WSSU reviews abuse and dereliction allegations against professor

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Zana Holden-Gatling
Zana Holden-Gatling will not be able to graduate from Winston-Salem State University next week because of a 16-credit shortfall. (photo by Jordan Green)

The professor consumed the majority of instruction time in his English classes with “rants and tangents, yelling and standing on the table,” said Zana Holden-Gatling, a senior at Winston-Salem State University.

Worse yet the professor, who also chairs the department, was also Holden-Gatling’s faculty advisor, subjecting her to power games and evasion, which caused her to fall behind by 16 credits and preventing her from graduating this month, she said.

William Boone, as associate professor and the chair of the English department at Winston-Salem State, did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls for this story.

In a May 5 letter to Chancellor Elwood Robinson, Holden-Gatling complained about not only Boone’s conduct, but what she contends is Dean Corey Walker’s unwillingness to address her concerns.

“This academic year, I have been given the run-around by Dr. Boone, the English department chair, and Dean Walker,” Holden-Gatling told Robinson. “I cannot adequately express the disappointment I have in WSSU, and the lack of support I have received from the dean, who has supported Dr. Boone’s unprofessionalism. For some odd reason, Dean Walker attributes Dr. Boone’s cursing classmates and me, using fear tactics and homophobic slurs, telling us we’re dumb, incompetent and lazy, among other things, to his passion for teaching and not to his feeling towards us.

“I hope to meet with you exclusively early next week,” Holden-Gatling continued. “I can no longer cope with select administrators’ lies, false hopes, and unprofessional behavior. I, along with many classmates, have been berated, threatened, disrespected and ignored by Dr. Boone, in particular.”

Holden-Gatling said when she tried to schedule a meeting with the chancellor, her call was intercepted by Provost Brenda Allen. On Monday, Allen emailed Holden-Gatling’s new faculty advisor, stating, “The dean is working with this student.”

Holden-Gatling characterized the provost’s statement as “completely untrue.” Contacted by Triad City Beat, Allen emailed in response: “I am away from campus. Feel free to contact Dean Walker.”

Walker could not be reached for comment for this story.

Meawhile, Holden-Gatling escalated her efforts on Tuesday by forwarding a copy of the letter to members to the legal-affairs staff at the University of North Carolina System in Chapel Hill, including Thomas Shanahan, senior vice president and general counsel.

Responding to an inquiry from TCB, Jaime Hunt, the chief communications officer for Winston-Salem State, wrote in an email at 3:33 p.m. on Wednesday: “The university is aware of Ms. Holden-Gatling’s concerns. University administrators have been working with her to address them.”

Holden-Gatling said the first communication she’d received from any administrator arrived in her email inbox 37 minutes earlier — five days after her initial letter to Chancellor Robinson.

“I am reaching out to you based on the information in the email below whereby you alleged that Dr. Boone may have violated university EEO policies,” Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff Camille Kluttz-Leach wrote. “I do not have formal complaint from you so I will send the form in a separate email. I apologize for the delay as we are in transition in our EEO office.”

Holden-Gatling said she did not file a complaint previously because she was unaware that the university had any grievance process in place.

Organized under the chief of staff office, the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action and Diversity “is dedicated to fostering and nurturing an equitable, diverse and inclusive learning and working environment,” according to the university website.

Josh Ellis, the associate vice president for media relations at UNC General Administration, said in an email on Friday that the university system “treats all complaints seriously.

“As a general matter, campuses are in the best position to respond to complaints by individual students and can typically most efficiently and directly address such concerns,” he said. “If needed, the UNC-GA works with campus administrators to assure that matters are handled appropriately. As you can appreciate, we are unable to talk specifically about any individual student due to federal privacy laws.”

Holden-Gatling said the conduct of her professor and former faculty advisor, and the lackluster response from administration had pushed her to the brink of desperation. She said that while the other nine students in the English program are also fed up with Boone’s behavior and faculty members are aware of his conduct, no one else is willing to speak out because of fear of retaliation. What ultimately prompted her to go public, Holden-Gatling said, was that Boone’s neglect of his duties as faculty advisor caused her to fall 16 credits short and prevent her from graduating with her peers on May 19. As a result, she will be forced to spend $9,811 to make up the online courses at her parents’ home in northern Virginia over the summer.

“I recently emailed my new advisor, and said, ‘I’m broken; I can’t do this anymore,’” Holden-Gatling recalled. “This is s***. It’s pissing me off.”

As an example of Boone’s alleged bullying, Holden-Gatling described a classroom discussion involving the iconic photograph of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the two black Olympians who gave a raised-fist salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Boone erupted in anger, Holden-Gatlin said, when one of the students mentioned a white athlete, Peter Norman, who is pictured standing with Smith and Carlos.

William Boone
William Boone

Holden Gatling recalled: “He said, ‘We’re not talking about him, brother. That’s the problem: You’re always trying to bring white people into the conversation.’ The student said, ‘You brought it up; I was just trying to close the circle.’ After the student left the classroom, he said, ‘You shouldn’t listen to what that faggot says.’”

Holden-Gatling said when she confronted him about the homophobic slur, Boone told her: “Stay in your lane.”

While all of his students were subjected to his tirades, Holden-Gatling said she received a “triple dose” from Boone, who served as her faculty advisor and department chair. While she maintained academic honors and earned all of her required general education, major and minor credit hours, Holden-Gatling said she had fallen behind by four credits by the fall of 2016 due to Boone’s “numerical oversight.”

She said she met with Boone and Dean Walker in September to try to straighten out the shortfall.

“Here I am short a few credits,” Holden-Gatling said she told Walker and Boone. “How did this happen?”

Neither man offered a remedy, she said, and Walker told her the credit shortfall was her problem.

Later, she said, her efforts to resolve the problem were frustrated by an inability to meet with Boone.

“I would call him, and he would say, ‘Sister, you got to make an appointment,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. You’re right.’ I would make an appointment for 10. I would show up at 9:30, and he would never show up. I would call and email and threaten to leave the department, but I never heard back from him. He’s playing this cat-and-mouse game, refusing to do his job, which he claims can’t be taken away from him.”

Holden-Gatling said Boone rarely responded to her emails. In one email, dated Sept. 2, 2016, Holden-Gatling wrote to Boone: “In order to have a paper trail I must receive confirmation that you are receiving these emails as my advisor. Send me a confirmation immediately please; a phone call is not valid.”

Holden-Gatling said in February Boone released her to another faculty advisor for her 90-hour review — a critical check-in to determine if students are on track to earn the 122 credit hours needed to graduate — but has yet to officially withdraw his name as her advisor.

“I am now 16 credits behind in classes because of my faculty advisor, William Boone,” Holden-Gatling said. “I am going to have to take summer classes, which cost $10,000. I’m not going to ask my parents for help with that because it shouldn’t be their problem. I’ve gone out of my way to accommodate this behavior.”

Holden-Gatling said Camille Kluttz-Leach, the vice chancellor and chief of staff, told her on Thursday that the university would conduct a thorough investigation. Holden-Gatling provided her with 25 emails exchanged with Boone to support her allegations. Holden-Gatling said she decided against filing a formal complaint because of the transitional status of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and her concern that her complaint might languish there.

“You should know that I do understand your plight and can personally empathize,” Kluttz-Leach wrote Holden-Gatling in an email on Thursday. “My only constraints will be governing policies, practices and laws as I hold no personal constraints against you regarding  this matter.

“Based on our conversation, the issues that you need resolved are (1) the remaining 16 credit hours for graduation, and (2) assistance paying for the courses,” Kluttz-Leach continued. “You advised that you did not want to file a separate EEO complaint against Dr. Boone but wanted to focus solely on resolving the two aforementioned items.

“I am not certain as to the available remedies but am reviewing the information,” the email concluded. “I will brief the chancellor and get back with you by tomorrow.”

Holden-Gatling said that for the sake of the English department, she hopes the university will address Boone’s conduct.

“I don’t want him to think this is me or anyone coming at him,” she said. “I know he could be a great teacher. There are other things getting in the way of him doing his job. They need to be addressed. No one is untouchable. He says he’s untouchable.”

In the meantime, Holden-Gatling said her experience at Winston-Salem State has taken a personal toll.

“I am broken,” she said. “I’m definitely not as confident. I down myself and sometimes walk on eggshells. I’m surprised I’ve made it this far.”

  • Renee

    As a fellow peer, I can atest to everything that has been written here. No one should go through what we have as students paying for their education. These same professors have verbally and darn near psychologically abused me and countless others. If someone was Christian, homosexual,or come from a well knit family (specifically a black person) or white they will start an ENTIRE debate during class centered around that person, all to humiliate and let that person feel low because they do not agree/like who they are. That is not your concern nor part of your job description as the chair and professor of a department. They use their jobs as a way to spread their hate and anger. No one should sit in a class and never have been taught anything accept how “poor and pathetic you are as a person”or “how you need to stay in your place because my position is solidified and you need me to make it I don’t need you” “you will never get far in life but be someone’s slave on a plantation”or better yet, have someone degrade you and your religious beliefs infrontof a entire class using filthy language. Let me repeat, we have not learned anything under this kind of guidance and we are paying money just to be verbally abused, humiliated and violated psychologically.