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Regional Interests

Alumni push for change at Linfield University amid allegations of harassment, misconduct

Pioneer Hall is seen through the signature oak trees at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Pioneer Hall is the oldest building on the Linfield campus, constructed in 1881.
Pioneer Hall is seen through the signature oak trees at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Pioneer Hall is the oldest building on the Linfield campus, constructed in 1881.

A group of Linfield University alumni is pushing for institutional change following past allegations of sexual misconduct against university board members and the institution’s president — and most recently the firing of a tenured professor who aired those allegations publicly.

A long-standing international wine festival has also threatened to discontinue its partnership with the university.

The Save Our Linfield nonprofit is calling for the termination or resignation of Linfield President Miles Davis and Board Chair David Baca. It is also calling for fired Linfield professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner to be reinstated in his faculty position, among other demands. The group, created by Linfield alumni, has gathered more than 3,000 signatures in multiple petitions from current and former Linfield faculty and students from around the world in support.

“We all firmly believe that the charge for the administration and the Board of Trustees, before the financial health of the institution, is that of the safety and well-being of its faculty and students, period,” Save Our Linfield spokesperson and Linfield alumnus Chris Gilly-Forrer told OPB.

Most recently, the Save Our Linfield group has raised more than $10,400 for a legal defense fund for Linfield “faculty, staff and student survivors.” Gilly-Forrer did not specify which current or former Linfield community members may be interested in using the fund, but he said that “there has been some expressed interest” from multiple parties, and that the fund will be available for “stakeholders who have been wronged by the university.”

Pollack-Pelzner, the Linfield professor fired after speaking out publicly about allegations of sexual misconduct and antisemitism against President Davis and other board members, did not confirm to OPB whether he would be taking legal action against the university.

“All I can say for now is that I’m figuring out what the next steps are,” Pollack-Pelzner said.

Save Our Linfield ran its legal defense fundraiser concurrently with Linfield’s own fundraising efforts, its annual Giving Day, which took place last week.

Gilly-Forrer noted that the university saw about a $34,000 decrease in donations — from about $560,000 a year ago to about $526,000 last week, according to the university’s fundraising website. More notably, he said, the number of donors dropped from about 1,000 to about 700.

“To lose 33%, a full one-third, of the people giving from year to year, that was a staggering number to me. What that tells us is that Linfield is relying on increasingly large donations this year from a much smaller group of people who don’t have a problem with the actions of administration,” Gilly-Forrer said. “It tells us that the broad community support for Linfield, which has been a pillar of the McMinnville and Yamhill County communities for well over a century, has taken a substantial blow in the past year.”

Linfield spokesperson Scott Nelson said the university had a $400,000 goal for its Giving Day, which it set last fall.

“As you can see, Giving Day easily eclipsed that mark,” Nelson said. “We’re thrilled at the support shown by our community, which will benefit students for years to come.”

Save Our Linfield is not the only group calling for institutional change at the university. A long-standing community event has also taken notice of recent happenings at Linfield.

Last week, the International Pinot Noir Celebration’s board of directors wrote a letter to Linfield’s president and the university’s board of trustees, noting wine group’s concern with allegations of harassment and misconduct at the university. Linfield has hosted the annual wine festival for the past 35 years, though the festival is putting on a virtual event this year due to the ongoing pandemic, according to its website.

“The IPNC Board of Directors is extremely concerned with how the situation has been managed thus far,” International Pinot Noir Celebration Board President Clifford Robben wrote. “We ask that Linfield University make necessary changes immediately to align its values and integrity with our community.”

Robben and the board specifically called for the university to reevaluate its sexual harassment and code of conduct policies, as well as to increase transparency in its actions moving forward.

“If changes are not made, unfortunately, we will be forced to consider alternative locations to host Oregon’s most time-honored wine tradition,” Robben wrote.

Linfield spokesperson Nelson said that Davis, the university president, responded to the IPNC Board in a letter and was unaware that the IPNC’s statement was being shared publicly.

Save Our Linfield’s Gilly-Forrer said he worked on campus as a student worker over the course of five summers during the International Pinot Noir Celebration. He said the festival means a lot, not only to the university, but to the broader region.

“For the tourism in McMinnville that results from this festival to disappear because these people will not be in McMinnville for the festival anymore potentially is huge. For the student employees like myself, that was a big overtime weekend. … For that to disappear is going to have an impact on current students as well,” he said. “It would be, I think, deeply upsetting for all of the stakeholders if this was to happen and I think it’s the clearest message yet to Linfield that institutional change needs to happen or the consequences are going to start coming swiftly.”

Gilly-Forrer said Save Our Linfield will continue pushing for institutional change at Linfield over the summer.

“It seems very clear that the university’s plan of action was to do nothing, say nothing, let this get into the summer and hope that it cools off and blows over and that people come back in the fall without any scrutiny happening from the outside as has been happening in the course of the spring,” he said. “We are not going to let that happen.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting