A white former associate dean who charged in a lawsuit that racism and ageism led to her firing from the University of Missouri School of Medicine is now accusing leaders of the institution of secretly colluding with local activists to plan her ouster.
In December 2017, Dr. Rachel Brown sued the University of Missouri in Circuit Court, alleging that as the School of Medicine sought to improve minority enrollment, her challenges to the methods employed by her supervisors led to her being shut out in retaliation and later replaced by a younger black woman.
While the case has seen little real movement in the courts since being filed, Brown on Dec. 20 asked for leave to amend her original complaint. She seeks to add allegations that her superiors and cohorts used personal communications to discuss her performance following a clandestine meeting with local equity non-profit Race Matters, Friends and violated the state open records law in doing so.
Attorney Paul Gardner, who is representing Brown, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday. University attorney Emily Little referred questions to spokesman Christian Basi, who declined comment citing the ongoing litigation.
Race Matters, Friends president Traci Wilson-Kleekamp — who was hired in 2008 as the school's diversity coordinator and later in 2012 promoted to the position of director of diversity and outreach — said in an interview that while school officials met with the group to discuss equity in the wake of campus civil unrest and on the eve of threats to accreditation over lack of diversity, at no time in the meeting was Brown's name brought up.
“We invited them to the meeting because it was in the aftermath of Concerned Student 1950 and media coverage about their accreditation,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “There was also coverage about the treatment of minorities at the medical school and we were interested in having a conversation with them about what their plans were moving forward, because they had a one-year time frame for making changes for LCME (Liaison Committee on Medical Education). We also discussed ways we could collaborate, maybe having a book study and things like that.”
Wilson-Kleekamp points out the meeting was no different than dozens of others over the years where the group has met with local officials to discuss matters of equity. The school's diversification efforts were rooted in the protests by Concerned Student 1950 over inequity on campus and multiple findings by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education that the school for years had failed to enroll an adequate number of minority students.
It was a finding made three times since 2001 by that organization, an arm of accrediting body the American Association of Medical Colleges, and mirrored racial disparities seen in medical schools nationwide. In responding to the findings, the school created a committee to address the issues found in the report and made up of Brown, senior associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion Warren Lockette and Dr. Laine Young-Walker, who would later replace Brown as associate dean.
The complaint shows that Lockette and Brown were vastly at odds over what should be done to increase diversity. Lockette allegedly stated he wanted to make the medical school one of the most diverse in the nation and that the student body should reflect the makeup of the United States, and moved to eliminate a 15 percent cap on out-of-state students and establish greater scholarship resources for underrepresented minorities.
Brown, in her complaint, argued those efforts bucked established policies of the medical school and such proposals needed a legal review as they might threaten the civil rights of whites.
“Dr. Brown expressed the opinion that the goal of achieving a certain percentage of 'underrepresented' students should be reviewed by legal counsel to make sure that such action complied with civil rights laws and did not constitute unlawful race preferences,” her complaint reads.
Lockette however, allegedly accused Brown of obstructing efforts at greater diversification of the historically majority white school. Wilson-Kleekamp said Brown consistently resisted her efforts to recruit students of color from across the nation to remedy the school's lack of diversity.
“When I worked at the medical school, Rachel Brown believed those kinds of outreach efforts were unfair to white people,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “She blocked any effort for me to do my job. In fact, they made up a rule to do with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which had nothing to do with my role, that they could not communicate or share information with me. There was a lot of what I would call white resistance on her side to creating a more diverse and inclusive applicant pool and enrollment.”
Brown writes in her complaint that as the row between her and other administrators evolved, and following the meeting with Race Matters, Friends, they began leaving her out of planning and information sessions. The animus culminated in October 2016, when then dean Patrice Delafontaine met with Brown and asked her to resign.
“The closest thing to an explanation offered by Delafontaine to Dr. Brown for her removal as ADSP was that she had occupied the position long enough and that the position needed a new set of eyes,” Brown's complaint reads.
After she refused, Brown was fired and replaced by Young-Walker, who Brown alleges was offered the job because Young-Walker would be more open to place less of an emphasis on MCAT scores. Brown writes in her complaint that Young-Walker lacked the experience and knowledge to fill the role. However, school statistics bear out that in the years after Brown's firing and as changes were made, diversity in the School of Medicine has increased substantially.
School demographic information provided by the university shows in 2015 there were 16 black students enrolled. Between then and 2019, that number has increased to 41. More Latin students were also admitted to the program following greater diversity efforts, rising from less than 10 men and 10 women in 2015 and 2016 — the school said privacy laws prevent the release of exact numbers below that mark — to 21 students in 2017 and 34 students in 2019.
“Rachel tells on herself over and over again in this document in terms of her beliefs on racial identity and ideology,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “Apparently she feels very threatened about the idea the medical school should be more inclusive. So the question at the end of the day is, does the Board of Curators want to have an all-white medical school?
“I would argue that they don't. And I don't believe they could stay in business given what happened with their accreditation if they remained a mostly white medical school.”