Five white professors have sued the predominantly black university where they work for discriminating against them on grounds of ethnicity and are seeking more than $1 million in damages.
The suit claims Livingstone College, North Carolina, routinely fired and demoted white faculty members, denied them promotions and subjected them to harassment.
The president of Livingstone resigned in the wake of the lawsuit, and a theological seminary affiliated with the school announced that it will cut its ties. College officials contend that neither action is related to the case.
The professors have produced a 1994 internal review recommending replacing four white department heads with blacks, and sacking six professors, five of whom were white. Attached was a notation about the vacant chairmanship of the English department, handwritten by the then-vice president of academic affairs, reading: "Bring in black PhD."
Bob Russ, one of the professors who has sued, said: "I think in the long run this case is going to turn out not to be a black-and-white issue, but an issue of right and wrong." Dr Russ, who teaches English, said he and the other plaintiffs were verbally harassed, physically threatened and passed over for promotions.
One of the professors who was sued was among those fired. Another retired. A third, Robert MacKinnon, resigned as chairman of the social sciences division after enduring what he described as "considerable hostility for being one of the plaintiffs".
The college declined to comment, except to say the claims are baseless.