On Friday, Nov. 15, a pre-trial hearing was held in Downtown Brooklyn for a multimillion dollar lawsuit in which a former Brooklyn College professor accused CUNY of losing up to $12 million worth of research material on black history.
Professor Joseph Wilson, who was a tenured professor of political science, was fired in 2016 after being accused of misappropriating grant money by CUNY, who claim he enriched himself with $200,000. Wilson claims that CUNY security guards conducted a warrantless raid afterwards, carting off decades worth of his research. Among the confiscated items were writings, books, an undiscovered transcript of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech, and Wilson’s personal correspondence with music legend Ray Charles.
“Everything we’re talking about is Dr. Wilson’s property,” said James Klein, Wilson’s lawyer, during the hearing. Klein said that Wilson’s research was “collected over a lifetime of his professional career.”
In attendance at the hearing were other professors who came out in support of Wilson.
“The argument [the defense] is making is like you stole all of Warren Buffett’s money, and he wanted his money back, and you only give him a five dollar bill,” Klein said.
Klein also said that the defense gave them an hour to sift through unmarked boxes of Wilson’s material, a claim the defense lawyer called, “hogwash.”
The defense claimed that Wilson destroyed his own evidence by leaving it with Professor Lynda Day of the Africana Studies department and telling her she could do what she wanted with the boxes.
“Everything [the defense] said is totally untrue,” Klein said.
An exasperated judge said, “This is ridiculous. It’s not very palatable to have lawyers accusing each other of lying.”
Prof. Day told the Vanguard that the notion of Prof. Wilson destroying evidence, “makes no sense at all.” According to her, research material at the Graduate Center for Worker Education was destroyed “willy-nilly,” and she had to make room for an incoming faculty member after the Political Science department moved some of his books and flyers to the Africana Studies department.
“The CUNY administration and his department never treated him or his materials with the dignity that his long service at CUNY should have afforded him,” she said.
Professor Kevin Johnson, an adjunct professor at the Metropolitan College of New York, John Jay College, and Medgar Evers College, was a former student of Wilson and attended last Friday’s hearing. Johnson was convinced that Wilson had not done anything worthy of him being fired, saying that he had “impeccable character.”
“I would trust my life with him,” Johnson said. “That’s based on his integrity, his honesty, his commitment to humanity, and to worker education.”
Johnson dismissed the internal investigation that resulted in Wilson being fired.
“He [Wilson] was never arrested or brought up on charges, so that’s bogus. He fell out of favor. He challenged people,” Johnson said. “Why would he do something that would result in him being terminated or released from the college? Clearly, he has been the victim of character assassination.”
Administration officials declined to comment, citing that it was a legal case. Legal counsel for the administration said they could not disclose information about past or current personnel.
The next hearing is expected in January.