Fred Scott Jr., a former member of the Governing Council of the Miller Center of Public Affairs, recently after the University discovered several blatantly sexist emails he sent to fellow employees last year. In an alleged attempt to thank his female colleagues for their work at the Miller Center, Scott offered to take them on a “luxury shopping trip,” which was perceived by the women addressed in the email as discriminatory. Despite the offensive contents of Scott’s email, the scandal was handled internally and was not disclosed to the public until after POLITICO published a report detailing the email obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request last month.
Only after this request did the Miller Center launch the investigation that prompted the discovery of several other discriminatory emails, resulting in Scott’s resignation on Aug. 31. In response to this scandal, the Miller Center should be transparent with the University community regarding internal violations of University anti-discrimination policies, including Title IX violations and the Miller Center’s own code of conduct. As an organization to the “public good,” the Miller Center has a responsibility to protect its employees by holding accountable those who violate University policies.
After the investigation was launched following POLITICO’s FOIA request, the Miller Center uncovered an email that Scott sent to the Governing Council’s former chairman, Eugene Fife, on May 3, 2017. In the email, Scott expressed confusion regarding his female colleagues’ reaction to the shoe shopping spree proposal, that “women don’t like to be put into groups. They group up all the time, but these are their own voluntary groups. Lunch, coffee, Children, etc. No men allowed in.” He added, “some people just like to stir up trouble and then melt into the background and watch,” adding that “if we have such a person, they may not be the best choice to promote.” The language in Scott’s email suggests that by raising concerns about discriminatory behavior in the workplace, Miller Center employees risk their own career advancement. This type of attitude breeds a culture of silence, which will only lead to future employee endangerment.
After the Miller Center’s initial handling of the scandal a year ago, Scott offered a written apology to the women addressed in the email and remained a member of the Governing Council. As demonstrated by this sequence of events, the Miller Center has created an atmosphere in which Scott felt comfortable expressing discriminatory language — a flagrant disregard for the University’s for discrimination.
Considering the public backlash the Miller Center has received in response to this scandal and the of Marc Short, the organization should seriously question the decision-making capacity of its leadership. Moreover, it is important to note that the Scott family’s tradition of donating to the Miller Center and the University at large — including being the namesake of Scott Stadium — may have influenced the Miller Center’s hushed approach to the scandal last year. In the future, the Miller Center must adopt an unwavering commitment to transparency, even if that commitment is upheld at the expense of significant monetary donations to the University.
Since the investigation, the Miller Center has led several sexual harassment prevention, unconscious bias and Title IX training sessions for its employees, which bring the Center closer to a discrimination-free workplace. The Center also a new code of conduct last January which “stresses the Miller Center’s opposition to discrimination and harassment.” The Center should be strict in its accountability to this code in order to ensure that it aligns with the school’s commitment to the protection of its employees. Seeing as the Miller Center’s employees serve as a reflection of the values it expresses, the Center should also consider reevaluating its hiring and vetting processes so that ethically questionable individuals such as Fred Scott are not brought into the organization in the first place.
Moving forward, the Miller Center should recognize and reject discriminatory behavior. The toxic culture inside the Miller Center normalized Scott’s actions, as demonstrated by the rhetoric in his letter of resignation. “after-action puzzlement … to understand the reaction to [his] (boggled) attempt at offering generosity” shows the half-hearted nature of his apology. In the future, such instances should be met with immediate condemnation from the Miller Center itself — it’s time to kill the culture of silence.
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