disturbing, as when he asked a Hispanic student to leave his openly publicized "Conversation with Black Men" after telling a Cavalier Daily reporter that he wouldn’t bar anyone from the event. Turner also made news in 2003 by interfering in student self-governance by utilizing his office to publicly endorse then-Student Council presidential candidate and African-American Daisy Lundy.

    On top of specific events, Turner has constantly raised eyebrows with his racially-charged statements. In past years, Turner has said "White parents from the right believe their children have a God-given right to everything," "The time is coming when white fathers won’t just be able to give their white sons a job anymore," (this at an explosive Student Council meeting) and just last week he declared "I don’t think white people in Charlottesville will do anything for black folks," in reference to what he perceives as racist opposition to black Charlottesville school board president Scottie Griffin’s proposed budget.

    Turner’s outspoken nature is also a matter of dispute among the African-American community. While Black Student Alliance president Myra Franklin believes having a strong advocate provides security for minority students, Alpha Phi Alpha chapter president Brian Pennington thinks "it doesn’t look good" and that there is a certain level of professionalism absent from Turner’s recent actions.

    Turner does excellent work for and with black students. However, he would be even more effective if he toned down the rhetoric and was more deliberative before pulling out the specter of racism. Such fiery passion is at once a positive and a negative; it is crucial to never be complacent, but such invective can stifle debate and discourse which are ultimately the avenues through which racial harmony will be achieved.

    The demons of racism have taken a more insidious form in the 21st century, burrowing into subtle facets of society. This new incarnation must be combated with equal finesse, unlike the institutional racism of yesteryear which called for volatile confrontation. Turner deserves nothing but accolades for his selfless dedication these past decades, but he threatens to become counter-productive if these cycles of contention continue.

    On a forum about hatred held Feb. 1, Turner said about his time at the University, "I haven’t seen any major changes… When we see leaders, students will rally behind that." Turner has already distinguished himself as a leader for the African-American community; now we need to see him become a leader of race relations for the entire University.

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