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Wilder sees 'racism in practice' at VCU

Former Virginia Gov. L Douglas Wilder speaks during 2019 while seated.
Former Virginia Gov. L Douglas Wilder speaks during 2019.

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder on Friday told the Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors that the dean of the school named after him has not been able to fire an employee who has been sending threatening messages to others, including to Wilder himself. 

Jim Burke is the Director of the Performance Management Group, a division of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Emails obtained by VPM News indicate Burke sent a text message to Wilder in late January criticizing his support of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, stating Wilder “f***ed up badly” and to “welcome the Nazis.”

Wilder forwarded the message to Susan Gooden, dean of the Wilder school.

A text was later sent to Burke’s supervisor on Feb. 2, where he rescinded his apology for the previous message to Wilder. 

“If he tries to make things worse, he will find himself in a bad place,” Burke stated in that later text. “He has to learn how to take it and not go running to Susan. No man would do that.”

These messages were one of the “worst forms of verbal harassment” she’s seen, Gooden wrote in an email to VCU Police. She was granted a preliminary protective order against Burke almost a week later.

The university’s Threat Assessment Team conducted an investigation into Burke’s actions and determined he didn’t represent any specific physical threats to individuals or groups.

Attempts by Gooden, who is a Black woman, to terminate Burke were unsuccessful. Wilder called the undermining of her authority “racism in practice,” and alleged that Provost Fotis Sotiropoulos told Gooden she was prohibited from talking with President Michael Rao about the situation.

“The dean of a school does not have the authority to dismiss anyone if she happens to be Black and female,” Wilder said before the university’s board of visitors on Friday.

The university recognized the need for higher education to connect with the needs of an urban community when it was first founded, Wilder continued. “Sadly, that period seems to have ended.”

Burke's current employment status is unclear.

VCU spokesperson Brian McNeill declined to comment on this story. In a Friday afternoon email, he wrote, “[I]t would be inappropriate for the university to comment on internal, confidential personnel matters. In such matters, the university adheres to its policies and procedures.”