CU Faculty Panel: Barnett Did Not Retaliate Against Student

The faculty panel responsible for reviewing the University of Colorado’s allegations against associate professor of philosophy David Barnett (previously) has concluded that he is not guilty of retaliation. While university administrators had wanted to fire Barnett, the panel voted 4-1 for a one year suspension without pay instead. Barnett had been accused of retaliation against a graduate student (“complainant” in the excerpts below) who had been found by the university to have been a victim of sexual assault by a second graduate student (“respondent” in the excerpts below). The claims of retaliation centered on Barnett’s own investigation and report about the way the university handled the allegations against the second student. While the panel recommended against firing, it did find that “several of his actions fell below the minimum standards of the profession.”

From the panel’s report:

The panel is unanimous in finding that the University did not show by clear and convincing evidence that Professor Barnett engaged in sexual harassment. The panel is also unanimous in finding that the University did show by clear and convincing evidence that Professor Barnett engaged in conduct that falls below minimal standards of professional integrity in several instances, although the extent of behavior felt to fall below standards of professional integrity varied among the panel members.

The panel’s decision is advisory, meaning that the final decision about Barnett’s case will be made by University of Colorado President Bruce Benson and the university’s Board of Regents.

According to the Daily Camera, “the panel concluded that while Barnett did not intend to retaliate against the female graduate student, his approach was inappropriate. Their conclusion that he did not retaliate against the female student was based on a definition of retaliation that considers intent.” The panel’s seventeen-page report is here.

Some excerpts from the report:

The correctness of the ODH Report Finding was not an issue the panel was asked to consider nor did the panel consider it relevant to the panel’s charge. The panel did consider the overall quality of the ODH report as relevant to the motivation for Professor Barnett and the Respondent to appeal the ODH finding. The fact is that the ODH report left much of the rationale for its conclusions unstated leading the Respondent and many of the ODH witnesses to feel misrepresented and to consider the ODH conclusion to be wrong. A more complete report that included the rationale and criteria for how the ODH handled all or most of the important witness statements would have been reasonable and appropriate for such an important investigation and the lack thereof became a motivating factor for the Respondent and Professor Barnett to undertake their subsequent activities. (p.3)

We find that the University did not show by clear and convincing evidence that Professor Barnett engaged in sexual harassment by retaliation. We have not seen (or heard) clear and convincing evidence that would indicate that Professor Barnett conducted his enquiry and wrote his letter and supporting document to the Chancellor and President with the purpose of retaliating against the Complainant. (p.7)

We find that the University did not show by clear and convincing evidence that Professor Barnett engaged in sexual harassment by retaliation by allegedly spreading rumors within the Department of Philosophy. (p.8)

The evidence substantiates that [Barnett’s] report was initially intended by Respondent and Professor Barnett to persuade lawyers to take the case to defend the Respondent on a contingency fee basis, as the Respondent was a newly minted PhD graduate who did not have the funds to pay up front. There was no evidence presented for retaliatory motive. (p.10)

[Barnett’s letter to the Chancellor]… used an alternative construct approach to make a case for ODH bias that necessitated creation of an alternate hypothesis (hypothesis #1) that was further unflattering to the Complainant. While creating alternative hypotheses may be useful in philosophical argument, its use and excessive elaboration in building supporting and refuting arguments in a sensitive sexual harassment context definitely showed extremely poor judgment. (p.10) [emphasis added]

We find that the University showed by clear and convincing evidence that Professor Barnett engaged in conduct that falls below the minimal standards of professional integrity in conducting his enquiries and filing this letter and supporting document as written as discussed below:
• Professor Barnett’s arguments in the letter and supporting document filed with the Chancellor and the President went well beyond what was needed to register a complaint/appeal. The alternative options of sending a letter of concern that focused on the ODH omissions and conclusions but omitted the excessive details, unnecessary arguments and alternative scenarios regarding the evening in question would have been a more effective means of registering a complaint.

• Many of the comments in the Barnett letter and supporting document were inappropriate (e.g., hearsay… sarcasm, etc.). (p.12)

What is the appropriate sanction?
a) Majority opinion for nontermination (four panel members)
Professor Barnett should:
1) Agree to never serve on any committee that makes decisions about the Complainant’s work or compensation (e.g. thesis committee or scholarship committee).
2) Never respond to anyone seeking a recommendation or reference for the Complainant with any response other than to indicate that he is unable to comment.
3) Be barred from entering the CU Boulder campus for one year.
4) Be suspended without pay for one year. 

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