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Black History Professor Accuses CUNY of Illegally Seizing $12M of His Research Materials, Then Losing It

An acclaimed professor of political science and African-American history is at the center of a multi-million dollar federal lawsuit accusing the City University of New York of illegally seizing decades worth of his Black history research and losing most of it.

Professor Joseph Wilson, who was fired from the university in 2016, says troves of his correspondence, lectures, books, writing and research materials — which independent researchers valued at more than $12 million — were boxed and carted away during a series of raids on his school offices, the New York Daily News reported.

Professor Joseph Wilson

Professor Joseph Wilson filed a lawsuit accusing CUNY of Fourth Amendment violations and other offenses after campus authorities seized decades worth of his research materials. (Photo by Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

At the time, Wilson was accused of fattening his pockets at the university’s expense. The former professor has since spent the last several years trying to clear his name and track down his possessions, now hoping to put the onus on CUNY to locate his things or pay for what has been lost.

“All I want is justice,” Wilson, 67, told the newspaper. “What gives people the right, for whatever alleged violations they used to fire me, to trash my history and my intellectual property? The university has to be held accountable and apologize profusely, profoundly. They made some dastardly errors.”

His lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn federal court back in 2017, seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. Wilson has only managed to recoup a few of his items, some of which he said were strewn across school shelves, stuffed inside plastic bags or tossed in boxes during what he called “warrant-less” raids.

The academic, whose tenured career as a political science professor at Brooklyn College came to an abrupt close, said he also he suffered a”Kafkaesque” nightmare in which the university conducted an internal probe into the financial misappropriation claims against him.

A university spokesman said a neutral arbitrator determined Wilson’s firing was justified due to “serious misconduct” that included stealing an additional $100,000 in earnings he wasn’t entitled to over the course of three years. Additionally, officials accused Wilson of not only submitting phony documents to the university, but taking thousands of dollars in tuition funds, allowing his students to plagiarize, and misusing grant funds, according to a 2015 report by

“We look forward to a full airing of all of the facts in this case, which clearly show that Mr. Wilson’s claims are without merit,” a spokesman told the Daily News. “CUNY has denied his allegations in its own legal responses.”

“The lawsuit is built on false allegations,” they added.

The New York Attorney General’s Office is currently defending the case.

Wilson made several fruitless attempts to save his distinguished career and reputation at the university. He is credited with founding the Brooklyn College Center for Diversity and Multicultural Studies in 1993 and would go on to be appointed director of the university’s Graduate Center for Worker Education in lower Manhattan after making tenure in 1997.

Things suddenly changed in January 2012, however, when Wilson said approximately eight CUNY security guards stormed his office at the Worker Education Center and began confiscating his files, his lawsuit alleges.

“We were told not to move, that we couldn’t make any phone calls, or leave the office or speak to anyone,” said Wilson, who was with four or five other staffers at the time.

Authorities conducted a similar raid at his office on the Brooklyn College campus several months later. Among the items seized were his correspondence with music legend Ray Charles and a transcript and notes on a previously undiscovered speech by Martin Luther King Jr., among thousands of other items. Moreover, the bulk of his 40 years of academic research seems to have disappeared into thin air.

After banning Wilson from teaching at the university in 2012, both CUNY and the attorney general’s office launched investigations into the professor based on claims that he was making too much money.

As reported by The Daily News, “CUNY brought administrative charges against Wilson, who at that time earned $115,000 as a professor, plus roughly $40,000 as director of Worker Education and approximately $40,000 for summer school teaching, as he had for years.” He also earned roughly $10,000 as part of a $400,000 grant intended to train Black men to become teachers, according to the paper.

After a two-year battle, an arbitrator determined that Wilson had exceeded his contractual professor cap of $116,000 and he was terminated.

Wilson’s lawsuit, which alleges defamation and Fourth Amendment violations, remains ongoing and the professor now hopes to reach a point where the issue of his precious research materials can finally be resolved.

“In academia, you have an assumption of privacy. Your work and your research is sacrosanct,” he told the newspaper. “I amassed an incredible amount of documentary history on black workers. … A treasure trove on some of the great and the unknown civil rights leaders. How it is possible that all this is going to be erased?”

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