Recently, I discovered that the Exclusion of veterans by Duke administrators at every level extends beyond just the lack of a center or dedicated veteran staff. The exclusion, which may be totally unconscious, was maybe most egregious in the university’s “Bias and hate Taskforce” final report, but it reaches seemingly to every corner of Duke imaginable. I keep stumbling upon basic violations or noncompliance with the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act (VEVRAA) and even a modicum of awareness that veteran status is a federally protected category just like race, color, sex, religion, age, disability, genetic information, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

By chance, I found a news report and policy document that would have affected me directly as a contract employee in the Fall 2016, right in the middle of my own OIE inquiry. The “Review of Duke University’s Grievance and Complaint Procedures for Fairness and Related Requirements for Contractors” outlines treatment of contractors (like preceptors and TAs) so that the procedures for reporting harassment and discrimination are more fair.

The report, from Duke Today, cites a change to policy that the university was to have provided an external arbitrator if when my dispute was not resolved at the local level. In that event, furthermore, “representatives will be assigned to give procedural advice to the employee and the supervisor.” I had no such representative at any point in the 4+ month process of the inquiry, the product of which was a flimsily drafted and clearly partial “Final Report” riven with errors and false assumptions.

The document itself, signed by Charlene Moore Hayes, fails to mention veteran status in any way over its fourteen pages. The list of protected categories is laid out twice, on pages one and five, and each appearance omits a population suffering from an widely reported epidemic of suicide, which touched Duke directly in April 2008, when an enrolled student veteran committed suicide just off campus. Within months after PhD student Alex New took his own life, Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta promised veterans his office would

  1. “formalize veterans’ programming as part of Duke’s new student orientation”
  2. “add military status to the admissions information collected by Duke’s schools”
  3. design “a campuswide half-day workshop on serving veteran students.”

There is no hard evidence that any of the above promises have ever been successfully implemented. It has been eight years since the above promises were made, during which time roughly 58,400 veterans have killed themselves.

This exclusion of veterans from formal Duke policy decision-making is eerily similar to the report produced by the “Taskforce on Bias and Hate” just five months before the “Review” was signed by Moore, and to the “Townhall” convened by President Broadhead that served as the task force’s genesis. The kicker? Veterans have been a protected status since 1974 under VEVRAA, revisions for which went into effect in March 2014. So it isn’t that the law has been sitting on a warehouse shelf collecting dust for the last 40+ years. It’s that Duke has remained ignorant of it, as have most ‘elite’ educational institutions. In the end, any claim of ignorance on the part of the university or its staff is ignorant at best, but unlawful and discriminatory at worst. Either way, veterans lose. What will it take for Duke to come around, another public relations disaster suicide? Statistically, it’s just a matter of time…

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