Written by: Noelle Gilman, Laura Pollack and Kellie Rendina
According to second year Liberal Arts major Stephen Middleton, Mercer Professor Jamal Eric Watson told his Sociology 209 class on Wednesday April 4 that, due to his involvement in a rally supporting Trayvon Martin held on the Mercer quad last week, the college has asked him to resign. Middleton has taken up Watson’s cause, encouraging students, faculty and staff to sign a petition on Watson’s behalf.
Mercer’s president, Dr. Patricia Donohue, told the VOICE in an interview today that students from the SOC 209 class came to her and to the Director of Compliance and Human Resources, Jose Fernandez, with their petition. Donohue told The VOICE, “the college did not ask Watson to resign.” The VOICE also asked Watson in a phone interview today about his students’ petition; he responded that he did not know what that referred to and that he was not asked to resign.
President Donohue did mention, however, that due to information given to her about Watson that, ”There’s an inquiry going on because of the information given to us and we must determine the authenticity of the information.”
The administrators at Mercer are not the only ones investigating Watson. According to Lt. William Bastedo at the West Windsor police department, an investigation of Watson was initiated more than a week ago.
The investigation may be related to a 2006 felony conviction. Watson had been working as executive editor of The Amsterdam News when his handling of funds came under scrutiny. According to an article by Barbara Ross and Rich Shapiro entitled “Larceny rap for editor” which appeared in The New York Daily News on November 20, 2005, “Jamal Watson, 29, was arraigned yesterday on charges of fourth-degree grand larceny in Manhattan Criminal Court. He is alleged to have stolen more than $1,000 in checks that should have gone to the African-American weekly’s interns.”
In a later article, published December 18, 2006 by the Maynard Institute, entitled “Ex-Editor Pleads guilty to larceny,” Richard Prince reports, “Jamal E. Watson is to be sentenced on Jan. 29, and has agreed to make restitution of $1,700 in exchange for five years of probation, Jennifer Kushner, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan D.A.’s office, told Journal-isms on Monday.”
Prince quotes Watson as saying, ”It’s no secret that in September 2005, I used $1,700 from the Amsterdam News budget to hire an editorial assistant to work at the newspaper on a part-time basis.The funds to pay this individual came from leftover money from the summer internship budget… At no point did I use any of the funds left over from the internship budget for my personal gain.” Watson plead guilty to a third-degree felony charge of larceny and agreed to pay restitution, according to Prince’s report.
The fact that he had a felony conviction, particularly one related to interaction with student interns, is something Watson would have had to disclose on his Mercer employment application. The first page of the application, which is available online, asks “have you ever been or are you currently under investigation for a felony?” Thus, either Watson indicated that he had a felony conviction and the school hired him anyway, or he did not note the conviction.
The larceny conviction might not be the only allegation that Mercer’s administration is looking into. In his article, Prince says, “[The larceny conviction] was the second resolution this year of a court case involving Watson. Watson had recently faced charges of menacing, unlawfully imprisoning and harassing an ex-girlfriend, Mary Radmore.”
According to the article “Newspaper editor charged with abuse” by Nancie Katz in the New York Daily News on October 17, 2005 “[Watson] grabbed [Radmore] and threw her on the bed, pinning her legs and hands down, according to a criminal complaint. Radmore then accused Watson of hiding her cell phone so that she could not call the cops and blocking the doorway so she could not get out of the apartment, the complaint said.”
Radmore received a ‘full order of protection’ and charges were dropped according to Brooklyn, N.Y., prosecutor Deirdre Bialo-Padin.
This was not the first restraining order against Watson. Several articles published in the Northeastern University newspaper in April of 2002, state that while Watson was working as an adjunct professor, a female student he had been dating took out a restraining order against him.
In an article from April 2, 2002, entitled “Former prof banned from university” the Northeastern newspaper’s reports, “A flyer made by Northeastern’s Division of Public Safety was posted…A trespassing warning was issued on March 8 against Watson. Watson is described as a 5’7″ soft spoken’ male with a medium build and glasses.”
In addition to the two restraining orders and the larceny conviction, Watson had an earlier run-in with the law.
The same article, written by the News Staff at Northeastern, goes on to say, “Seven months prior to the Northeastern restraining order, Watson faced charges that he stole a wallet from his colleague, Boston Globe reporter, David Abel. As stated in the police report filed by Abel, Watson took the wallet and used Abel’s
“Visa Nextcard to purchase a Palm Pilot for $419.99 at Circuit City…” and spent $16.45 for gas at a Shell station.
Watson was ordered to pay $435.45 restitution and the case against him was continued without a finding for a year after he admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty on charges of larceny, credit card fraud and receiving stolen property. Watson was forced to resign from the Globe shortly after the incident. (note correction appended)
QUESTIONS ABOUT CREDENTIALS
Another legal matter that Mercer may be looking into relates to questions about Watson’s credentials. In a recent interview, Watson presents himself as having a Ph.D. which according to the most recent Mercer faculty credentials listings is from UMass Amherst (see also VOICE video), but an authorized VOICE reporter interviewed Watson’s doctoral dissertation advisor, John Bracey, who indicated that Watson has not completed his Ph.D., but is scheduled to in May of this year. In fact, The UMass Amherst website lists Watson as a current graduate student.
Watson has also indicated to colleagues that he is at work on a second doctoral degree, an Ed.D., but no evidence of this degree is available and no dissertation by a Jamal Eric Watson is currently listed on the ProQuest database, which is updated regularly.
In an interview with The VOICE, English Department Chair Sharmila Sen told reporters that she received an email from the Assistant Chair of the English Department at the University of Delaware on January 8, 2012, indicating that Watson, who was teaching as an adjunct or part-time professor at UDel, was teaching classes in Delaware whose schedule time overlapped with classes he was teaching at Mercer. Sen says she immediately forwarded the email on to the Dean of Liberal Arts at Mercer, Robin Schore and that Schore then forwarded it to Watson who denied the allegations. Sen said she believed Schore had forwarded the allegations to his superiors as well. Schore later told The VOICE “I cannot comment on that issue.”
Online course catalogs indicate that Watson may have been teaching in more than one place at the same time in the fall 2011 semester. First, these catalogs show he was scheduled to teach at University of Delaware on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30-12:15pm and 3:30-4:45pm. He was also scheduled to teach or attend meetings on at Mercer from: 12-1:15pm and 1:25-2:40 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Furthermore, he was scheduled to teach a night class for the William Paterson program held on Mercer’s campus at 6pm on Tuesdays.
It appears, Watson has held multiple teaching jobs since 2007. He is listed as having taught at TCNJ and Rowan in addition to Mercer, UDel and William Paterson. Watson is also listed as a full-time faculty member in 2007 at Lincoln University in Philadelphia. Prior to 2007 Watson taught at several other schools including Marist, Hofstra, SUNY Old Westbury, Northeastern and CUNY Queens.
In addition to the legal matters, the college and possibly the county inspector general, Robert Farkas, who is charged with investigating ethical matters involving county employees, may be looking into ethical issues regarding Watson, one of which pertains to students. According to several English department faculty at Mercer, Watson has frequently said that he was married in 2007 to a woman who received her law degree from University of Pennsylvania.
Several online wedding sites including VIP Vacations Inc and the Wedding Channel gift registry note a wedding for Jamal Eric Watson and Jamila Pretlow on October 8, 2011 to take place at Sandals Grande Riviera in Jamaica. Watson told colleagues he was in France giving a paper at that same time. There is a woman named Jamila Pretlow who is a former Mercer Honors student.
ISSUES OF RACE AND DIVERSITY
When asked if Mercer is a place that has a history of racial tension, Prof. Edward Carmien of Mercer’s English department, who has worked with Watson since 2007, told The VOICE that he feels Mercer is not a place particularly notable for its racial tension. He said, “This is the most diverse English department I have ever taught at by far.”
Watson’s own view of Mercer, however, does not seem to jibe with Carmien’s. In the video interview with Kellie Rendina prior to the Trayvon Martin rally on March 29, Watson indicated that he felt Mercer did not do an adequate job recruiting minority faculty.
In many of the articles about him, Watson has mentioned race when questioned about his actions. For example, in the article by Richard Prince Watson is quoted as saying “At a time when African American journalists need the support of each other, I can not understand the need to perpetuate racist reporting that (seeks) to demonize Black men as thieves and abusers. There are far too many images of black men portrayed in this manner in mainstream media.”
Watson has published widely on matters of race and diversity. Along the way, he is known to have established connections with prominent African American community leaders including Al Sharpton and Cornel West. Watson invited West to speak at Mercer last spring.
Watson has occasionally written opinion articles for the Trenton Times, most recently, on March 23, 2012. In this article, entitled “Racial profiling stalks among us,” Watson says “As a youngster, my father warned me to be on the lookout for racist police officers, who at any moment might pull me over or harass me simply because of my race and gender.”
Yet, a source within the English department who spoke on the condition of anonymity said of Watson, “No one wants to say it, but it seems like administrators often turned a blind eye to Watson, letting him teach more credits than other faculty, encouraging us not to mention it when students complained that he wasn’t showing up for class. I think they gave him special treatment because they admired him as a hard-working black man. Frankly, he was well liked. I liked him. But in the end it seems like he has tried to stir up racial tensions on the campus as a smokescreen when he knew people might be looking into his background.”
The professor went on to say, “The saddest part is that so many African American students and faculty looked up to Watson, saw him as a role model. He has let everyone down, but them perhaps most of all.”
Additional reporting contributed by Ken Napier and Matthew Arnold
Guest adviser: Kevin Shea, former investigative reporter for The Trenton Times.
At 10am April 10, 2012 this article was changed based on additional clarification provided by The Boston Globe. In the 2001 case of Globe reporter David Abel’s stolen wallet, Watson was ordered to pay $435.45 restitution and the case against him was continued without a finding for a year after he admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty on charges of larceny, credit card fraud and receiving stolen property. Watson was forced to resign from the Globe shortly after the incident. Additional information from a Boston Herald article from Nov. 20, 2001 has been added as well.
Editorial Update – 1pm, April 8, 2012: A woman identifying herself as Jamila Pretlow has told The VOICE “I was an Honors student at Mercer…However, I am not married to Professor Watson.” The VOICE has obtained information that confirms our story is accurate as originally stated. We stand behind our reporting.
At 7:00pm April 5, 2012 this article was changed to reflect the following clarification: Prof. Sharmila Sen told The VOICE she sent University of Delaware’s email to Dean Robin Schore on January 8, 2012, not December 8, 2011. She also indicated that Schore sent the email on to his superiors as well as to Watson.
In an earlier version of this article Boston Globe reporter David Abel’s name was incorrectly spelled “Able.”