Barnett to Resign from Colorado (updated)


David Barnett, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, will be resigning from the school with a $210,000 settlement. Barnett had gone through termination proceedings last year on grounds that he had retaliated against a student who had complained about another student sexually assaulting her (previous stories on this here). The Daily Camera reports:

Barnett, an associate professor in the philosophy department on the Boulder campus, has been on paid leave this academic year. His resignation is effective May 31. He will receive $160,000 and his attorney, Brian Moore, will receive $50,000 from the university…

In a newsletter to the campus this afternoon, Chancellor Phil DiStefano said CU avoids “years of ongoing litigation” with the settlement. “This action is part of our ongoing efforts to support the department’s work to make improvements in the workplace and academic culture over the last 16 months, while continuing to build a supportive environment for women as faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates both in the department and across the CU-Boulder campus,” he said in the newsletter.

In January, the faculty panel responsible for reviewing the university’s allegations against Barnett concluded that he was not guilty of retaliation.

The rest of the Daily Camera report is here.

UPDATE: The Daily Camera article has been updated to note that “CU is also forgiving an $80,000 down payment assistance loan for Barnett, according to both sides,” bringing the settlement figure up to $290,000.

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Carnap
Carnap
5 years ago

Given the information publicly available, this is a serious injustice. Barnett was found not guilty of the charges against him by a faculty panel. It appears he lacks the resources for a protracted legal battle against the university and the university is using its superior resources to secure his resignation. I hope he finds an equally good job in another philosophy department.Report

Anon first
Anon first
5 years ago

Classic case of throwing money at a problem to make it go away. Maybe if the Chancellor covers his ears, any other allegations about bad stuff happening in UCB will go away too…Report

MK
MK
5 years ago

For those believing Prof Barnett is on the receiving end of a massive injustice, they should really consider the high probability of a biased nature of an ‘internal faculty review panel’ (circling wagons anyone?). Having said that, I’m sure the University is more accountable for this mess in not reigning in the department and its staff years ago and would be found to be culpable for failing to manage properly. This is probably not the only dept at Boulder and certainly not the only university not to properly manage this issue and their staff. So yes, as a victim of bad management and then the sacrificial lamb, I would agree that he has been grievously treated. However, I would not hold the individual up as all innocence incarnate, and I would not necessarily wish him on other philosophy departments. There is probably fault on all sides. The accountability, however, is with the university and they are dealing with it in the only thing they value: money. Whether this will actually lead to improved management is doubtful. Remember: there are no bad employees, only bad managers.Report

gopher
gopher
5 years ago

“consider the high probability of a biased nature of an ‘internal faculty review panel’”

Is there any evidence for this, or do you mean one of those a priori high probabilities?Report

Anon Female Grad Student
Anon Female Grad Student
5 years ago

This is very sad. David Barnett pointed out a problem with the way ODH handled the case of a student, and he was forced to resign for it. This will surely cause people to hesitate to stand up for their own students who may be falsely accused in the future.
Report

Another female student
Another female student
5 years ago

If a professor believes a student has been found wrongly guilty by a internal university process of sexual misconduct, they should refer that student to someone who is actually competent to help, and who does not have a conflict of interest.Report

Another female student
Another female student
5 years ago

I’ll add that with respect to this: “It appears he lacks the resources for a protracted legal battle against the university and the university is using its superior resources to secure his resignation,” in my (albeit limited, but greater than once) experience, if you really do have a case, finding an attorney to take you on pro bono is both possible and feasible.Report

Matt
5 years ago

in my (albeit limited, but greater than once) experience, if you really do have a case, finding an attorney to take you on pro bono is both possible and feasible.

This is not the area of law I work in, but I can say that, in many areas of law, this claim is not at all obviously true, even for people who are highly sympathetic and in much more urgent need of help. It is especially unlikely to be true of the case might linger for years. At the very least, no assumption about the strength of his case can be drawn from this.Report

Another female student
Another female student
5 years ago

Matt, I certainly did not mean for this claim to regard all areas of law — I think it obviously does not apply to, for example, defense cases. I did mean in cases where there are significant potential damages.Report

Yet Another Female Grad Student
Yet Another Female Grad Student
5 years ago

Forgive me if I’m mis-remembering something, but I believe the issue was a bit bigger than just that he “pointed out” what he believed to be a false claim (which is already a bit fraught, unless he has some real, substantiated insider knowledge beyond, say, his own judgment of the accused’s character or some such). Iirc, he (allegedly) went around interrogating faculty and other grad students about things like the accuser’s sex life, in order to compile a 35 page “document” (at least partly about the accuser’s bad character qua sex life / drinking / etc) that was somehow meant to prove the innocence of the accused (I guess?). If that’s right, I suppose it might be possible for a reasonable person to believe that this merely exhibits bad judgment or a certain social incompetence rather than straightforward retaliation. What’s not plausible is that he’s being summarily pushed out because They don’t like that he “points out” injustice.

Unless that comment was some kind of joke, given Barnett’s $2m defamation suit against the university for Jaggar’s support of the accuser. “This will surely cause people to hesitate to stand up for their own students” indeed.Report

gopher
gopher
5 years ago

“Yet Another”;
I agree it wasn’t just that he “pointed out” an injustice.
But I don’t think the report Barnett wrote (or as you call it, a “document” — but why did you put it in quotation marks, as if there is some serious doubt whether it is indeed a document?) was about the accuser’s bad character qua sex life/drinking/etc. Lots of misinformation was tossed around a few months ago. Maybe you could check your source for reliability?Report

Anon Female Grad Student
Anon Female Grad Student
5 years ago

@Yet Another Female Grad Student: Not quite. The ODH altered a significant number of the witnesses’ testimonies about what happened that night. Barnett took the report to the witnesses and asked, “Is this what you said?” In many cases, the answer was “no” or “part of it”. The document contained the errors of the ODH report in its reporting of what the witnesses said.Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
5 years ago

We don’t have to think Barnett is a hero to think that the university administration is way out of line here (given the information that is available) — (not identical to any posters above)Report

BenStone
BenStone
5 years ago

To agree with Matt’s comment above. Even if you have a slam-dunk case, getting a good attorney to sign on is more difficult than one might expect. In fact, in a case with which I am familiar, the claimant was only able to secure (paid) representation after a lawyer-friend made some referrals. The reasons for the difficulty vary greatly: the firm is already involved in a huge case, the attorney has a conflict of interest, the attorney doesn’t feel comfortable in that area of the law, the attorney’s plate is already full, etc. Moreover, in the Barnett case, the adversary is a large state university with huge amounts of money and lawyers on the payroll, whose sole job is to defend the university. Some lawyers simply can’t afford to become involved in such a process.Report

BenStone
BenStone
5 years ago

Wow. Good to see that there are still people out there who will think the worst of Barnett no matter what the actual evidence is. (Unless, of course, YAFGS has some of that ‘real, substantiated insider knowledge’ of which everyone else is unaware.) Keep up the good work!Report

AnonProf
AnonProf
5 years ago

What follows is from the faculty panel report. They concluded that he did not retaliate, but they also concluded that his behavior was completely inappropriate. The lionizing of Barnet here and elsewhere is bewildering to me. At best, I can’t see how one’s opinion goes beyond “a pox on both their houses”.

“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)”Report

Yet Another Anon Grad Student
Yet Another Anon Grad Student
5 years ago

AnonProf @ 16… I’m baffled as to why the reasons you just listed constitute “completely innapropriate behavior”. Too many details? Sarcasm? That may be inappropriate in the sense of lacking an air of formality. But from what I understand the document was only sent to a few key university officials who Barnett took to be the people in charge of handling the ODH. I don’t see how it could be considered punishable, never mind fireable. Are we really willing to say that a professor should have their benefits removed or should be subjected to some other disciplinary action because he or she sent the president of the university a sarcastic letter, or wasted the president’s time with too many details? I could maybe understand if Barnett said something overtly sexist. But even then, considering that it wasn’t public speech but was rather intended to be confidential testimony to appropriate university officials, I’m somewhat skeptical whether that should be punishable. He certainly wasn’t very clever in how he went about it, and we can speculate about his motives, but we certainly should NOT endorse the idea that writing a sarcastically worded document with “unnecessary arguments” is a sanctionable offense. That’s just nuts!Report

Anon7
Anon7
5 years ago

If anyone wants more information to draw their own conclusions, the faculty panel report is available online.
http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site21/2015/0113/20150113_093506_Barnett%20Initial%20Panel%20Report.pdf

I’m amused at the idea expressed through #16 and in the faculty report that an undocumented “letter of concern” to an administrator would have done anything at all. In my experience, such letters are balled up and trashed upon receipt.Report

AnonProf
AnonProf
5 years ago

I took ‘completely inappropriate behavior’ to be roughly synonymous with ‘conduct that falls below the minimal standards of professional integrity’. I was just pointing out that defenders of Barnett are cherrypicking what suits them from the faculty report. You can disagree with their negative conclusions regarding Barnett, but you do so from a very poor epistemic position and others could equally well disagree with the reports conclusions regarding retaliation.

I’m not saying that Barnett should have been fired. But the faculty panel thought his behavior was poor enough to recommend a year leave without pay. You cannot simply ignore this fact when describing what occurred so as to make turn Barnett into some freedom fighter whose only end was justice.Report

YetAnotherAnonProf
YetAnotherAnonProf
5 years ago

Here’s another passage from the faculty report which perhaps explains what they mean by sarcasm and excessive detail:

“The Barnett letter and supporting document is offensive and derogatory towards the Complainant. For example, Professor Barnett’s letter unnecessarily paints a very negative picture of the Complainant’s behavior and character (e.g., is the type of person who would fabricate a story, regardless of its consequences….’). Many comments were unnecessary if the primary reason for writing the report was to point out that the ODH report is flawed, rather than to paint a negative picture of the Complainant.

“Professor Barnett’s ‘evidence’ in the letter and supporting document is not entirely based on factual evidence (e.g., Witness 5 report is clearly hearsay and her opinion; The three hypotheses and ensuing arguments have several elements that are not based in witness testimonies).

“Even though Professor Barnett claimed that he did not intend for his letter and supporting document to be circulated widely, in the end this did occur. It is reasonable that he should consider that loss of confidentiality could occur with resultant adverse effects on the Complainant. For example, if he wanted to be sure that this didn’t happen he could have delivered a hard copy to the Chancellor and President and not circulate electronic copies to the Respondent and Witness 1. The fact that Barnett apparently permitted Witness 1 to have access to all other witness names and statements and drafts of his letter and supporting document was inappropriate. Professor Barnett’s failure to adequately protect the Complainant (a student in his department) from the effects of his actions falls below minimal standards of professional integrity.”

I think this supports YAFGS’s and AnonProf’s takes; the issue is not that Barnett was insufficiently formal and that the details wasted the President’s time, but that he was disparaging the Complainant’s character. It also seems as though he sent the document to more than just select university officials, but also to Respondent and Witness 1.

It is at least somewhat concerning from a procedural standpoint that the university’s president apparently chose to ignore the panel’s recommendations, and the difficulty of engaging in a protracted legal battle surely also played a role here. But the available evidence suggests that even if Barnett’s intent wasn’t retaliatory he, to put it mildly, fell considerably short of best practices when dealing with sexual assault allegations.

The slam against Yet Another Female Grad Student seems particularly uncalled for. If we think the evidence shows that another poster is wrong, we should explain how, shouldn’t we?Report

OhBoy
OhBoy
5 years ago

Look, I know that we all want philosophy jobs and that we all want our friends to have philosophy jobs. But this whole thing seems to have gotten really out of hand. UC Boulder and Barnett both just need to chill out. I don’t know enough about the initial story to say what the Complainant and or the fired Lecturer need to do, but my guess is, they should probably just keep writing philosophy, learn what they can from this experience, and just keep it moving.Report

Anon7
Anon7
5 years ago

@20
None of us I think have read any of Barnett’s letter to the administration or the accompanying documentation. The concern many of us have is that the essential grounds both the faculty panel and administration gave for punishing him was civility: it wasn’t what he said, but rather the tone in which he said it. That is, they concluded that he did not retaliate against the accuser or harass her in his investigation, but because he wrote a hypothetical in terms that other people did not like, he engaged in misconduct. Those grounds (basically tone-policing) are very similar to the justification by Illinois as to why they “un-hired” Steven Salaita — that he talked about issues in a way that the administration felt was inappropriate.

In other words, we are concerned that this is part of a wider movement to introduce a very vague “civility” requirement into hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions.Report

YetAnotherAnonProf
YetAnotherAnonProf
5 years ago

@22: Yes, none of us have read the underlying documentation; we have to go on the faculty panel’s report as the best evidence of what happened.

Given that, it is a major stretch to say that the criticisms the report makes of Prof. Barnett’s conduct is “tone policing” in any way like the pretexts that Illinois used to fire Salaita. Accusing a graduate student in your own department of being “the type of person who would fabricate a story, regardless of this consequences” [NB: the punctuation in the report makes it unclear whether this is a direct quotation] is a far cry from writing intemperate things about international affairs. It is also more than “wr[iting] a hypothetical in terms that other people did not like.”

And it’s disturbing to me the way people are using the finding that Barnett didn’t retaliate; if you read the report it means that Barnett’s intention wasn’t to retaliate against the Complainant, not that he wasn’t actually attacking her reputation or disparaging her. It’s possible to behave very badly toward someone who has filed a sexual assault complaint without intending to retaliate against her; the fact that the panel said he didn’t retaliate doesn’t mean that he didn’t engage in any misconduct other than a tone violation.Report

AnonProf
AnonProf
5 years ago

It was a 3 to 1 vote against termination. That’s as close to a split decision as it is a unanimous vote. And almost everything they described as bad behavior concerns the content, not the tone, of his document and the means by which he conducted his “investigation”.

I just can’t see why the proper conclusion isn’t something like: Barnett acted terribly in all sorts of ways, but he shouldn’t have been fired and the administration acted incredibly poorly as well.Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
5 years ago

From the minority position (the one professor who recommended termination): “Professor Barnett chose to make an example of the ODH case with the Respondent in his effort to change the CU system. If he did not get any traction from either the Chancellor or the President he should have realized that this was a lost cause. At that point he had two choices: a. swallow his pride and go back to his regular duties or b. leave CU. His persistence in ignoring the CU system is alone grounds for dismissal. None of us as faculty have the right to redesign an administrative system just because we don’t like the work that they have done. Anyone who thinks that does not belong in the system.”

This is very disturbing. “His persistence in ignoring the CU system is alone grounds for dismissal” — really? Faculty out there, do you believe that one should try to change administrative structures that are unjust? Do you believe that sometimes that requires working outside of those administrative structures? You don’t belong in the academic world. You should quit your job *now*, questioning your administrative system, or ignoring the structures of power that exist at your university is grounds for dismissal. So much for faculty governance, now it’s “shut up or get out”. You don’t have the right to redesign the administrative system. Swallow your pride and get back to work. *You* (faculty) work for *us* (administration).Report

Anon7
Anon7
5 years ago

@23 The faculty report indicated that the content they disliked was part of one of three hypotheticals which they called too philosophical to be appropriate, not as I read it, a direct accusation leveled at the student. Quoting from the report: “The letter also 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.” In other words, he was punished because he wrote a hypothetical in a way that was “unflattering.”

@24 The vote was 4 to 1 against termination, not 3 to 1. I would agree with your conclusion that the administration acted incredibly poorly throughout this case, and in addition in regards the site visit controversy there.Report

YetAnotherAnonProf
YetAnotherAnonProf
5 years ago

Anon7: “The faculty report indicated that the content they disliked was part of one of three hypotheticals which they called too philosophical to be appropriate, not as I read it, a direct accusation leveled at the student.”

That’s not the way it seems to me. The “fabricate” quote is from a completely different section of the report than the one where they discuss alternative constructs. I suppose we can’t be sure that the content they disliked wasn’t one of the hypotheticals, but in the absence of inside information it at least seems likely that when they say the letter “unnecessarily paints a very negative picture of the Complainant’s behavior and character” they mean exactly what they say in that passage. At the least it seems overhasty to conclude that they’re tone policing on the hypothetical without further evidence that this refers to hypotheticals.Report

Close reader
Close reader
5 years ago

I agree that it’s hard to sort out whether the “fabricate” quotation refers to one of the three hypotheticals, or to a purported description of the Complainant. Here’s the whole passage: “The Barnett letter and supporting document is offensive and derogatory towards the Complainant. For example, Professor Barnett’s letter unnecessarily paints a very negative picture of the Complainant’s behavior and character (e.g., is the type of person who would fabricate a story, regardless of its consequences….’). Many comments were unnecessary if the primary reason for writing the report was to point out that the ODH report is flawed, rather than to paint a negative picture of the Complainant”
My best guess is that the passage is referring to the content of one of the hypotheticals. I think this because it refers to the comments as “unnecessary” rather than “slanderous”. The authors of the report thought the hypotheticals were unnecessary in a report aimed at pointing out the flaws in the ODH report.
As I said, this is just a best guess, and I’m open to hearing other interpretations.Report

Sigrid
Sigrid
5 years ago

Does Barnett’s buyout agreement have impact on his defamation lawsuit against CU, diStefano and Jagger? Ie, is he agreeing to drop the lawsuit as part of the settlement, or is that separate?Report

Yet Another Anon Grad Student
Yet Another Anon Grad Student
5 years ago

This is astounding. The document literally says that his behavior was unprofessional in large part because HE SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED OTHER PEOPLE TO VIOLATE CONFIDENTIALITY. Have you people defending the decision stopped for a moment to think about what this means? It means, in effect, that anyone who attempts to complain or blow a whistle about this sort of thing is automatically behaving unprofessionally because it is possible that the people to whom they are complaining might randomly decide to dessiminate their confidential complaints. This is madness. The people who keep citing the decision as scripture should actually bother to read it. In effect, the only grounds for unprofessional behavior is a document that was intended to be sent to university officials who are responsible for the ODH, and a single disputed conversation. The panel found that the actual investigation Barnett conducted was NOT below minimum standards. Since one disputed he-said-she-said conversation is not a reasonable grounds for any sort of punishment, the entire decision must really rest on the content of the document.

What are these professional standards such that they apply not only to what is said publicly but also to what is said in what is supposed to be a confidential complaint? It is the burden of the people who handle the complaints to sort through the content. Do you people really want university administrators to have the power to decide whether the content of a confidential complaint that no one else will see is grounds for immediate summary pubishment? You are essentially giving them the power to fire and destroy any whistle blower as they see fit. I couldn’t give a good god damn about moralizing Barnett one way or another. He could be a monster and this decision would still be unacceptable because of the precedent that it sets.Report

gopher
gopher
5 years ago

I agree with anon fgs @25. The dissent is maybe the most disturbing part of the report. It says that a professor should be fired for fighting an injustice if the professor continues to fight once it becomes clear that the administration is not going to fix the unjust system.Report

YetAnotherAnonProf
YetAnotherAnonProf
5 years ago

“The document literally says that his behavior was unprofessional in large part because HE SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED OTHER PEOPLE TO VIOLATE CONFIDENTIALITY. Have you people defending the decision stopped for a moment to think about what this means? It means, in effect, that anyone who attempts to complain or blow a whistle about this sort of thing is automatically behaving unprofessionally because it is possible that the people to whom they are complaining might randomly decide to dessiminate their confidential complaints.”

The paragraph about violation of confidentiality clearly states, and uses as its example of how Barnett should have expected confidentiality to be breached, that he sent electronic copies of his document to “Respondent and Witness 1.” That is to say, the person who was accused of sexual assault and someone else who was at the party. It also says that he showed Witness 1 all his witness names and statements. It also said (section 1b) that “the evidence suggests that the Respondent was a primary source of confidential information,” in the context of arguing that Barnett did not engage in retaliation by spreading rumors.

Which is to say, the panel thinks that the evidence shows that the rumors came largely from the Respondent to whom Barnett sent his dossier. That does seem entirely predictable, and it absolutely does not mean that “the people to whom [he was] complaining… randomly decide[d] to dessiminate [his] confidential complaints.” Where is your evidence that the Chancellor of UCB and the President of CU, who were the official recipients of the letter, violated confidentiality? Nor was it “a confidential complaint that no one else will see.”

I missed your claim in @17 that “the document was only sent to a few key university officials,” but that’s clearly contradicted by the report.Report

Oh, philosophers
Oh, philosophers
5 years ago

“This is astounding. The document literally says that his behavior was unprofessional in large part because HE SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED OTHER PEOPLE TO VIOLATE CONFIDENTIALITY.”

No. It does not literally say that.

“It means, in effect, that anyone who attempts to complain or blow a whistle about this sort of thing is automatically behaving unprofessionally because it is possible that the people to whom they are complaining might randomly decide to dessiminate their confidential complaints.”

No. It also does not “in effect” mean that.

Not “anyone”, not “attempts”, not (simply) “complain”, not “this sort of thing”, not “automatically”, not “because it is possible”, not “to whom”, not “might”, not “randomly”. There are hardly fewer falsehoods conveyed by this sentence than there are words in it. That a critique requires this much unwarranted massaging of the facts should surely motivate some second thoughts.Report