University must reverse termination of the Jackie Robinson Project

Stephen Butler is an emeritus professor of sociology and African and African American studies at Earlham College and a planner of the Jackie Robinson Project. Jared Diamond is an officer in the GW Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society, a student organization. Barry Zamoff is the director of community relations for the Jackie Robinson Project and supervises the project’s educational initiative.

While millions of Americans will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s birth in January, GW will be working to terminate the Jackie Robinson Project – which is designed to preserve and promote the legacy of this civil rights icon – at the end of this academic year.

Every member of the GW community should be outraged that two interim administrators – Paul Wahlbeck, the interim dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and Kimberly Gross, the interim associate dean for programs and operations – can ignore: countless letters of support from academics, media personnel, students, principals and teachers; a resolution of support from 10 senior members of the sociology department; an endorsement of the project from Jackie Robinson’s widow and daughter; and a petition to keep the project signed by nearly 500 students. It is incomprehensible that two interim administrators, using inappropriate methodology and drawing totally inaccurate conclusions, can foist their will on the entire GW community and destroy a project in the sociology department that has brought the University nothing but positive publicity and accolades.

For three months, the dean’s office has falsified information about the Jackie Robinson Project, but two of these falsehoods are especially pernicious.

Administrators have said the project is not financially stable, but the Jackie Robinson Project is self-funded. The director has repeatedly stated that enough funds exist to continue offering quality services for three more years, and there are donors interested in contributing more money to the project if they are assured that their donations will not be diverted to other GW activities. But the dean’s office refuses to provide this assurance. In fact, Gross has stated in writing that GW intends to use donations for other purposes once the project has been phased out. Such action would be unethical, immoral and potentially illegal.

Members of a student organization – the Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society – lack the financial resources to bring noted academics, media personnel and athletes to campus. Students need to acquire in-depth knowledge of Robinson’s entire career to provide the highest caliber technical assistance to schools and community associations. It is their very connection to the project that gives the members of the student organization the in-depth knowledge needed to teach others about Robinson, his life and legacy.

Administrators have also stated that a course about Jackie Robinson that enrolls 30 students each year and a student organization that bears Robinson’s name are acceptable substitutes, but in addition to the course and the student organization, the Jackie Robinson Project impacts thousands of students and teachers at GW and around the nation.

It is untenable for GW to end a project that during the past 22 years has served more than 8,000 students, attracted dozens of renowned speakers to campus, been strongly supported by the Jackie Robinson Foundation, reached more than 8,000 students and 340 of their teachers and administrators in 10 states and D.C., and been highly praised by former University President Steven Knapp. It is of special significance that the project has connected with many students of color as well as with students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds living in economically difficult circumstances.

Neither of the two interim administrators have attended a lecture, panel discussion or special program hosted by the Jackie Robinson Project on GW’s campus. They also have not visited any of the 65 schools or community organizations the project partners with or spoken to any staff member or student involved in the project. They have not viewed the Jackie Robinson Project’s museum exhibit, seen the film about Jackie Robinson and the civil rights movement that the Jackie Robinson Project produced, or read the book that the Jackie Robinson Project produced, which is available in English and Spanish. They have never spoken with any parents, teachers, principals or students in the schools or community organizations impacted by the Jackie Robinson Project. How can administrators make informed decisions about things they know nothing about?

It is long past time for University President Thomas LeBlanc to get personally involved in this matter and for every member of the community to let LeBlanc know that the decision to terminate the Jackie Robinson Project must be reversed. If the issue with the project is that it is not financially stable, the University should let it continue to operate as long as funds are available. The University also must stipulate that all donations to the project will be used for the exclusive purposes of the project. This simple solution will allow the Jackie Robinson Project to continue the critically important work of preserving and promoting the Robinson legacy.

Dozens of current and former GW students, alumni, members of the Jackie and Rachel Robinson Society, professors from GW and other universities, teachers, principals and Jackie Robinson Project staff have vehemently objected to the project’s termination. The 24 persons whose names are listed below have had extensive Jackie Robinson Project experience. They have read and endorse this editorial in its entirety.

Elliott Abramsom, Clayton Adams, Maggie Alexander, Madeline Brown, John Chalberg, Joseph Dorinson, Mark Eisinger, Karen Ercole, Amanda Greenberg, Martin Kerns, Stephen Klatsky, Gary Klein, Bruce Lindsay, Marwa Moaz, Justyn Needel, Angelo Parodi, Ron Rabinovitz, Maura Reilly, Sherika Shnider, John Vernon, John Vorperian, Alan Weinstein, Lauren Wrotniak and Richard Zamoff.

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