A former teaching assistant has lodged a federal civil rights complaint against the University of Maryland, alleging that she was discriminated against in her graduate studies after she gave failing grades in 1986 to star basketball players, including the late Len Bias.
In a sex discrimination complaint her legal representative said was filed yesterday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Margaret Langford, a former doctoral student in public communications, charged that professors made "a systematic effort to destroy my academic career."
Langford, 32, left the university after five years last December because she had twice failed a comprehensive exam that all graduate students must pass in order to begin their doctoral dissertations.
She alleges in the complaint that she failed because of sex discrimination, and after she resisted pressure and inducements -- including offers of free season tickets -- to give passing grades to two basketball players. The players, Bias and Tony Massenburg, a star forward who graduated this spring, were enrolled in a speech communications course she taught during the spring of 1986.
Yesterday, university officials and some of Langford's former professors said they had not seen the EEOC complaint but said that she had brought various grievances to professors, deans and university officials for several years.
Terry Roach, a university attorney, said he has talked with her about similar grievances during the past two years. "We have investigated in the past . . . . We'll be glad to look at them again," he said.
Langford once sent letters to communications departments of universities throughout the country, cautioning students not to come to College Park, according to two faculty members.
Two years ago a group of professors made an internal investigation into her repeated allegations and concluded they were essentially unfounded, according to L. John Martin, who retired a year ago as the associate journalism dean in charge of graduate studies. "I would be very, very skeptical about that complaint," said Martin, who is named in the EEOC grievance. "I think her points were somewhat exaggerated."
One member of the faculty committee that evaluated Langford's comprehensive exams said sex discrimination had nothing to do with her failure. In the exam's oral section, "she was unable to answer the questions," said Maurine Beasley, a journalism professor who also is named in the complaint.
Langford has detailed her dealings with the players in the EEOC complaint and in a separate letter, dated yesterday, to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
According to the letter, she gave both Bias and Massenburg failing midterm grades for the course, Speech 110. Afterward, her letter states, tutors attended classes for the two players and "performed assignments even when they were not away for games or practicing." Langford did not name the tutors and she said yesterday that she could not recall their names.
In addition, she told the NCAA, "the tutors repeatedly offered me season tickets if I would pass" the two players. She also said she received "anonymous and harassing telephone calls at home advising me to pass Messieurs Bias and Massenburg. These increased after I turned in Mister Massenburg for cheating."
Massenburg was put on academic probation and forbidden from playing basketball during 1986-87 by an academic committee that found he had copied an exam in Langford's class. Massenburg could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Yesterday, the deputy director of the EEOC's Washington office, Tulio Diaz said that federal law prohibits him from confirming whether Langford had filed a complaint.
The events that Langford alleges would have takenplace before the campus installed a variety of athletic reforms in late 1986 and 1987 after Bias died from ingesting cocaine in a campus dorm. They also would have occurred during the tenure of an athletic director, basketball coach, tutors, and athletic department academic coordinator who are no longer at the university.
Yesterday, Charles G. "Lefty" Driesell, the Terrapins' basketball coach at the time, said in response to her allegations: "I know that I've not called any professor or told anyone to put pressure on them." Driesell is now basketball coach at James Madison University.
Athletic Director Lew Perkins, who arrived at College Park in 1987, said: "We prefer not to be involved in anything like that. I would not approve of anything like that."
In her EEOC complaint, Langford alleges that, after she flunked the basketball players, a succession of academic advisors changed rules regarding how many courses she needed and when she could take her comprehensive exam.
She alleges that she was not rehired as a teaching assistant, while professors renewed the jobs of male graduate students with inferior grades. She also contends that Thomas J. Aylward, a communications professor named in the complaint, cautioned her not to discuss her grievances with the news media.
But professors said they did not mistreat her and that they were not influenced by her dealings with players and their tutors. "That bears no relationship to anything," said Aylward, who said he heard of her concerns about athletes only as "corridor talk."