Barnett Sues CU-Boulder for $2m (updated)
David Barnett, whom the University of Colorado is moving to fire (previously), is suing the university for $2 million, claiming that university Chancellor Phil DiStefano and philosophy professor Alison Jaggar made defamatory statements about him. From The Daily Camera:
In his notice of claim, Barnett says the statements made by CU officials have damaged his reputation; impaired his liberty, due process and free speech rights; and caused emotional and mental distress and suffering. Barnett hinted that he will seek more money if the university eventually fires him. The dismissal process, which began on July 19, is confidential…
At the core of CU’s attempt to fire Barnett is a 38-page report he sent to DiStefano and CU President Bruce Benson after learning that a male graduate student had been found responsible for sexually assaulting a female graduate student…
Barnett said he was acting as a whistleblower by reporting “willful misconduct” by the office that investigated the alleged assault. Barnett and CU have declined to provide the Camera with Barnett’s 38-page report. The woman, however, claimed that Barnett began his own investigation into the sexual assault, and talked to other members of the philosophy department about the woman’s marital history and sexual behavior. Barnett denies these accusations.
DiStefano had released a video message about the situation. “Barnett claims that DiStefano knew when he made the video that he would be destroying Barnett’s career and reputation.” Barnett claims also claims that Jaggar “encouraged the female graduate student to pursue administrative and legal action” against him and “repeatedly accused Barnett of conducting a ‘retaliatory smear campaign’ against the woman.”
The Daily Camera article is here.
Barnett’s “Notice of Claim,” which explains his rationale for the lawsuit, is here. It lays out an account of the events that formed the basis of the sexual assault claim against the student, alleges that key evidence relevant to the assault claim was ignored by the university’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment, claims Alison Jaggar made false statements to the alleged victim and to others saying that Barnett had retaliated against the victim, and argues that termination is too extreme a punishment.
UPDATE (11/6/14): The Daily Camera has a new article about a May 2013 email the paper obtained from Jaggar to colleagues in the philosophy department in which she raises concerns about Barnett retaliating against the alleged victim. From the article:
[Jaggar] wrote that while looking into the university’s investigation of the sexual assault, Barnett questioned witnesses and then began telling philosophy faculty members a “tale” about what happened on the night of the assault. She wrote that he placed “much of the blame” on the victim.
In conversations with various people, Jaggar wrote, Barnett focused on the woman’s sexual behavior that night and how much she’d had to drink. ” … The smearing of her reputation has hurt (female graduate student) very badly,” Jaggar wrote. “I am wondering if it could be construed as creating or contributing to a hostile environment. … I am also wondering if (Barnett’s) activities seeking to discredit (the student) might fall within (the Office of Discrimination and Harassment’s) definition of retaliation.”…
Jaggar also claims that in speaking with witnesses, Barnett “may have intimidated at least one student.”
The article quotes other colleagues of Barnett’s who claim that their conversations with him about this matter “focused entirely” on how the university’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment handled its investigation of the assault complaint.
Dear tenured, professional philosophers, inquiring graduate students wondering whether they should jump ship would like to know: Is philosophy going to be the place where female faculty members get named in lawsuits for acting in response to students’ complaints of Title IX violations?Report
Tenured faculty members would like to know, too. Perhaps especially the female ones.Report
Surely not every action “in response” to a complaint of a Title IX violation is legally (or morally) acceptable. In particular, those alleged by Barnett to have been taken by a female faculty member aren’t clearly acceptable.Report
Carnap, I can’t tell if you’re being entirely serious — largely because the conceptual space between the content represented by the notice of claim itself and the content of the allegedly defamatory statements seems rather narrow.
On the other hand, “In his notice of claim, Barnett says the statements made by CU officials have damaged his reputation; impaired his liberty, due process and free speech rights; and caused emotional and mental distress and suffering.”
I wonder how he would have felt had he been a student, found to have been sexually assaulted by a colleague, and a faculty member in his department decided to launch an investigation into how their sexual misconduct complaint had been handled — including discussing the matter with his fellow students and other university officials.Report
InquiringStudent, I don’t know the specifics of this case, perhaps you do. But is it your position that it’s always permissible – maybe obligatory – for faculty members to take it upon themselves to promote and support any student complaint of sexual harassment, including disparaging any colleagues who may question whether an accused student has been fairly treated in the investigation, but never permissible for faculty members to do or say anything to defend the accused even if they have reason to believe that willful misconduct has occurred?Report
This is for professors not students.
Obviously be super-careful if anyone comes to you with an allegation of sexual harassment — or of any other serious wrongdoing such as plagiarism, theft, assault, racism, bullying. Avoid talking to anyone about this except the accuser, people at the responsible office at your university and the police. Do not report that X harassed/plagiarized/bullied/etc Y, but rather that Y has accused X of harassment/plagiarism/bullying/etc. Avoid discussing this with your Chair, your Dean, your colleagues, your friends, or anyone else. If you must warn others of the allegations so that they can protect themselves from the accused, be careful how to express your warning. It’s probably a bad idea to spread the word, for example, that Professor X plagiarizes his students’ ideas unless you have extremely good evidence to this effect. You might, rather, advise students working with Professor X to write their ideas down and post them publicly on their webpages or as Facebook notes before discussing their ideas with Professor X.Report
I can understand why Prof. Barnett would want to sue the CU administration, given what this notice of claim states about how they have handled his employment status (that’s not to say anything about what I think really happened or who is really at fault, as I am in no position to judge; I’m just saying I understand why he filed suit). But I don’t understand why he is suing his colleague, Prof. Jaggar. For instance, I have said on this blog that I thought his personal investigation of the graduate student constituted unprofessional conduct. Is he going to sue me? I certainly do not think I was acting in “reckless disregard for the truth” in saying this, though I certainly am in a limited epistemic position, and I acknowledged this. I genuinely thought, given the facts made available, that it was both unprofessional and unwise (I still do, btw). If we are as concerned for due process as Prof. Barnett says he is, then we should be concerned that we not make ourselves into private detectives and issue our own judgments on cases of sexual harassment involving our students (note that, as I understand it, the accused worked with or was advised by Prof. Barnett, which already makes him not qualified to run an unbiased investigation, though this is hardly the only reason he is unqualified to do it). I will not rehash my reasons for saying this, but I stand by them, and that I still think there were more professional and fair ways to handle his discomfort with the investigation as it stood. It seems to me reasonable and fair to think that Prof. Jaggar (who is in a much better epistemic position than I am) might reach a similar conclusion and share this conclusion with others, and that she could do so without malice, regardless of her personal history or feelings for Prof. Barnett. As for the retaliation claims, we might parse them in two different ways. First, retaliation is a legal term that defines a specific violation of Title IX. So, Prof. Barnett might mean that Prof. Jaggar knowingly and intentionally tried to mislead her colleagues that he had made such a violation. Or he might mean that she knowingly and intentionally tried to mislead her colleagues about his further intentions in doing what he did (i.e., the reasons why he set up and conducted his own separate, personal investigation into what really happened on the night in question, which is not in dispute). The latter seems much more difficult to prove. Does anyone have a read on which case he is making? Also, is there a link that states what does constitute “retaliation” in the strictly legal sense? I am not as clear about this as I would like to be.
At any rate, I am extremely concerned by the fact that in the past six months, we have two prominent cases of philosophy professors suing their female colleagues for trying to help young women who present themselves as victims of sexual assault or harassment. I am not and will not attempt to take sides here or to render judgment in these specific cases; the facts will come out in due time, and we must be patient until they do. But insofar as a trend is developing here, it’s a disturbing one. My hope is that we can learn from these messes and institute better policies. It would be better if we had a system that didn’t leave professors whose top priority is trying to protect the safety and well being of her students so vulnerable to litigation like this. I don’t know we could reasonably accomplish that, but it seems like we should at least be talking about it in a fair and responsible way.Report
Thanks for your response. Does your second sentence mean that you take Barnett’s conduct pursuant to the production of his report regarding the ODH (as described in the Notice of Claim) to constitute a “retaliatory smear campaign” against GS1 and so the allegedly defamatory statements are not, in virtue of their truth, genuinely defamatory? If the NOC is to be believed (and I believe it), the outside investigator did not find that conduct to be retaliatory because it was not undertaken with any intent to harm GS1 but rather to expose inappropriate or wrongful behavior by ODH and to vindicate GS2.
How Barnett would have felt (and what moral relevance such feelings would have) had “he been a student, found to have been sexually assaulted by a colleague, and a faculty member in his department decided to launch an investigation into how their sexual misconduct complaint had been handled” depends significantly, I think, on whether the finding was correct.Report
Carnap, if you believe the NOC then you also believe that Barnett was found to have engaged in retaliation. Regarding the report, I think whether or not the investigator found it to be retaliatory in the legal sense of the term is probably to miss the forest for the trees, but if you are interested in the appropriate legal classification of the behavior, I don’t know enough to make that judgment myself (nor did I say I did). What I do know is that according to legal precedent, there are generally three conditions for determining whether conduct is retaliatory under Title IX: 1. That one has engaged in protected conduct, 2. That one has been subject to materially adverse action, and 3. That there is a causal connection between having engaged in (1) and having been subject to (2). While some people may interpret those three conditions to include intent somewhere is possible, but does not seem necessary in my view.Report
You’re braver than I am, Jennifer Frey. I avoid saying anything even remotely actionable on the internet. If I really wanted to make potentially actionable comments, I’d do it pseudonymously, being careful to cover my tracks — e.g., logging in from a cafe near the university rather than one near my home and certainly not from my home. Whatever value there might be in discussing a controversial case online under my real name is defeated by the possibility of a lawsuit. (I’ve argued elsewhere on DailyNous that pseudonymous comments are advantageous regardless of lawsuits (http://dailynous.com/2014/10/11/comments-and-anonymity-at-daily-nous/): the main point in their favor is that my comments can then be judged on their own merits, independently of my identity.)Report
I endorse your arguments for pseudonymous commentary, Zara. You may find that they resonate with the ones I’ve been making on the Metametablog:
And here: http://philosophymetametablog.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-endless-river.html?showComment=1414990653632#c8705515414743598173
As I see things, it’s a simple matter of epistemic justice that at least some forums should be open.Report
I disagree in the strongest possible terms about the supposed virtues of anonymous or pseudonymous commentary. I am an intellectual and a philosopher, and I am proud to be that. It is literally my job to have reasonable and well argued opinions about matters of importance and to share these with others in the hopes of contributing to our general knowledge and to the well being of our profession. I am also a woman, and, given that women have been silenced for centuries, and that attempts to silence women in all walks of life (including within academia and especially within professional philosophy) are depressingly common, I simply refuse to be silenced, either by threats, intimidation tactics, bad policies, or very bad arguments about why my ideas in my own voice (an expression of my person) should not be shared publicly with others. Telling me that I need to be afraid is just telling me to be silent. Telling me that my voice would be more “credible” if it were completely detached from my person and identity is telling *me* to be silent. I am not a brain in a vat but a concrete human being with a history and an identity that I am not ashamed of and do not feel that I need to hide. I am not afraid of someone suing me for writing reasonable things on a blog; rendering a judgment on someone’s actions as unwise and unprofessional is not defamation and it is not even uncivil. This is not hard to show. I am also not afraid of confrontation or that people might not like me for what I write or think. Someone who lived in such constant fear would be utterly incapable of contributing to public or intellectual life in any meaningful way. Not living in such fear is not bravery, but just going about the world in a normal way.
There are cases where posting anonymously makes sense to me, such as the anonymous posting on the What It Is Like blog. But that is the exception, I think, that proves the rule.Report
So much for respectful disagreement about anonymous commenting — an issue over which there would seem, from a non-solipsistic perspective, considerable room for reasonable differences in approach depending on one’s own personal and professional circumstances and sensibilities.
I happen to comment both “anonymously” and in name — out of neither fear nor virtue. An advantage of anonymous commenting can be that attention is focused on the substance, not on the identity and standing of the commenter.Report
I did not tell you that you “need to be afraid” of lawsuits for your online posts. I did indicate that I am afraid — perhaps unreasonably so, given that nobody in Philosophy has, to my knowledge, been sued for what they’ve written as comments on blogs. Let me reiterate: nowhere did I say that you “need to be afraid”. Perhaps my own caution and pseudonymity derive from my own anxieties.
I also did not tell you that your voice would be more “credible” if it were completely detached from your person. Rather I stated that it is easier for a reader to judge comments on their own merits if the comments are submitted anonymously or pseudonymously — a point distinct from the question of credibility. As I said in my comment on another post, I prefer my comments to be judged on their own merits, independently of my identity — for much the same reason I do my best to hide my identity when submitting a journal article. When a comment is submitted pseudonymously or anonymously, I appreciate the fact that I can concentrate on the thoughts expressed rather than be distracted by a commenter’s high or low rank, prestige, reputation, etc., in the profession.
Perhaps my argument is a bad one, as you suggest: I’d be interested to know what’s wrong with it. Maybe this claim is false: it is easier for readers to judge comments on their own merits if the comments are submitted anonymously or pseudonymously. Maybe that claim is true, but it’s (sometimes?) undesirable for readers to judge comments on their own merits. Or maybe both the claim is true, and it’s desirable for readers to judge comments on their own merits, but the benefits of this are trumped by competing benefits of people commenting under their own names.Report
Zara, just as a heads-up, there is anonymizing proxy software to hide your IP; https://www.torproject.org/ is probably the most popular and well-established one. A little easier than finding a cafe.Report
I did indicate reasons why I thought the argument was bad (no need to put it in quotes): it does nothing to stop the silencing of women and the climate of fear in philosophy and does everything to perpetuate it. So I do not see it as correcting injustice but perpetuating it. If you’d like further reasons, here another: it leaves people utterly unaccountable for what they say and do online, and this leads to harassment and generally very bad, embarrassing, obnoxious, unprofessional behavior from people who should know better. For those reasons and many more, I don’t post anonymously as a rule or principle. I have been very moved by recent writings by Mary Beard on silencing tactics and how she has personally experienced them, and I recommend that we think about what she says in this context. She, like many women who have “dared” to share opinions publicly, has received anonymous hate mail and death threats in piles. To think that we’d be better off if she hid her identity, reveals, I think, a very deeply flawed logic about how to face and fight injustice, and a flawed logic about how discourse should operate. Finally, if we want to weigh up consequences (not my preferred method for judging actions or practical policies), then the bad consequences of posting anonymously as a general practice I think outweigh the good.
I did see you as saying that ideas unattached to persons were easier to evaluate and therefore more credible because not subject to bias. So I guess I just misunderstood you.
I think the analogy with blind review is inapt. Papers aren’t published as blind, they are simply reviewed that way, for a variety of reasons I endorse and there’s no reason to rehearse. So we publish our thoughts under our names and we are held accountable for them. Anonymous comments online, by contrast, remain anonymous. No one is accountable and that’s the reason it gets so ugly and childish.
At any rate, we just disagree about this, and I have no doubt that my opinion will be unpopular with many. But I do not think I have disagreed disrespectfully, as another anonymous person has claimed in a casual attempt to dismiss my argument rather than engage it (calling an argument bad is not a sign of disrespect nor is philosophical disagreement; we should not be confused about this). But again, an anonymous poster can easily just dismiss, since by definition, they are not accountable for anything they say, and that’s why I think it is a recipe for dragging discourse down rather than elevating it.Report
 As I understand it (which is likely insufficiently), the three conditions you note are considered sufficient for a prima facie finding of retaliation. However, the provision of a non-retaliatory reason or intent is itself sufficient to overturn the prima facie finding unless the non-retaliatory reason can be demonstrated to be pretextual. So, the intent or aim of the actor is relevant. I am somewhat puzzled as to why you think concern with intentions is missing the forest for trees.
 I do not fully understand what counts as a relevant sort of “adverse action” according to the law. Surely one accused of violating Title IX can defend herself/himself by calling into question the truth of the accuser without having violated the law. Is being called a liar a “materially adverse action’?
 My previous post was simply about the conduct in which Barnett engaged in the course of producing his (confidential) report regarding the actions of ODH and not about the other conduct which was, according to the NOC, found to be retaliatory. As described by the public NOC (and I have no other non-public information), that conduct involved calling to another faculty member’s attention to evidence regarding the incident which the ODH had not included in its report. Is that retaliatory in either the commonsensical or Title IX sense?Report
Carnap, given that I don’t know what Barnett would want to litigate, and given that I don’t know what could be successfully subpoenaed from DailyNous I don’t feel comfortable answering your questions–but I would encourage you to read up on the case law and OCR guidelines surrounding retaliation in a Title IX context.Report
I am no lawyer. But the following passage from the Justice Department’s “Title IX Legal Manual” seems relevant, and if I’m reading it right, to support Carnap’s interpretation of the law.
Once a prima facie case of retaliation is established, the investigating agency must then determine whether the recipient can articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action. If the recipient can offer such a reason, the investigating agency must then show that the recipient’s proffered reason is pretextual and that the recipient’s actual reason was retaliation. A showing of pretext may be sufficient to support an inference of retaliation if the fact finder concludes that retaliation was the real purpose of the action.Report
Thanks for taking up the question of anonymous commenting and all that. I appreciate your candor and spirit. I do think we should distinguish two issues: a) whether it good for there to be forums where people can anonymously comment with permission of a moderator, and b) whether a given individual should avail herself of the ability to anonymously comment.
For what it’s worth, I am a strong supporter of an affirmative answer to (a). I think the correct answer to (b) will vary a great deal from situation to situation. My own suspicion is that, for philosophers in positions of deep privilege (not for those who lack it, which is the case you seem to be considering), an important means of checking that privilege is for them to comment anonymously or pseudonymously. It is very hard to derive undue authority or credibility in conversation from, say, a fancy educational background, male privilege, a tenure track job at a ranked school, white privilege, if one comments anonymously or pseudonymously.Report
That should be: “anonymously comment *without* permission of a moderator”!
(I say this, of course, as I wait for a moderator in this forum to approve my comments)Report
Anonlibfem: An all too quick reply. I just disagree that the way to approach the problems you highlight is to try to make discourse impersonal, as if human discourse would be elevated or improved if we tried to put forward pure thoughts in a third realm, utterly detached from our person. Of course, there are real problems of bias and privilege. But anonymity does nothing to solve those problems. Rather it strikes me as a way of giving up hope of ever solving the problems. But let us not capitulate to the problems of discourse or our profession but actually work to do something to improve things. The solution to bias is not to detach our voices from our identities but to try, in whatever ways we can, to make ourselves heard, and to try, in whatever ways we can, to listen to others regardless of their position, status, gender, etc.
I also disagree that those who are privileged in whatever way should be sheepish about it, or somehow try to hide behind anonymity either. I don’t see how that helps, and I think that some privilege is earned and deserved. Rather, I would hope that the more informed and aware we are of these influences, the more we can try to change our perceptions and our judgments when they might be problematic. I don’t see this as impossible; we are reflective after all, and we are capable of stepping back and asking ourselves whether our initial impressions are the right ones.
In the end I’d rather naively hope for an elevated human discourse in which we know and are held accountable to one another than an anonymous and impersonal exchange of pure ideas that can easily devolve into a real horror show.Report
I think we agree on much, Jennifer Frey. I agree, in particular, that impersonal and anonymous exchange of pure ideas isn’t an *ideal* form of discourse. But my contention is that it does have some value from time to time, though, especially in this imperfect world. My approach, I guess I’m saying, is more of a both/and. Yes, let’s be more informed and aware of the influence of privilege on discourse. Yes, let’s try to change those influences when they are problematic. But let us also try to make havens for open discourse in the meantime, havens where there is a pretty good chance that certain forms of privilege will be less operative. Both/and!Report
Does anyone else find the interpretation of “retaliation” here troubling — the idea that it would be illegal to defend someone from a criminal charge? If you think that person A has wrongly accused B of committing a serious crime, and you meet someone who has been taken in by A’s accusation, it is *illegal* to tell that person about the evidence that B is innocent, because then you’ll be “retaliating”? This is the kind of law that would exist in a police state, not a liberal democracy.Report
About retaliation: my understanding is that every university interprets Title IX differently, but this is more or less what we were told at my university, if I understand it correctly. Part of the sexual harassment policy – which binds us as employees of the university – is that we are bound by confidentiality rules not to discuss cases of sexual harassment. Both respondent and complainant receive a copy of the report laying out the university’s findings, but they are not supposed to discuss it with anyone (besides their close friends of course, who are not to discuss it with people in the department). The main purpose is to protect both parties (i.e., their privacy), and to prevent retaliation. Obviously it is a big temptation if they find you in violation of the policy, to defend yourself and tell everyone in the department your side of the story. But in doing so, you or your friends may end up retaliating against the other party. In order to prevent this, everyone is bound by confidentiality rules, and if you break them you may run afoul of the ‘related retaliation’ clause of the sexual harassment policy. As far as I know, this is not criminal law, but part of employment law, a combination of Title IX and each state’s employment law–and it is part of the terms of employment that you comply by these policies. There are real downsides to the confidentiality rules (it’s frustrating for members of the community because they don’t get to find out who did what/whether someone was punished, etc.), but there are also good reasons for having it — it is supposed to protect both complainants and respondents. Note that it protects respondents as well as complainants — after all, if someone is falsely accused of sexual harassment, and the findings go in favor of the respondent, you can imagine how anxious the respondent will be that such charges not be publicized in the department, and you can imagine how upset they would be if the complainant then ‘retaliated’ by spreading the stories around in the department. I am not a lawyer so this could be wrong, and again I have no idea whether and to what extent sexual harassment policies differ from one university to another, but that’s my understanding of the retaliation/confidentiality policy.Report
You seem to imply that David Barnett is suing Alison Jagger, and to be asking whether similar grounds could in theory be used to sue you for defamatory remarks about David Barnett in your post.
But my understanding is that David Barnett is not suing Allison Jagger. Rather, he is suing the University, and Allison Jagger is named in the lawsuit (against the university) because she allegedly made the defamatory comments in her capacity as an employee of the University.
I’m with Carnap in finding your suggestion that focusing on the standard for retaliation is somehow missing the forest for the trees. Why do you say this, and what other standard do you propose instead?Report
If not the legal standard (which is what I intended to write above), what standard, in your view, should guide the determination that David Barnett retaliated against the accuser, and that terminating his position is justified? Presumably we need some principled way to adjudicate claims of retaliation. It can’t be that any inquiry into an administration’s handling (or mishandling) of a serious accusation constitutes retaliation.Report
Reichenbach, I can’t tell if you’re being entirely serious either. Since I did not say anything like that in determining whether or not Barnett’s behavior in conducting his own investigation and distributing a report was legally retaliation, we should not determine whether or not Barnett retaliated according to legal standards, I’m not sure why this appears to be roughly what you are asking me about.
I take it that interviewing students in your own department, as a faculty member, about a student’s sexual assault complaint, when you have a relationship to the accused, an interest in defending them, are in a position of power over the accuser and over those whom you are interviewing, regardless of whether or not you are trying to investigate the ODH or the accuser, is an obviously horrible thing to do. If he believed the investigation to be unfair (why was he even in a position to think this in the first place? Was he asking around?), there are very clearly alternative courses of action available. File a Title IX complaint. Encourage your student to get a lawyer. Hell, help them find a lawyer. Going around asking students about what they said yourself is not ok. Not. O. K.Report
Thanks, Concerned. But there seems to be a troubling asymmetry: Barnett only talked to a professor who had already heard the accuser’s side. So third parties can know about the accusation but not about the defense? Note that the university’s claim against Barnett seems to be specifically “retaliation” — which is supposed to have consisted in defending the accused to a professor who had already heard the accusation — rather than merely violation of confidentiality in general. So it seems that their position is that people are free to make accusations, since this would not constitute retaliation for any protected activity, but no one is allowed to respond to deny guilt.Report
InquiringStudent, hiring a lawyer to handle a case like this would likely cost more than the student’s entire annual income, or at least more than a graduate student can be expected to be able to spend. So telling the student to “hire a lawyer” is like saying “let him eat cake.”
Regarding the investigation, I note that asking people what they told ODH does not transmit to anyone any information that they don’t already have. Nor does it tamper with the witnesses, since they’d already finished their testimony to ODH. Finally, the report that Barnett sent to the administrators, reportedly, only contained the same sort of information that those administrators already had (or should have had) from the ODH report, which they’d already received — except that it putatively contained a less biased version of that information. So, I am having trouble understanding how any of this constitutes terrible misconduct by Barnett.Report
Patriarch4, asking people what they told the ODH does transmit to someone information they do not already have. That person is Barnett – unless he was already privy to everything that people said to the ODH, he is asking people for information that he should not have access to. This is the misconduct – while interviewing graduate students, he was asking them questions designed to elicit information about another graduate student that he ought not have been privy to.
There would be a similar problem if a faculty member ‘interviewed’ the female student involved about what went on. Basically, if you are a professor, you should not go around interviewing graduate students about the behaviour of other graduate students, when that behaviour is relevant to a complaint of sexual assault.Report
The alleged misconduct was specifically that David Barnett retaliated against the accuser, not that he sought information to which he shouldn’t have had access. Maybe his seeking that information was inappropriate or even a kind of actionable misconduct, but if that’s what the administration believed, it should have provided a clear and accurate statement of the misconduct allegation.
I agree that faculty in Barnett’s situation should not conduct their own investigations into the conduct of the ODH. But I also believe that the ODH should not skew or manipulate evidence to reach a finding against the accused that isn’t supported by the evidence–the ODH should not be in the business of railroading people. *If* Barnett’s allegations prove to be well founded, the misconduct by the administration and ODH *may* end up being vastly more serious than any misconduct on his part in attempting to expose their alleged abuses.Report
Many people have expressed the view it’s wrong for a professor to inquire into the sexual history of a student, or even the stronger view that even being in the possession of such information is wrong (e.g. Alice’s post above). Obviously there’s something very plausible about the view. But I’m not sure why it’s so commonly treated as a sort of exceptionless moral principle, as opposed to a pretty good heuristic. I think whatever plausibility it has derives from the thought that there’s something deeply inappropriate about a professor taking a prurient or censorious interest in a particular student’s sex life, and especially so if this interest is manifested in the form of asking questions around the department.
But on all the available public evidence, the Barnett case is not like that: Barnett’s inquiry was not really about a student’s sexual history broadly construed, but of the events of one particular night; and it was carried out not for any prurient or censorious reasons, but in order to correct what may well have been (and what seems certainly reasonably believed by Barnett to be) a serious miscarriage of justice.Report