By David Loomis
INDIANA — Administrators come and go at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Sometimes they go by defenestration.
A recent such exit is Donald E. Woolslayer, who until March 31 served four years as campus facilities director. On April 21, Woolslayer filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Pittsburgh claiming he was fired for emailing an alert to university employees about a specific risk of exposure to COVID-19.
His civil complaint elaborates:
Because of exposure of one of his employees to the highly infectious virus, Woolslayer determined that he should advise IUP employees of this and caution them to take necessary precautions to avoid infection.
However, Woolslayer’s supervisors and members of IUP Human Resources Department recommended that Woolslayer not alert employees, and that he not caution those employees to take necessary precautions to avoid infection.
On March 30, 2020, in a multi-addressed email, Woolslayer informed employees that “one of our colleagues is self-quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.” Woolslayer also notified his supervisor. IUP’s Human Resources objected to the notification.
In addition on March 30, 2020, Woolslayer informed employees that they should consult with their healthcare provider to ascertain their risk and their course of action in light of the exposure of one of their co-workers to COVID-19.
The very next day, March 31, 2020, Defendant Driscoll fired Woolslayer, offering no reason other than that he (and senior leadership at IUP) had “lost confidence in [Woolslayer’s] ability to effectively perform [his] assigned duties as Director of Facilities Operations.”
Defendant offered no other reason for firing Woolslayer. Defendant on the same day cancelled Woolslayer’s health insurance, although it knew that Woolslayer had ongoing medical conditions.
President Driscoll did not respond to an email request for comment. Neither did Woolslayer’s attorney.
Former dean Mark E. Correia, for example, remains on the payroll after questions were raised in 2016 about his hiring, spending and nepotism.
Carolyn Princes, former associate dean of student affairs, in November 2017 received a quiet $290,000 settlement of her civil rights discrimination lawsuit following her 2016 termination.
Jeannie Broskey, IUP associate registrar, won an age-discrimination case in state court in January 2019. A related case in federal district court in Pittsburgh has not been settled.
Other managers just sort of disappear — the dean of libraries, the social-equity adviser and, most recently, the chief of campus police. Given the university’s administrative bloat, that may not be a bad thing.
But the case of Mr. Woolslayer seems different. He appears to have acted selflessly amid a pandemic, as front-line workers were raising alarms.
The university, on the other hand, appears to have punished a whistleblower for speaking up. Similar responses by other administrations have generated fierce controversy that does not reflect well on the administration.
For a public institution that says it embraces free speech and First Amendment values, the university’s eventual response in court will be closely watched for its values.
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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