University conspired with students to oust professor who criticized slavery reparations: lawsuit

St. Joseph's University misrepresented its own investigative findings to make Professor Gregory Manco look guilty, he claims.

Published: January 26, 2022 7:17pm

Updated: January 26, 2022 11:00pm

A white math professor who criticized slavery reparations and racial bias training is suing his university for allegedly conspiring with students to get rid of him and misrepresenting the findings of its own racial bias investigation.

St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia suspended Gregory Manco from the classroom and as assistant baseball coach last year after students unmasked him as the author of the anonymous Twitter account South Jersey Giants

Citing "insufficient evidence," St. Joe's closed the investigation three months later without a "definitive determination" of whether the untenured faculty member, who received a 2012 teaching merit award, violated campus policy.

This is "malicious, defamatory, and false," Manco's federal lawsuit claims: The Jesuit university is hiding the report that fully exonerated him. The outside investigator found "no evidence" of racial bias against students or policy violation in his tweets.

St. Joe's political scientist Susan Liebell also implied on Twitter that even worse allegations against Manco remained behind the veil of employment confidentiality. She didn't respond to a query.

Following the investigation, for the first time in 14 years, the university did not renew Manco's "visiting faculty" contract, saying his services weren't needed in the upcoming year. That sparked a small alumni campaign to withhold donations in protest of "wokeism." 

But unbeknownst to the administration, Manco's department chair hired him back as an adjunct to teach half his old classes the same day he received the non-renewal notice, contradicting the official rationale, the suit claims. 

"So they can't stop me from teaching as an adjunct without making it painfully obvious that they wanted me out," Manco told Just the News. "Basically I replaced myself, in part, [for] much less money" and no benefits. (Both his faculty and coach pages are outdated.)

St. Joe's didn't respond to Just the News queries about why it's withholding the investigative report, which may become public if Manco's lawsuit reaches the discovery phase; whether its post-investigation statement created a misleading impression; and how its non-renewal rationale squares with his immediate part-time rehiring.

"The matter is before the court, and out of respect for the judicial process, Saint Joseph's University will respond in that forum," spokesperson Gail Benner told Philadelphia media nonprofit Broad and Liberty.

The university may be headed for a five-figure settlement if Manco's lawsuit isn't quickly dismissed, judging by the settlement reached days later in a similar lawsuit by an untenured professor dumped for "mean tweets."

Collin College paid Lora Burnett $70,000 and "reasonable" attorney's fees to drop her First Amendment lawsuit against the Texas community college district Tuesday, admitting no liability. 

It had failed to renew her contract after Burnett insulted then-Vice President Mike Pence and disagreed with Collin President Neil Matkin about the severity of COVID-19 on Twitter. (Burnett had previously demanded the firing of faculty at another university for accepting grant money from the free-market Koch Foundation.)

Like Manco's allegations, Burnett claimed the college created a fake controversy — "contacts from legislators" — to invent grounds for her non-renewal. The state attorney general ordered the college to produce the evidence, which turned out to be one ambiguous text from a Republican lawmaker.

Unlike Burnett's suit, however, Manco can't hold St. Joe's accountable for First Amendment violations. He's instead alleging racial discrimination, breach of contract, negligence and defamation — the latter against students and Professor Liebell as well as the university.

'Very strong' evaluations

Manco's problems started in January 2021, when former student Hadassah Colbert reported his anonymous Twitter account to his dean, department chair and St. Joe's diversity chief, according to the suit, which is heavy on social media screenshots.

She claimed his tweets were "racist and transphobic" and that he discriminated against her in class four years earlier, even though she hadn't accused him of bias when he failed her. Colbert's LinkedIn profile disappeared soon after Just the News messaged her there for comment.

In a "consultation" with Colbert, Title IX Coordinator Lexi Morrison allegedly encouraged the former student to "find others" who would echo her claims against Manco and file reports with Morrison. The professor wouldn't learn about the January meetings until a month into the investigation.

On Feb. 19, Colbert posted screenshots of his tweets on her Instagram account and encouraged others to report Manco for bias. 

The same day, another graduate who didn't know Manco, Karleigh Lopez, posted a TikTok video with a link to the university's bias reporting form and contact information for relevant officials. She also tweeted at St. Joe's. Lopez didn't respond to a Facebook query. 

Three anonymous bias complaints followed within hours, and Manco was summoned to a Zoom meeting that night where he was immediately placed on administrative leave. This violated St. Joe's procedures that limit "interim measures" to situations threatening the "safety and security" of community members, the suit claims. 

Chief HR Officer Zenobia Hargust explicitly told Manco he was guilty and that the investigation would "gather facts" to support that conclusion, and officials ignored his evidence that Colbert had also tweeted "racial animus" against other white professors, the suit further claims.

Manco's student evaluations did not track with the allegations against him, the suit claims, reprinting a 2020 message from then-Chair Kristopher Tapp about his "very strong" reviews for the past several semesters. 

Just the News verified Manco's claim that Tapp had even promised to nominate him for another teaching merit award a week before the campaign to oust the professor. 

Colbert continued to make false statements against Manco, including that he didn't let her reschedule exams following a head injury and "told a narcoleptic student that they had to sit in the back of the classroom," according to Manco. 

The narcoleptic claim came from Lynly Carman, who passed it to Lopez, who then shared it with both Colbert and the administration. Carman didn't respond to a LinkedIn query.

Lopez was also the conduit for a false claim by Erin Fahey that Manco "almost made me drop out of school," and Fahey filed a bias complaint claiming he didn't accommodate her mental health problems, the suit claims. Fahey didn't respond to a Facebook query.

When Manco tweeted about his suspension, Colbert claimed he didn't stop his followers from "send[ing] literal death threats to college students" — a false statement picked up by the student newspaper.

Student Kiernan Loue, who doesn't know him, said he created a hostile educational environment with "racism, sexism, and transphobia." Loue didn't respond to a LinkedIn message.

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