Exploitation (Lent 2017)

For lent this year, I am giving up silence.

Sometimes, my silence is a product of systematic injustices that put me into a box, like when I’m reduced to an embodied diagnosis, when military culture is appropriated by civilians, or when veterans are excluded from institutional attention.. But sometimes the injustice seems too calculated to chalk up to mere unconscious bias. Every now and then veterans are tokenized by partisan politics or have their work undervalued or exploited, as has been the case a few times for me.

Before I graduated, I asked about starting an advanced spiritual formation course at Duke Divinity, through the office of the chaplain. As time passed my training and experience increased, and my vocational calling to veterans crystallized, so I offered to lead such a group after I graduated. It didn’t work out that first year, but I revisited the idea after getting back from Scotland. I offered to lead a group without pay as a pilot program after budget concerns were cited (twice), but the story then changed to wanting to get consensus from student veterans and anxiety about the precedent of not paying someone to lead a group for credit. Two weeks later, I got word that the chaplain formed a group after all, but had an administrator lead it, another veteran who had asked me for specific details I had in mind for the group, making it look a lot like intellectual property theft.

When I began looking for work for more concertedly, an acquaintance asked around within the VA about possible programs. This person alerted me to the Veterans Integration To Academic Leadership (VITAL) program, which creates partnerships between VA medical centers and universities, but has no presence in NC. He and I then spoke to the Acting National Director of the program by phone on April 19. Joining us on the call were the suicide prevention coordinator at the Durham VAMC, and an outreach specialist from the Raleigh vet center.

In January the following year, the possibility of a paid position opening up within the Durham VA  grew directly from the conversation the prior April. Anticipating possible employment, I spent several hours compiling data and anecdotal evidence to support an application and illustrate the need for better coordination between the VA and Duke University. The six page document I created, which I titled “DUKE VETERANS Issues and Proposals,” was shared with VA principals, but the position did not coalesce.

There are two columns throughout the document, one that describes the “Issue” that veterans at Duke faced, based on my own experience and the experiences relayed to me by other veterans and civilian staff, as the 2011 founder of a student group at the Divinity School, two years serving as president of Duke Veterans, and the initiator of the first Student Veterans of America chapter at the university.

All 24 Issues had a corresponding Proposal which I recommended based on the same experience, as well as my experience as an undergraduate veteran representative at Hawaii Pacific University, which is consistently ranked one of the most military friendly colleges in the United States. My experience also draws from more than six years on active duty as a paratrooper stationed at Fort Bragg, NC and a noncommissioned officer and artilleryman, including 13 months deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

There were four sections, roughly outlined administrative areas, which I reviewed and provided recommendations for;

  • Health Care
  • Registration & Financial Aide
  • Information Systems
  • Student Life & Community Affairs

In six different individual Proposals, across four unique sections, I recommended the establishment of a “paid staff position” to coordinate efforts and effectively engage with and increase cultural sensitivity to veterans. This document was circulated amongst Duke staff and student veterans, but no action was taken, of which I am aware.

In May 2016, after a discussion with Duke’s Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), I was sent an unsolicited email requesting information about the document’s authors and requesting permission “to share with Duke staff”. I responded that I created it myself, and that it was not complete, because I lacked adequate funding to finish compiling the input from various veterans at Duke. I also stated that the document was created in relation to an employment opportunity, and that

If its use leads to generating funding of any kind, I have to insist I be compensated for the work that went into creating it, as it represents intellectual property and manual labor which has quantifiable value

The United States Copyright Office makes clear that “work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” My work, in the form of population research and expert recommendations made based upon my extensive experience as a veteran and consultant, was “created and fixed” as early as 2014. Furthermore, I replied in writing that its use was not unrestricted; that if money was awarded as a result of my recommendations, then I would require proper compensation.

The OIE representative did not object in any way or form following this email exchange. On May 17, 2016, at 1:13pm, she replied “I understand;” agreeing simultaneously to another restriction, that no names be released publicly.

On December 14, 2016, I learned from a student veteran that the recommendation that a paid staff position be created had in fact been adopted by the Student Affairs office at Duke, which had received the document from OIE seven months prior. I wrote to OIE to confirm, who responded five days later, saying “the fact you have not been contacted should not be taken personally by you.” An Assistant Vice President for Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity replied

With regard to your prior advocacy for the creation of paid staff positions dedicated to serving veterans at Duke, your input is of course welcome.  The creation of this graduate assistant position, however, arose out of the natural process of evaluating Student Affairs initiatives.  Hopefully you will view this as a positive sign of Duke’s ongoing commitment to student veterans.

However, I did not make an unrestricted offer to the university, and explicitly made my terms clear, which were violated by Duke and my intellectual property was knowingly and consciously infringed by its representatives. Two days later, I replied (the full email is preserved here);

Thank you for getting back to me. You seem to have misunderstood me, however. I did not expect to be contacted about applying for the position, nor do I have any way of taking “it” other than personally, because I am a person, after all. To be clear, my ‘personal’ reaction does not derive from not receiving the job posting. My concern derives from my work being exploited in order to improve university programming too little, too late, which I fear will be one more bandaid solution which leaves all too many underlying issues completely unaddressed. My reaction also derives from the long history Duke has of stifling contrasting voices, discriminating against protected veterans, and tolerating hostile environments.

On May 17th, you solicited this document from me. You also mentioned Student Affairs as being somehow related to the timing which framed your request. In my reply, I told you this document represented work of mine for which I requested compensation if used or if it led to new funding. I requested this because workers should be paid for their time and labor. You are also fully aware that I am a protected veteran. As I said more recently, [Clay] Adams’ non communication begins to appear retaliatory, or at least exploitative.

Retaliatory:

I identified myself as a community stake holder in how Duke treats veterans both as a student, alumnus, and as a local resident. Adams ceased communicating with me in 2013 even after convening a meetings in which he told several Duke and non Duke stake holders he would continue the meetings every semester. I can name four witnesses to that statement, which was made in April 2013. I never received any further communication about any meetings, though Adams would have known I am invested in working for veterans. He ceased communicating with me that same year, and I never received word of further meetings, which were supposed to be held every semester. It is fine for Adams to not like my input, but for any administrator at Duke to exclude me from any and all deliberations about veterans at the third largest employer in NC is neither necessary nor reasonable. I also will be asking the Department of Justice, and other relevant agencies, to investigate whether this exclusionary and selective treatment interferes with or limits my ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges extended to other alumni, employees, or local stake holders.

Exploitative:

You personally asked for my work and your office then shared it internally without any communication with me thereafter. If you or Adams did not like my input, agreeing with one or more of my recommendations while simultaneously excluding me from any and all deliberations is contradictory at the least. It also makes it look as though Duke is making use of and/or deriving benefit from me (the definition of exploitation), for the purpose of improving its programming and institutional reputation, improvements which I have called for several years in a row now. Calling this a “natural” process begs for definition, because it otherwise appears that these changes are only being implemented because of my speaking up for myself and other veterans. However, Duke’s refusal to be genuinely collaborative is forcing the issue to federal agencies, which is more likely to negatively affect my professional development, in the midst of a growing family, than it is to affect Duke in any substantive way.

Student Affairs could have created this position ‘naturally’ at any time since the passage of VEVRAA in the 1970’s, including the semester in which I advocated for it in 2013. But it was not created until a few months after you requested this document from me and shared it with Student Affairs. Material which I identified as intellectual property was solicited and then used without any apparent effort to communicate with me or recognize my contribution thereto. I suspect DoL can find out more precisely when Moneta and Adams began shaping the job posting, and if it began in the late spring, that would represent direct evidence that my input was incorporated after being explicitly solicited by you; either as the impetus for creating the position, or as a direct and solicited contribution to its development.

I cannot applaud any selective and arbitrary “commitment” to student veterans because I myself was a student veteran, and Duke’s “commitment” to me as a student, an alumnus, and as an employee has been incompetent, unprofessional, and discriminatory. I will not applaud harassment, bias, or discrimination against myself or any veteran.

The OIE representative did not reply to this email. The last I ever received from her was her insistence that I “view this as a positive sign of Duke’s ongoing commitment to student veterans.”

In a January 24, 2017 call with the OFCCP investigator representing the Department of Labor, I learned that university general counsel had provided false information to a federal agency. The investigator asked me to explain why I had denied an offer of employment for the position in question. I forwarded the above discussed correspondence to the person to prove this accusation by the office of Duke counsel was entirely false.

 

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