Colorado Faculty in “Fear” of Administration?


A group of faculty members believes the University of Colorado administration has created a sense of fear on the Boulder campus with recent cases in the sociology and philosophy departments. The five-person faculty affairs committee within the Boulder Faculty Assembly condemned the university administration for its handling of cases involving now-retired sociology professor Patti Adler, associate philosophy professor Dan Kaufman, and associate philosophy professor David Barnett.

The committee wrote that in actions taken against those professors, CU leaders showed “blatant disregard for the rights, interests, and well-being of the faculty…. These precipitous and punitive actions taken against faculty without due process and then often quickly reversed show that the administration is exercising extremely poor judgment in its handling of faculty affairs.”

So reports the Daily Camera.  Of particular focus appears to be the university’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH). The ODH, readers may recall, has been involved in a number of recent controversies at the University of Colorado (no surprise, given its charge), including that of David Barnett (previously), who says he is seeking whistleblower protection for investigating the ODH’s handling of a case involving philosophy graduate students.

A separate article explains that another Boulder Faculty Assembly committee had been tasked by the Faculty Assembly with evaluating the policies and procedures of the ODH. This committee proposed faculty oversight over the ODH, but this was rejected by university officials. The proposed oversight committee would have “monitored ODH cases to ensure uniformity across departments and offices on campus… [and] review disciplinary recommendations.” The proposal’s authors write: “Now, no office is equipped to handle grievances about the ODH.”

A previous article in the Daily Camera reports that “several CU faculty members — who did not want to be named because they feared retaliation from the university — said they believe the campus is taking action against… Barnett because administrators don’t want to appear soft on sexual harassment or assault.” However, the same article reports that others believe that when it comes to cracking down on sexual misconduct, “the university could be doing more.”

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Jennifer Frey
7 years ago

why would a sociology professor be fired for lecturing about prostitution??!!Report

Derek Bowman
Reply to  Jennifer Frey
7 years ago

According to an IHE article at the time:

“She uses prostitution, she said, to illustrate that status stratification occurs in various groups considered deviant by society. She seeks volunteers from among assistant teaching assistants (who are undergraduates) to dress up as various kinds of prostitutes — she named as categories “slave whores, crack whores, bar whores, streetwalkers, brothel workers and escort services.” They work with Adler on scripts in which they describe their lives as these types of prostitutes. …

Adler said that she was told by Steven Leigh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, that a former teaching assistant had raised a concern that some participants might be uncomfortable, but that none had in fact complained.”

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/12/16/tenured-professor-boulder-says-she-being-forced-out-over-lecture-prostitution

Here are a couple of follow up articles (from the Daily Camera, which seems to have several more articles on various aspects of Adler’s story):
http://www.dailycamera.com/cu-news/ci_24913312/last-waltz-cus-patti-adler-returns-mdash-but
http://www.dailycamera.com/cu-news/ci_25515442/patti-adler-cancels-controversial-prostitution-skit-cu-bouldersReport

Anonymous CU-affiliated person
Anonymous CU-affiliated person
7 years ago

I didn’t go back and read the article you refer to in the last paragraph, but I wanted to point out that the way you present the issue in that paragraph involves a false dichotomy. I think–and I think a large part of the CU community who had any knowledge of what ODH and the administration have been doing would agree–that it is BOTH true that the administration is taking action against David Barnett because they don’t want to appear soft on sexual harassment, and that the administration/ODH is doing very little to deal with *actual* cases of sexual harassment, and not just could be doing more, but are morally required to do more. Indeed, in some cases, they seem to have done nothing when doing nothing was a seriously damaging thing to do. These two things are consistent with one another. And I believe they are both true.Report

justinrweinberg
Reply to  Anonymous CU-affiliated person
7 years ago

I agree that those things are consistent. I did not mean to suggest otherwise, but I see how my choice of words could easily lead one to think I did. Thanks for helping to clarify that.Report

Matt Drabek
Reply to  Anonymous CU-affiliated person
7 years ago

Yes, and it seems like we have some good reasons to believe that both of those things are true. The site visit report was pretty hard on the administration, and certainly the actions of the administration (esp. the Dan Kaufman incident) give us reasons to believe that they’re engaged in a lawsuit prevention, administrative-ass-covering first policy.Report

Different anonymous CU-affiliated person
Different anonymous CU-affiliated person
7 years ago

Just for the record, the issue with the sociology professor did not concern a lecture, but a skit that was performed along with the lecture, in which several of her undergraduate teaching helpers (these were undergraduates who had previously taken the course and then came back as assistants while still undergraduates) were dressed as prostitutes, some of them essentially wearing little more than underwear. The administration claimed — whether true or not I can’t say — that the department chair had received complaints from some of these students that they felt pressured into participating in the skit. I think it’s reasonable to say that IF this is true, it was reasonable for CU to look into it. It would be problematic, to say the least, to pressure students into appearing before a group of students in their underwear and the official line of the administration was that this was their sole source of concern (again, whether true or not I can’t say for sure). Also, she was not fired although there is a dispute about whether she was pushed into accepting a retirement arrangement.Report

Jennifer Frey
7 years ago

Thanks for the clarifications here.Report

a Boulderite
a Boulderite
7 years ago

A comment and a question:

Comment re the Adler case: another concern mentioned with the prostitution skit was the possibility that it would be videoed by some class member and perhaps posted on-line, with no workable way for Adler or the student actors to avoid it.

Question: It does seem that we’d all benefit from the ODH having some sort of neutral oversight, though it would not necessarily need to be by the faculty. How is this handled at other universities?Report

Anon
Anon
7 years ago

Additional information on this story: after the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC) wrote the quoted comments criticizing the administration, the chair of FAC (Martin Walter) was suddenly notified that he was being removed as chair of FAC. Walter says that the administration is trying to prevent FAC from presenting their motion of censure at the next meeting of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, which will take place on October 2. This information comes from an email that Walter sent to other professors (and to a Daily Camera reporter).

This follows the pattern of other attempts by the administration to silence criticism. Earlier, Prof. Brad Monton was removed from the BFA after he criticized ODH, and his remarks were deleted from the minutes of the meeting (see http://www.scribd.com/doc/218811005/AAUP-Report-on-CU-Philosophy-Department).Report