KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An investigation found no evidence to support hate crime and discrimination allegations made by an assistant professor and his wife against Emporia State University, the university announced Wednesday.
The couple, Melvin and Angelica Hale, who are black, denounced the investigation as a "sham" and said they would continue plans for a protest rally at the eastern Kansas school next Tuesday.
In a letter to university employees, interim President Jackie Vietti said a five-week investigation found areas for improvement within the School of Library and Management, where the Hales worked, including a need for a "more open environment" that values different opinions.
Melvin Hale is an assistant professor and his wife was assistant to the dean of the department in April, when they said someone wrote a racial slur written on a piece of paper in Angelica Hale's graduate assistant's office. Angelica Hale later resigned, saying the couple had endured a hostile work environment since complaining and that Dean Gwen Alexander did nothing in response.
Alexander was placed on two weeks paid administrative leave Sept. 1 because tensions in the department had increased and a "cooling off" period was needed, Vietti said.
No one disputes that the slur was left in the office, but the two sides disagree on whether it was directed at the Hales and whether there is proof of who wrote it.
After Emporia State police and the Lyon County attorney determined no hate crime occurred, Vietti in July directed Ray Lauber, the associate director of Human Resources, to investigate. Two outside consultants reviewed Lauber's investigation before the results were released.
"We're not entirely surprised," Melvin Hale said Wednesday. "I think they didn't do a thorough job. We have a suspect and provided them with that information. They have blatantly ignored that."
The Hales believe they know who wrote the slur and are pushing for a handwriting analysis that they said could lead to a criminal case. However, the graduate assistant threw away the piece of paper and the only evidence is a cellphone picture taken by the Hales, Vietti said.
The investigation also looked for evidence of any racial or other discrimination in the department beyond the Hales, Vietti said.
"Nothing was found that rose to the level of discrimination," she said. "But we did discover some issues effecting the work environment in terms of it being a positive environment."
The investigation recommended improvements in the department's collaboration, adherence to university protocols, the need to review department systems and processes and other performance issues.
The controversy will serve as a starting point to improve inclusivity across the university campus, Vietti said, including hiring a facilitator who will arrive on campus in October.
"We want to ensure an approach to diversity in its broadest terms, whether in thought, sexual orientation, geography and, of course, race and ethnicity."
None of that impresses the Hales, who say retaliation against Melvin Hale continues and that the school is rife with racist behavior.
"Their so-called facts are a pack of lies," he said. "To suggest that we all move forward in unison is ridiculous."