After attempting to organize a teach-in for University faculty and staff focusing on the school’s poor working conditions, Robert Patillo, a student at Clark Atlanta University, was thrown out of school. The forum was to be led by representatives of local labor unions, as part of a national “Student/Labor Week of Action.”

The school put Patillo, a junior, on “indefinite suspension” after completion of this semester. The official given reason for his suspension is, according to Dr. Deborah Miller, CAU’s Director of Marketing and Communications, that “he violated the student code of conduct.”

Patillo said that he couldn’t think of any reason for such a severe action to be taken. “They must have been more worried about what we were going to be talking about,” he said. “Workers here make $7.50 an hour, almost a dollar below the poverty line…They really don’t want these things aired out…I think they were scared of the workers organizing and demanding more money.”

The violation in question is, according the university, that Patillo filed an incorrect requisition form, which is the necessary paperwork for securing space at the university. The form required the signatures of people from a number of different departments. At issue is the signature of a teacher, which the school says is forged. Also, the university said that Patillo didn’t fully disclose the forum’s details. The administration claims that this was a violation of the Section H of the university’s code of conduct, and therefore Patillo was guilty of “academic dishonesty.”

Early reports suggest that the teacher authorized an assistant to sign the form. Also, Patillo himself did not get the signature, nor did he participate in the process of filling out the form—he became involved only on the last day, April 1, because the University was “stonewalling” the students. As to the claim of dishonesty, Patillo countered that he had sent letters and e-mail to everyone in the administration, as well as the rest of the school. There was no way, he says, they could have not known.

On the day the event was to be held, April 4, Patillo was called in before the Vice President of the School and the Dean of Students. He was told that the event was cancelled and that he would be brought up on charges. At the event’s scheduled starting time, school police blocked the entrance to the building, turning away anyone who had shown up.

Patillo has a 3.3 GPA, and is a member of a number of academic honor societies, the Political Science Association, the Pre-Law Association, and interned for Rainbow/Push and the Southern Education Foundation.

“Call the university, but not on my issue,” he said, “Call on the issue of labor. Write a letter to the university asking what is their stance on labor—why is labor not meeting? The whole point is to try to help the workers; try to get them better pay; try to get them benefits; try to get professors some job security. I can get into another school; I’m not worried about that.”

In an ironic twist, the University, a historically African American school, suspended Patillo because of events surrounding a meeting for workers’ rights to be held on April 4, the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder. King was assassinated in Memphis. He was there supporting the famous “I am a man” strike of African American sanitation workers and their fight for union rights, dignity and better wages. This suspension, many say, runs counter to the traditional alliance between labor and the African-American community, which King himself championed.

Clark Atlanta University’s phone number is (404) 880-8000.

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