A Hummel Report Investigation
A veteran URI employee speaks publicly for the first time about being forced from his job working with gay and lesbian students on campus nearly three years ago. The university calls it a willing retirement but the president refuses to talk with us - or other people who have approached him about the case - calling it ``a personnel issue.’’ This week Jim Hummel kicks off the first part of a two-part investigation about this case, and the current climate for gay students on campus.
For more than a decade the University of Rhode Island had a national reputation as one of the most unfriendly campuses for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Those students didn’t need The Princeton Review to tell them how hostile the environment had become: they had been living it as the targets of graffiti and homophobic slurs for years.
Winters: ``There were a lot of people who were very cautious and not out as gay people.’’
Andrew Winters, an openly gay man, was hired by URI in 1995 initially to work in residence education, having spent most of his career as an advocate around diversity issues. He later established a center for GLBT students on the first floor of Adams residence Hall.
But the climate for gays and minorities had gotten so bad that in 2009 the U.S. Justice Department had been called to take a look.
It was an environment that greeted David Dooley when he took over as URI’s 11th president in April of 2010. Dooley said one of his Transformational Goals was to have a campus that values and embraces equity and diversity.
Within a year, Winters found himself out of a job. Dooley, in his only public comment told a reporter ``Andrew Winters retired. But he was not forced to retire.’’
Winters - and others we’ve interviewed - tell a much different story, painting the picture of administration that wasn’t addressing the concerns of the gay community on campus and grew tired of Winters’ leading the charge for reforms. In June of 2011 Winters signed a nine-page separation agreement that included both a payout and a gag order.
In a wide-ranging interview Winters told us he signed it because he feared being fired and walking away with nothing. He didn’t have a contract or union protection. He is speaking publicly for the first time to The Hummel Report because he has tried unsuccessfully to get the Rhode Island Board of Governors to hear details of what he calls a coerced agreement, signed under duress.
Four months after Dooley arrived as president a group including Winters and his assistant Joe Santiago met at the president’s house to outline their concerns. Winters said nothing changed after the meeting and that fall of 2010 he helped a group of students stage what became an 8-day sit-in at the campus library, which was covered by NBC-10 and other media.