The Virginia Commonwealth University community is standing beside a former dean accused of racial discrimination and harassment.
In a full-page paid advertisement in Monday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, 117 VCU alumni and other community leaders signaled their support for John Accordino, the former dean of the university’s government school, with a letter to the VCU board of visitors.
Accordino, along with other university administrators, is being sued by the government school’s namesake, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, claiming that an investigation by the university found credible evidence the dean engaged in racial and sexual discrimination but that administrators have failed to act.
Accordino’s lawyer, James Thorsen, said last month that the allegations are false and added that Wilder’s description of the investigation’s findings is incorrect.
About a month after Wilder, the nation’s first elected African-American governor, filed the suit, Accordino’s supporters are rallying to his defense.
“We have come to know him as a kind, caring man and an extremely dedicated professor,” the letter says. “He has always gone above and beyond to offer sound guidance, encouragement, and even tough love when it would push us to achieve our full potential.”
It goes on to say: “It is clear from his interactions with us that he values diversity and inclusion; indeed, he has taught us all that the best work output comes from seeking and hearing diverse opinions. Those of us who have worked on projects with Dr. Accordino know that he always stresses the importance of seeing a situation from every point of view. These accusations of racial and sexual discrimination do not match the character of the man we have come to know.”
Accordino served as the interim dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs before becoming its permanent dean in March 2017. He was removed from the post earlier this month because of the lawsuit being a “distraction.”
“The situation has caused a considerable amount of distraction from the core business of the Wilder School,” VCU Provost Gail Hackett said in an email to faculty and staff members. “Although Dean Accordino specifically denies allegations in the lawsuit and will defend himself against them, in consideration of the greater mission of the school and the university, he has agreed to step aside.”
Hackett is also named in Wilder’s lawsuit.
Wilder alleges that Accordino called Wilder’s administrative assistant, Angelica Bega, “obscene names” and “generally disparaged her humanity.” The lawsuit also alleges that additional claims of sexual harassment and racial discrimination were made against Accordino.
Accordino has filed a countersuit against Wilder that accuses the former governor of defamation and interfering with Accordino’s contract with VCU.
Accordino will be on “study-research leave” for the next year and a half before returning to the classroom in fall 2019 as a tenured faculty member.
Many of the signatories of the letter have ties to VCU’s master of urban and regional planning program, which is housed within the Wilder School.
When Accordino started at VCU in 1986, he was an assistant professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning before chairing the department. He also served as the director of the VCU Center for Urban and Regional Analysis.
“Virginia Commonwealth University is lucky to count him among its dedicated employees and should be extremely proud of his accomplishments,” the letter reads.
John Moeser, a former professor of urban studies and longtime colleague of Accordino, said Monday that he was shocked last month when he saw the allegations.
“There is no one better, in any sense of the word, than John Accordino,” said Moeser, who signed the letter in Monday’s RTD. “These allegations are patently absurd.”
Moeser said he’s disappointed the VCU administration removed Accordino from his role as dean.