• April 23, 2014

Instructor Suspended After Criticizing Sex-Harassment Policy Is Reinstated

An English instructor at East Georgia College who was accused of violating the college's sexual-harassment policy in August, and suspended after he used a risqué story to criticize the policy in public, has been reinstated, and the sexual-harassment charges against him have been dropped, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

But the college's president, John B. Black, wrote a letter to the instructor last month saying he was still being reprimanded for using "offensive language in public work spaces," and warning him to "refrain from angry outbursts when interacting with your colleagues." The college has also asked the instructor, Thomas Thibeault, to sign a statement acknowledging that he is "expected to act in a professional manner at all times" on the campus.

The foundation, also known as FIRE, criticized the college today for issuing the reprimand without specifying what Mr. Thibeault said that was offensive and without holding a hearing on the charges against him. Mr. Black did not respond to a telephone call and an e-mail inquiry from The Chronicle seeking comment.

John Millsaps, a spokesman for the Georgia Board of Regents, said: "Given that this is a personnel matter at the institutional level, we do not see the need for additional comment."

The whole controversy started last August, when Mr. Thibeault, who has worked as a full-time instructor at the college for five years, attended a meeting during which a college administrator explained the campus's anti-harassment policy. During the meeting, Mr. Thibeault said students' complaints of sexual harassment could be frivolous, and as evidence he related an encounter he said he'd had with a young woman who he said was dressed provocatively, with her cleavage showing. Yet she complained to Mr. Thibeault that another professor always stared at her breasts, the instructor said.

Following the meeting, Mr. Thibeault said, he was called to the president's office and asked to resign on the spot or face a police escort off the campus, which is exactly what happened.

In a letter to the instructor last August, Mr. Black said a faculty panel had found sufficient evident "to support your suspension," and he told Mr. Thibeault that he was "about to be terminated for cause" for violating the college's sexual-harassment policy.

But according to the more-recent letter Mr. Black sent in October, the charges against Mr. Thibeault were referred to the state attorney general's office and subsequently dropped. Still, the statement the college asked Mr. Thibeault to sign cites a college policy he must abide by "prohibiting disruptive behavior on the part of any student, faculty member, administrator, or employee."

The statement also says some people at the college fear that Mr. Thibeault “will lose his temper and do something rash.”

In a telephone interview today, Mr. Thibeault said he would sign the statement but add one of his own, saying that despite the college’s suggestion, he had never done anything to intimidate anyone.

Comments

1. zefelius - November 04, 2009 at 06:16 am

The irony is that being physically and sexually provocative is often viewed, in this case as well as many others, as not constituting sexual harassment; whereas merely pointing it out, speaking about it, or looking at that which is displayed will often be taken as what counts for harassment. If we were to ask our students to cover their sexual body parts a bit more, we would be labelled as sexist. But if we take delight in the beauty of that which is being presented in the public realm, then we shall be reprimanded for sexual harassment. Proper protocal today requires that we pretend that our environmet is sexually neutral, when clearly it is not. We are required to remain professional when our environment is not. And if it be said that we are the ones invested with power, wheras the students are not; the most obvious, but often suppressed, response is that today this is no longer truly the case: lecturers, instructors, and just about anyone without tenure is more vulnerable on average than the students themselves. This very kind of situation exemplifies the point: those who actually expose themselves in suggestive ways are perfectly within their rights to do so, while those who verbally and visually take notice are, strangely enough, looked upon as the unseemly and aggressive. Grades are one more example of the shift of power: we know there is universal grade inflation, and it wouldn't be astonshing to learn that a major part of the reason for this is due to so many part-time and ntt positions. As a lecturer, if I grade my students according to reasonable standards, plenty more of them would receive much lower grades than they do. But student evaluations reign, and jobs depend upon them. Overall, those of us who are in the ranks of the ntt are in a defensive position vis-a-vis power, sexual harassment issues, pay, respect, free speech, and so on and so forth.

2. tridaddy - November 04, 2009 at 09:03 am

Zefelius is correct, at least IMHO. I once had a female student enter my office wearing a front zippered dress with the zipper very low in the front. Her reason for the visit was to discuss a grade she has earned that was not to her liking. There was no style reason, or reason otherwise for this student to be dressed as she was other than to distract and use her physique as a means to manipulate. I said nothing to her regarding her dress and did nothing to change her grade. In reality someone should have taken her aside and informed her that she was doing exactly what many of us were fighting against, that is only seeing women as sexual objects rather than complete, diginfied beings of the human race. None of us can deny we have at times seen individuals dressed in very provocative ways and felt something needed to be said, but remained silent b/c of the power of the student.

3. panacea - November 04, 2009 at 09:44 am

Young ladies who engage in this type of behavior set women back (I am female, fyi). They create a double standard: they don't want to be sexually harrassed, then don't want to take accountability for dressing in a manner that is purely intended to attract attention.

If you dress in a manner designed to highlight your sexuality, then you should not be offended when others take notice.

I can't see how remarking on a student's statement constitutes sexual harrassment. Did Mr. Thibeault create an environment that was hostile to that student? Doesn't sound like it. Did he demand sexual favors in return for a grade. No. Where's the hostile or intimidating behavior here? What exactly did Mr. Thibeault do other than point out a college policy opened the doors for frivolous complaints?

4. 11262324 - November 04, 2009 at 10:05 am

All of the previous remarks are well on target. As an administrator, I really have to question the manner in which this president reacted to this particular situation. If is this is his normal mode of dealing with "hot" issues, it doesn't bode well for this Georgia institution.

5. rkitchner - November 04, 2009 at 10:32 am

In the infamous words of Laurence Fehlingheti, "I am Waiting. . ." I am waiting for the inevitable liberated liberally indignant posting from a (wo)man who takes exception to anyone suggesting that a woman's right to expose her anatomy does not absolve a man from the responsibility to see her as being without gender. She is permitted to manipulate, but the man who accepts the offer is the only one who is charged with manipulation. She can flaunt, but if he acknowledges it without extending any benefit to her efforts, she can retaliate with specious claims of harassment. Way to go American justice!

6. uschistory - November 04, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Just yesterday I was sorely tempted to ask a male student who was walking in front of me to pull his pants up, as they were half way down his backside, exposing his white underwear to full view. I guess saying anything would be construed as sexual harassment. Perhaps we need to return to dress codes.

7. cwinton - November 04, 2009 at 12:29 pm

The back story for this article pretty clearly demonstrates a pattern of incompetence on the part of the EGC administration that should cause some heads to roll. I would hope the Georgia Board of Regents will institute an independent review with an eye towards cleaning this place up. In this case we see a poorly conceived policy, poorly presented, and then poorly applied by individuals who apparently have no concept of due process. They now apprently fear Mr. Thibeault might do something rash? The only rash and disruptive behavior in evidence appears to be the actions of members of the EGC administration.

8. glord - November 04, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Note to self: Withdraw application from EGC.

9. new_theologian - November 04, 2009 at 02:02 pm

I will go further than most here have gone. I believe that it is a form of sexual harassment to dress in ways that overtly sexualize a professional atmosphere, wherein responding to the sexualization of the atmosphere would be inappropriate. It creates an uncomfortable working environment. Human sexuality working as it does, most men must consciously resist sexual thoughts in the face of certain sexualized forms of dress worn by women. They should not be put in a position where they have to do this. This is why reasonable dress codes should be at least unspoken and observed where a sexual atmosphere is not appropriate.

10. chandrak - November 04, 2009 at 02:48 pm

zefelius has given a good statement. Sexual harassment is a misunderstood word. Women can charge anybody with sexual harassment if they don't like them. We had a situation where a female instructor has exhibited her private parts. The administration told us in a workshop that we should not look or stare at her. I asked them: "could I look at her once in a while."' They all laughed.

11. erikjensen - November 04, 2009 at 03:46 pm

Mr. Thibeault and East Georgia College administrators all appear ridiculous here. Mr. Thibeault and every other professor should be professional enough to ignore cleavage and focus on their jobs of educating students. But Mr. Thibeault has the right to question and clarify the college's policies in an employee training situation. The apparent overreaction of the administration reeks of PC thought control.

12. drangie - November 04, 2009 at 04:17 pm

new_theologian is right. It should be considered as sexual harassment for a student, staff or faculty member to appear in the professional campus environment in a state of dress (or behavior, for that matter) that is sexually provocative. I consider myself harassed when a student comes in to my classroom or office dressed in a manner that is clearly designed to expose and titillate. This sexual harassment business has to be a two-way street.

13. norton95 - November 04, 2009 at 04:33 pm

As a parent of a young woman, I definitely discuss appropriate dress with my daughter, but as a staff member at a university I expect faculty and staff to act in a professional manner - no matter the clothing (or lack therefof) worn.

A doctor who comments on a woman's body while doing an exam in which she has no clothes on is expected to keep comments about her sexuality to himself. Granted the woman is not being "deliberatively" provocative, but many women are naturally so.

Professionals, medical or at a university, should be expected to keep their eyes where they belong and their comments to themselves!

14. minnesotan - November 05, 2009 at 02:23 pm

RE: norton95's comment, to attract someone's gaze and get mad at them for gazing is absurd behavior. Don't support it by policing people's eyeballs -- most of the time we don't consciously control where our eyes rest, especially when we're thinking about weighty topics.

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