Robert L. Green, president of the University of the District of Columbia, went on the offensive this week -- calling meetings with everyone from faculty leaders to students, and university trustees to secretaries -- to discuss and deny allegations in a recent lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment.
Green, who is accused in the civil suit of sexually harassing two Minnesota state employes while on a state-sponsored speaking engagement in St. Paul, said in a telephone interview that he "initiated the meetings" because "I wanted to share my deep and honest innocence and assure everyone . . . that nothing transpired, that I'd done nothing to tread on my integrity or the integrity of the university."
Green's response to the allegations has brought expressions of support from the Board of Trustees, which met with him yesterday, as well as faculty leaders and students who were interviewed at UDC.
"He has our absolute, complete support," said Ronald Brown, chairman of the Board of Trustees after the hour-long session attended by 11 of the 15 trustees. "It was a cordial, open meeting, no tension, no hostility. He Green indicated what had transpired -- which was nothing."
Students, only a handful of whom attended the open meeting for them Monday, reacted with both disbelief and support when asked about the allegations yesterday.
"When I heard I thought, 'Dr. Green? No way,' " said Naoza Collins, a sophomore who said the lawsuit had been discussed in her English class. Her classmate, Peggy Doss, agreed. "He has a lot at stake now," Doss said. "He has to build this college and he wouldn't risk any type of thing like a lawsuit."
In the lawsuit filed last Friday in Minnesota, Karron Holmes and Colleen Broten, both employes of the state Department of Human Rights, alleged that Green "sexually harassed" them by making "unwelcome, offensive and intimidating sexual innuendos, advances and gestures" when he was in St. Paul Dec. 5 to speak at a department conference.
The suit alleges that the incidents occurred when Holmes, a human rights aide, was ordered to go to Green's hotel room to escort him to a news conference, and a short while later when Broten, a clerk-typist, was ordered to escort him to the speech. The lawyer representing both women refused to elaborate.
The women also named their superiors in the suit, accusing them of ignoring their complaints about the alleged harassment. Green, according to the lawsuit, was acting as "agent" of the department because officials had hired him to speak at the conference.
Green said he believes the lawsuit is "an extension of a current set of employe problems" in the Minnesota department, which he "walked into."
Asked why employes would involve him, Green said, "My name is an easy one for the press to pick up: president of a university, a former friend of Martin Luther King, someone who has published books on race . . . . My name gave the case a tremendous amount of visibility."
In a telephone interview, Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Linda C. Johnson said she couldn't guess at the motivations behind the suit and denied any wrongdoing on the part of the department. She said, however, that there have been "a significant number of problems here historically."
Johnson said she was named commissioner last August after "problems reached a peak" and her predecessor was asked to resign. Since then, she said, she has instituted a number of controversial changes.
On the UDC campus, faculty Senate president Wilmer Johnson, who has been at odds with Green on a major academic issue, said the faculty appreciated Green's effort to discuss the "very sensitive" lawsuit. "It took a lot of courage for him to do this call the meetings ," Johnson said. "We accepted his position and indicated we are behind him."