Professor suing UALR posts his resignation letter online

Brian Mitchell is shown in this Sept. 6, 2019 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)
Brian Mitchell is shown in this Sept. 6, 2019 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Transparency is lacking at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said Brian Mitchell, a history professor who filed a lawsuit in July alleging discrimination because of his race and age.

So after Mitchell, 53, decided to quit his tenured position, he said he shared with UALR faculty his seven-page resignation letter, posting it Friday afternoon to an email listserv that university policy states was created for fostering communication among faculty members.

Mitchell's lawsuit describes him as the "only Black / African-American professor" in the university's history department, and in a phone interview Friday evening he said that past requests made under the state's open records law failed to result in the full disclosure of resignation letters in which minority faculty members gave their reasons for leaving.

"That's what prompted me to place mine online for everyone to see," said Mitchell, who began at the university as an adjunct professor in 2006 before being hired in 2015 as a full-time, tenure-track assistant professor of history.

A UALR spokeswoman said Friday evening that the university does not comment on personnel matters.

Mitchell said Friday that while he's "loved the institution as far as my students and many of my colleagues, at some point it just became personally and professionally too dangerous to work there."

His resignation letter states that his "fears are rooted in the widely held belief that the university's social climate is one of pervasive and entrenched systemic racism and discrimination, and that the administration has dedicated itself to covering up the acts of those that participate in harassment, discrimination, and retaliation."

The letter refers to the "disappearance" of transcripts and video of campus forums "wherein faculty, staff, and students described incidents of discrimination," despite a request by what's known as the Black and Brown Faculty Committee to have video of the events made publicly available.

Mitchell in a phone interview Friday said the committee has requested changes but "nothing's really been done to improve the situation."

University of Arkansas System attorneys have filed a motion seeking dismissal of Mitchell's lawsuit, stating in court documents that his claims fail to demonstrate "that he suffered an adverse employment action -- that is, a material disadvantage or change in employment conditions."

Mitchell's last day is to be June 10, according to the resignation letter.

He's become known as a scholar of the 1919 Elaine Massacre, in which white mobs killed Black residents in Phillips County. The racially motivated killings began after black sharecroppers and tenant farmers had organized to improve their working conditions.

Mitchell's letter at one point likens the university's administrators to "Phillips County's plantation owners" who sought to "keep Black wages and advancement to a minimum."

"Like the plantation owners, the university's administration has operated clandestinely in the shadows hiding their faces while committing dastardly deeds under the cover of their official positions," Mitchell's letter states.

Much of his letter details multiple allegations relating to how he has been treated, including claims of an Institutional Review Board complaint against him initially described as coming from a student but that turned out to have been "submitted by a member of the administration impersonating the student to mask their actual identity."

Mitchell's lawsuit gives more detail about the allegation, described in court documents as about whether proper protocols were followed in his research involving a document with entries from the 1950s through 1978 that named residents of a one-time juvenile detention facility for Black boys.

The university awarded tenure to Mitchell last year, according to court documents.

"This has truly broken my heart," Mitchell said Friday.

Asked about his future plans, Mitchell said: "I love my students, but the administration has really made my life a nightmare. Right now, I need to take a break from teaching."

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