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Accused Professor Is Placed on Leave

Kerri Dunn, suspected of faking a hate crime, will not return to classes at Claremont McKenna.

March 21, 2004|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

A professor at Claremont McKenna College who is suspected by authorities of faking a campus hate crime that captured national attention was placed on paid leave Saturday, according to school officials.

That means that Kerri Dunn, 39, a visiting assistant professor of psychology, will not be in class when students return this week from spring break.

Claremont police said Wednesday, on the basis of accounts from two eyewitnesses, that Dunn vandalized her own car March 9. She has not been arrested, but her case has been referred to both the Los Angeles County district attorney and the FBI.

Dunn has denied that she smashed her car's windows, slashed its tires and spray-painted racist remarks on it -- she has said the vandalism happened as she was speaking at a forum on racism. The incident prompted officials to cancel classes at the five undergraduate campuses of the Claremont Colleges on March 10, when about 300 students attended rallies for racial tolerance.

Dunn could not be reached for comment Saturday. In anticipation of Saturday's announcement, her attorney, Gary Lincenberg, on Friday said: "Hopefully, putting professor Dunn on paid leave will give the authorities time to find the criminals who vandalized her car. We don't object to her being put on paid leave. We think that, given the highly charged atmosphere that has been created, it's appropriate."

"Professor Dunn has ... continued to deny any involvement in the alleged crime, and we should all respect her constitutional rights to due process, including the presumption of innocence," Pamela Gann, the president of Claremont McKenna College, said in a prepared statement released Saturday.

In an interview, she said that school officials would conduct their own investigation into the incident and that the leave had been negotiated with Dunn.

She also said the wishes of students had not been considered in the decision. "I haven't heard from students one way or the other, whether they want her back," Gann said.

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Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein contributed to this report.

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