• October 22, 2014

AAUP Accuses Bethune-Cookman U. of Denying Due Process to 7 Dismissed Professors

[Updated with the university's response, 5:14 p.m., U.S. Eastern time]

An investigative panel of the American Association of University Professors has accused Bethune-Cookman University of denying due process to seven dismissed professors, including four men who, the panel says, were fired for sexual harassment based mainly on hearsay and on complaints from unnamed students relayed to administrators by a consultant.

In a report issued on Friday, the AAUP panel broadly characterized Bethune-Cookman, a historically black college in Daytona Beach, Fla., of being "repressive of academic freedom."

"A pervasive atmosphere currently exists at Bethune-Cookman University in which the administration supports favorites and ignores or punishes those who fall out of favor or who question, contend, or appeal," the report says. "No adequate mechanism or procedure exists for the impartial or balanced hearing of grievances."

The University Responds

Bethune-Cookman officials on Monday issued a statement in which its university counsel, Pamela G. Browne, said the AAUP report "contains many errors and false assertions and presents a one-sided view" of how the university handled the matters in question. With respect to the four professors accused of sexual harassment, she said the university had no other recourse, after a review of the evidence, but to suspend the professors immediately.

"When faced with conduct that poses not only a threat to student safety but also creates an immeasurable exposure for legal liability, a university has a responsibility to take swift action once it has been given notice of such a threat," Ms. Browne said.

The university's statement was accompanied by a review of its handling of the sexual-harassment allegations conducted by David Honig, an outside lawyer. His report, delivered to the university in June, describes the university's case for dismissing the four in detail and concludes that the university's handling of the allegations against them "needed to be expedited for reasons of student health and safety."

Mr. Honig's report, which does not name the four professors but instead assigns them numbers, includes salacious details about how they were accused by other faculty members of maintaining an apartment where they took students for sex. One of the faculty members cited as a source of the allegations, whose name is not given, said a student had complained that one of the professors tried to rape her.

Anonymous Accusations

All seven of the faculty members covered by the report were dismissed last year. Besides the four men accused of sexual harassment, they include three other professors fired after clashes with the administration. One was dismissed for purportedly lacking sufficient graduate credentials, but, the AAUP report says, was denied a chance to demonstrate he had indeed earned the academic credits the university asked him to have.

The other two were among 34 faculty and staff members that Bethune-Cookman said it had dismissed for budgetary reasons, even though the university had failed, as required by the AAUP, to issue a formal declaration of financial exigency before taking such a step.

The four professors fired for alleged sexual harassment initially were accused by a human-resources consultant, the People Business, that had been hired by Bethune-Cookman to conduct universitywide interviews regarding the selection of a new vice president for academic affairs.

The consultant relayed rumors of sexual harassment implicating the four professors to the administration at about the same time the university's president, Trudie Kibbe Reed, received an e-mail from a student who reported hearing complaints about a professor's having inappropriate relations with students, the report says.

Ms. Reed then directed a university administrator to survey students in the university's school of social sciences, where the four men taught, and the administrator reported back the finding that students in the school felt sexual harassment was a problem there. The administrator's report also cited a visiting faculty member's complaint that the men had engaged in inappropriate sexual activities with students, as well as an incident where a student had once complained, in front of witnesses, about being sexually harassed by one of the four.

The administrator's report offered only "grounds for suspicion," the AAUP panel said. The report says that the panel did not find any sign of a written complaint of harassment by a student and that no committee was formed to hear evidence from both sides before the professors were dismissed.

"The four were accused, suspended, and dismissed without having received specific written charges and without having been afforded an opportunity to confront and cross-examine witnesses against them," the AAUP report says.

The statement issued by the university said it did not need to follow the usual procedure of forming a faculty committee to investigate the professors because the original sources of the allegations against them—faculty interviews conducted by an outside consultant, followed by a study survey—fell outside of the university faculty handbook's definition of the circumstances requiring an investigative committee's formation.

Comments

1. henr1055 - October 25, 2010 at 04:44 pm

Darwin will unfortunately take care of this kind of thing.

2. princeton67 - October 25, 2010 at 09:00 pm

A couple observations:
(1) The article says "dismissed"; Ms. Browne says "suspend": which?
(2) "swift action": were the 4 profs fired immediately? Or suspended, and then fired? "swift action" can mean anything the college wants.
(3) According to the last paragraph, B-C can define "circumstances requiring....a committee" and then initiate a process ("faculty interviews...a survey") circumventing those circumstances. The fox is guarding not only the henhouse, but itself.

3. amnirov - October 25, 2010 at 09:02 pm

Useless joke of an institution

4. teacher123 - October 26, 2010 at 08:04 am

Follow the career of Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed, and a disturbing pattern emerges: she has now been censured twice by AAUP, for the same violations of academic freedom and faculty rights. In both cases, she responds with over-the-top defenses that try to smear her opponents and deflect attention from her violations of basic canons of academic protocol. One has to wonder what she is seeking to hide, when she mounts a national smear campaign against faculty fired for alleged sexual harassment, immediately after they are fired. And when she solicits statements of support from national figures like Rev. Sharpton.

It cannot be an accident that AAUP has now censured this president twice, at two different institutions, for the same reason. Even her handling of the AAUP statements suggests that this is a ruthless and dictatorial academic leader far more concerned about her own reputation than about sound, principled academic leadership.

5. panacea - October 26, 2010 at 09:25 am

I'm wondering why the police didn't get involved.

These allegations, particularly the one about an alleged attempted rape, are serious enough that the police should have been called.

That they were not smells of a cover up job.

6. tuxthepenguin - October 26, 2010 at 10:00 am

It sounds like the faculty members were fired because someone heard a rumor about someone else overhearing something related to sexual harrassment.

Hardly grounds to fire someone. I smell a seven-figure lawsuit. I wonder if BCU has donors lined up to pay for it.

7. sahmphd - October 26, 2010 at 11:29 am

The AAUP reports that there is "No adequate mechanism or procedure exists for the impartial or balanced hearing of grievances." I was at a university where there WAS such a mechanism. But the President of the University opted to ignore the recommendations that were the products of this mechanism. Mechanisms to protect faculty are worthless if administrators can choose to not pay attention to them.

8. teacher123 - October 26, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed's first censure by AAUP, when she was president of Philander Smith College, has already entered academic conversations as a case study in a president's clear-cut violation of the academic freedom of faculty members and refusal to adhere to her institution's governing documents in dealing with faculty: see Matthew W. Finkin and Robert C. Post, For the Common Good: Principles of American Academic Freedom (Yale Univ. Press, 2009), pp. 211, 237, and 251.

I cannot think of any other sitting president of a college or university in the U.S. who has been censured twice by AAUP for the same violations, which she/he repeated at a subsequent institution.

9. citizenship - October 27, 2010 at 01:19 pm

The question/statement about not notifying the police:

Follow link in the first paragraph to a previous CHE article. It states the police were notified.

10. teacher123 - October 27, 2010 at 05:57 pm

Citizenship, the Honig report linked to the website of Bethune-Cookman University says that the police were called in by Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed when a student came to her alleging sexual harassment and/or rape by a professor or professors.

It goes on to say, however, that a plan was developed to plant a wire on the student making the allegations and then was not implemented.

What is left unanswered is whether the president of Bethune-Cookman University immediately reported allegations of rape to the police, and assured that there was police follow-through. If I am not mistaken, there is a legal obligation to report all such cases immediately to the police and to assure that action is taken immediately.

The Honig report says that the allegations were made "early in 2009" but the professors were terminated in May 2009. Why did it take so long for the university to act if rape was involved? Is that not an indicator of malfeasance on the part of the school's administration, though it is claiming its reason for firing the professors without due process was because there were proven allegations of rape?

Something about this story does not hold together. If the police recommended placing a wire on the student rather than taking proactive action immediately to prevent any further sexual assault, they were irresponsible, and possibly broke the law.

And if the president of the university accepted such an arrangement, she is guilty of gross malfeasance, and her actions to not match her claim that she ignored due process and fired these professors because there were proven allegations of rape.

11. teacher123 - October 27, 2010 at 05:59 pm

Citizenship, the Honig report linked to the website of Bethune-Cookman University says that the police were called in by Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed when a student came to her alleging sexual harassment and/or rape by a professor or professors.

It goes on to say, however, that a plan was developed to plant a wire on the student making the allegations and then was not implemented.

What is left unanswered is whether the president of Bethune-Cookman University immediately reported allegations of rape to the police, and assured that there was police follow-through. If I am not mistaken, there is a legal obligation to report all such cases immediately to the police and to assure that action is taken immediately.

The Honig report says that the allegations were made "early in 2009" but the professors were terminated in May 2009. Why did it take so long for the university to act if rape was involved? Is that not an indicator of malfeasance on the part of the school's administration, though it is claiming its reason for firing the professors without due process was because there were proven allegations of rape?

Something about this story does not hold together. If the police recommended placing a wire on the student rather than taking proactive action immediately to prevent any further sexual assault, they were irresponsible, and possibly broke the law.

And if the president of the university accepted such an arrangement, she is guilty of gross malfeasance, and her actions to not match her claim that she ignored due process and fired these professors because there were proven allegations of rape.

12. velcorno2 - November 05, 2010 at 06:59 pm

I have been following the Chronicle's article and also on line articles that have appeared in Daytona Beach's daily paper as well as articles on line. As an educator and a parent of a college student, I applaud the actions of the president of Bethune-Cookman. She might not have done what was popular in some quarters but, in my view, she did what was absolutely right! I can't begin to imagine how the lives of these females have been changed forever by the actions of professors that clearly took advantage of their positions. This University president was right to protect these students. Her actions needed to be swift lest other students had been "invited" to participate in such lewd and base behaviors.

I have read about a young woman at the college who broke down in a class there because of the pressure of being solicited for sex by a professor at their college. The professor took the student to see his dean who went to see the college's president. Apparently this happened at the same time that a lot of other teachers were reporting to a consultant what they knew about other students who had experienced similar or worst solicitations and harassment.

I don't know about others but, I think the right thing to always do is protect the students. I know I would want someone to make my child's well-being a priority in these kinds of situations and I'm glad that this president did!

13. teacher123 - November 08, 2010 at 06:41 pm

I think you're missing a very important point, Velcorno2. No one disputes that cases of sexual harrassment of students by faculty should be handled expeditiously, and with an intent to protect students.

What is at stake here is the right of accused faculty members to know the specific charges against them, to have a fair hearing, to have a committee appointed to conform to a school's written policies hear the case and made a recommendation.

You are arguing that a president should have the right to ride roughshod over the rights of faculty and violate the written procedures of her university. This gives dangerous power to a president and allows her to do great harm to the entire university she leads, by ignoring the rights of faculty and due process for faculty.

This is the second time that the AAUP has found that Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed has behaved this way, at two separate schools. I don't know of any other sitting college president who has been censured twice by the AAUP. The double censure for precisely the same reasons suggests there's a real problem with this president and the way she governs.

Note, too, that she did not fire a dean credibly accused of sexual harrassment, but fired the female faculty member making those accusations. What are the principles and policies by which this president governs?

14. gretchen231 - November 11, 2010 at 06:34 pm

Thank goodness someone finally got the priorities right. Human rights (that is the right of young women) came first. I applaud Dr. Reed for protecting the young victims' safety and well-being by firing employees who perpetrated sexual harassment abuses against them and apparently against others, according to Honig's report about student surveys.

15. teacher123 - November 14, 2010 at 09:41 am

Gretchen, you say, "Human rights (that is the right of young women) came first."

But faculty members have human rights, too. No one is disputing that faculty who abuse students should be fired.

The point at stake here is how that should be done. Should a president have the right to decide unilaterally that a faculty member is guilty of a charge, hire a study done to prove that, and then fire the faculty member--without due process, and without regard for a university's written procedures for handling such cases?

How do you safeguard the human rights of employees in an institution where presidents have such dictatorial powers--and a proven history of abusing their powers as a university president?

Sounds to me like it's no accident that Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed has the distinction of being the only college president in the U.S. to be censured twice by AAUP--for the very same violations of the human rights of her employees at two different institutions.

16. gretchen231 - November 17, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I do not disagree that faculty members have rights, too; but the young women's rights must be first.

As a parent, we've sent two daughters and a son through college. I would not have paid to send our children to a college where a survey reports that faculty sexually harass students and the college keeps the faculty because of due process. I would not spend one dime there. By her action, the president has sent a message to parents that the college there values and protects the safety of our daughters and sons. That's what parents want to know. I would never have put our children's safety after faculty who want warnings and more chances to sexually harass yet more students. I don't know a parent who would put faculty rights over their children's safety and right to go to college without be sexually harassed by faculty. Thank you Dr. Reed for acting swiftly in protecting women's rights and the rights of young women to be treated as students and not as a faculty's sex objects.

17. teacher123 - November 18, 2010 at 08:55 am

You're still missing the point, Gretchen. You say, "I would not have paid to send our children to a college where a survey reports that faculty sexually harass students and the college keeps the faculty because of due process."

The point is, these faculty never got due process. No one is arguing that faculty who abuse students should be retained--after their cases have been handled appropriately, with recourse to the written standards of an institution.

What you are arguing for is this: a university professor arbitrarily targets some faculty, singling them out with claims they have sexually harassed students. At the same time, she ignores claims that other faculty are engaged in sexual harrassment and even fires the faculty member reporting this.

She then arbitrarily decides to fire these faculty members and brings in an outside consultant (who is paid by her and under her supervision) to write a report justifying what she is doing.

Permitting a president to behave this way, and claim she is doing what she is doing to protect students, places unchecked dictatorial power in her hands. What is to prevent her in future from targeting other faculty members whom she dislikes, trumping up charges against them, soliciting the help of outside consultants whom she pays and instructs to find certain data?

It is terrible for a university when any president has such unchecked power in her hands. The president in this case, Trudie Kibbe Reed, has a history of behaving this way and of being censured by AAUP for such behavior. That history points to a serious problem with her style of leadership. The attempt to paint all this as protecting young women and their rights is a cynical maneuver on this president's part, it seems to me, as I read the two AAUP reports about her at two different institutions.

18. teacher123 - November 18, 2010 at 07:34 pm

In paragraph three of my last posting, I wrote, "...a university professor arbitrarily targets some faculty...."

I meant to write, ..a university president arbitrarily targets some faculty...."

19. noelcookman - November 22, 2010 at 06:22 am

It should be noted that AAUP is a union. It's job is first and foremost self-preservation. Secondly, it is concerned with the preservation of the members' jobs (really their dues or contributions).

As such and as is the case universally, "academic freedom" is a euphemism for job security. And academics have the best. They do not have to be smart. They do not have to be good teachers. They do not even have to teach (as is the case with many tenured professors who leave the teaching to underlings). And, under the name "academic freedom" they flout and flaunt every conceivable malfeasance in the face of the public, the parents and the benefactors who ultimately pay them.

The defenders of the terminated academics seek to impose "due process" when there is no rational expectation of it. "Due process" applies to the legal system and not to private or even public universities. Critics of the University's President confuse the two realms. But, they do so because they wish to mislead others into thinking that there has been an egregious violation of law or protocol.

The real and only outrage (in the eyes of the union) is that a tenured professor has been terminated. For whatever reason, this shall never stand with the mighty union.

For the record, I care more about a university's ability to deal with their own issues than I do about the imprimatur of some union that rabidly defends its members on technicalities but is unable to impose a code of conduct on the same.

The real outrage is why the AAUP doesn't have some disciplinary procedures upon academics. If they do, where are they in this case? If they do not, they should be quiet and crawl back into their paneled caves.

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