USF athletics facing racial discrimination charge from fired academic adviser
USF's athletic department is facing allegations of racial discrimination and covering up NCAA violations from an African-American academic adviser who was fired last week after committing a secondary NCAA violation this spring.
Myrtice Landers, 52, is 11 months short of reaching her retirement, and has hired attorney Wil Florin, who is also representing former football coach Jim Leavitt in his lawsuit against USF. She does not deny the NCAA violation that resulted in her firing -- she gave $326 in textbooks to a walk-on women's basketball player in January, thinking she was on scholarship -- but contends that "numerous similarly situated white employees, including her superiors, committed both similar and more egregious NCAA rules violations but were not disciplined," according to a news release issued Thursday morning by Florin.
"I feel as though I have been discriminated against as a result of my race, in violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act," Landers writes in a claim filed Thursday with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "I am aware of numerous other situations involving white Academic Advisors, including my superiors, who have given books, either intentionally or mistakenly, to non-scholarship student athletes without incident. I also have knowledge of numerous NCAA violations committed by white employees, including my superiors and employees of the Compliance Division of the Athletic Department that were unreported, and in some instances, actually covered-up by the Department."
The personnel file of Landers, who has worked as an academic adviser in USF's athletic department since 2004, shows that she was reprimanded twice in 2006, the latter of which was written as a "final warning." She worked for USF outside the athletic department from 1981 to 2004, but was not re-appointed to her position in March 2004, effective six months later. Having lost a job that paid $56,375, she accepted her current position in athletics with a salary of $32,000, starting the day after her previous position ended.
Landers was the academic adviser for men's and women's basketball, and her firing was significant enough that two weeks ago, former USF basketball player Dominique Jones, a first-round NBA draft pick now with the Dallas Mavericks, called a Times reporter to voice his displeasure with the decision.
"I think it's the worst mistake USF could have made," Jones said. "She helped so many people, and she was the reason I was eligible. I would have fallen off the team my freshman and sophomore year without her. She pushed you to do your work, even when you didn't want to."
Jones wasn't the only basketball player with an admiration for Landers, who presented an academic award at the men's basketball postseason banquet this spring. When the Bulls celebrated that all four of its seniors in men's basketball had graduated from USF, Landers was praised. "We have one of the best academic advisers in America in Myrtice Landers," former guard Chris Howard said in the release in May. The names of several USF athletes are listed as signatures on an online petition asking for Landers' reinstatement to USF, including Jessica Dickson, the Bulls' all-time leading scorer.
In her claim, Landers argues that her violation in working with women's basketball player Sasha Bernard, a transfer from Indiana, was an innocent mistake. Bernard had been offered a scholarship out of high school by USF and will be on scholarship this fall, but because the Bulls didn't have an available scholarship when she transferred in January, she was a walk-on this spring. She admits being told this by USF coach Jose Fernandez, but wrote that she "had forgotten" to get the books back from Bernard. As a result of the violation USF self-reported, Bernard must repay the $326 to charity and will be suspended from the first two games of the upcoming season.
She was issued two written reprimands in 2006, the second for an incident in which she "misrepresented facts" in asking for a student-athlete's reinstatement after the student had dropped classes, and signed documents in the student's name without indicating she was doing so. A Sept. 2006 memo from athletic director Doug Woolard states that "these findings point to behaviors that can be characterized as negligence and violation of departmental policy, which have serious academic, professional and ethical implications. ... Your actions border on what the NCAA defines as unethical conduct." It warned that "any future infractions will result in disciplinary actions, up to and including dismissal."
Landers, whose claim was also filed with USF's Diversity and Equal Opportunity Office, is expected to speak with the media later Thursday. USF executive associate athletic director Bill McGillis did not immediately have a comment Thursday when notified of Landers' allegations.
(Photo of Landers, right, with USF women's basketball player Melissa Dalembert, taken at USF's graduation ceremonies in May. Taken by J. Meric for GoUSFbulls.com.)