Suit alleges racial bias at Goddard
By Eric Blaisdell
STAFF WRITER | July 22,2014
A former faculty member of Japanese-American descent has sued Goddard College, claiming discrimination and retaliation because of her race.
Judy Hiramoto, of San Francisco, filed the suit this month in U.S. District Court. She is seeking $100,000-plus in damages and is represented by Norman E. Watts, of Woodstock.
Goddard College declined to comment for this story, except to say it is aware of the lawsuit but has yet to review it.
According to court records, Hiramoto was a faculty member at the school in Plainfield in the interdisciplinary arts program from 2003 to 2011.
Goddard uses a low-residency model, where students are on campus only for a few days of intensive learning, before spending the rest of the semester learning on their own. Hiramoto says because of this, there are no exams or standards to gauge a faculty member’s success. The only way to evaluate faculty members is to have students and other faculty evaluate them, according to the lawsuit.
Hiramoto claims that from 2003 to 2005 her faculty and student evaluations were positive. In 2006, she claims, she reported a student’s racist remarks and shortly afterward “the program director submitted a negative evaluation of (Hiramoto).”
The evaluation focused on “collegiality,” or a desire that faculty members share similar attributes. The suit claims the American Association of University Professors has said evaluating faculty on collegiality is disfavored, because faculty members can be penalized for disagreeing with each other.
Hiramoto claims that, as part of the evaluation, several stereotypes by faculty members were lobbed against her. The suit says one faculty member said Hiramoto wasn’t sociable, another called her quiet and alienated from other faculty members, and another talked about Hiramoto’s culture with its “discipline and very hard work” and how that doesn’t fit with Goddard’s culture.
Hiramoto claims she complained about the negative evaluation and the program director agreed with her and changed the evaluation.
The suit says that years later Hiramoto was awarded a three-year contract with the school that ran until 2012. Despite this, Hiramoto says, program directors filed a confidential negative disciplinary letter in her file without providing a copy to her. She was also demoted by having her student load reduced and new restrictive administrative demands were placed on her, using a minor injury she suffered as the reason, according to court records.
She claims the program directors were of Taiwanese-American and Armenian-American descent, with “known hostilities” toward Japanese-Americans.
The suit claims Hiramoto complained about the negative letter and a dean at the school “reversed it,” but that her pay was reduced in retaliation.
Hiramoto was fired from the school in 2011 based upon a performance review committee’s evaluation, which included racial stereotypes and disparagement of Japanese culture, according to the suit. Hiramoto claims the committee was composed entirely of Caucasians.
As part of the evaluation, Hiramoto claims, one faculty member criticized her for holding a voluntary residency activity where the students could sit in a garden and write a collective haiku about their experience. She claims the faculty member said Hiramoto’s activity failed to address the students’ “internalized racism.”
“The administration and faculty ignored plaintiff’s multicultural experience and scholarship, substituting false innuendo and racist, negative observations concerning her national origin,” the suit says.
The suit says Goddard College cannot prove that there was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to fire her.
Hiramoto says she has previously worked at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Cruz, the San Francisco Art Institute, the Academy of Art University and the California State University at San Francisco and East Bay.