STATE COLLEGE — The head of a state civil rights commission on Thursday tried to soothe an escalating disagreement with Penn State University over discrimination complaints associated with the institution.
Stephen Glassman, chairman of the state Human Relations Commission, said he valued the commission’s working relationship with the school. “I applaud your efforts to tackle the difficult task of eradicating discrimination wherever it is found,” he wrote in a letter Thursday to university president Graham Spanier.
Commissioners on Monday asked staff to review Penn State-related complaints to determine if there was a pattern of bias on Penn State’s roughly two-dozen campuses.
Spanier and other school officials sharply disagreed with comments Glassman made to the Centre Daily Times in Wednesday’s editions. Glassman told the newspaper that the number of complaints was significant, and that the grievances were “wide-ranging,” from several minority and protected groups across different campuses.
Glassman said in a phone interview Thursday that the review is moving forward in a “thoughtful and thorough fashion.”
Fifty-six of about 200,000 complaints filed to the commission since 2001 affected Penn State, according to the school. There have been no “probable cause” findings among those complaints, and three “resulted in a mutually agreed-upon resolution between the university and employee,” Spanier has said.
Findings of “no probable cause” do not always mean a case is without merit, Glassman told Spanier on Thursday. He said a number of issues have arisen in commission public meetings in State College over the last several years.
“It is painful for all of us to hear the personal stories of fear and harassment, allegations of bias and inequity,” Glassman said.
Spanier said on Thursday night that he was “very heartened” by Glassman’s letter.
“I look forward to continuing our cooperative work with the commission to support equity and enhance the climate at Penn State,” Spanier said.
Penn State has more than 80,000 students and employs about 39,000 full- or part-time workers across its roughly two dozen campuses. Another commission official has said that the number of complaints wasn’t surprising given the university was one of the state’s largest employers.
“It is painful for all of us to hear the personal stories of fear and harassment, allegations of bias and inequity.”