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Thursday, September 17, 2009

One of my favorite organizations is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). I previously posted on their defense of free expression at Bucknell University.

Always on the prowl, FIRE has recently come to the aid of Thomas Thibeault, a recently fired (and suspended, which I'll soon explain) professor at East Georgia College. Prior to his firing/suspension, Prof. Thibeault was a respected professor who never received a negative review and was recently placed on tenure track.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Prof. Thibeault engaged in the following conversation at a routine sexual harassment training session:

The story Mr. Thibeault told related to a conversation he said he'd had with a student a week earlier. She was complaining that she did not want to go to another professor's office because the professor stared at her cleavage. At the meeting, Mr. Thibeault said the student was wearing a very low-cut top "designed to draw attention to her cleavage," according to his written statement. She also had a tattoo on her chest, he said, and her cleavage was "decorated" with glitter (or maybe it was barbecue sauce, he said).

"I told the student that she shouldn't complain if she drew such attention to herself," Mr. Thibeault says he related at the meeting with the vice president. Then he says he asked the vice president what provisions in the college's sexual-harassment policy protected against "complaints which are malicious, or in this case ridiculous."

Mr. Thibeault says Ms. Smith, the vice president, said there were no such provisions, and he says she instructed people to report to the college any stories they had heard about sexual harassment by other professors. Mr. Thibeault says he told Ms. Smith the policy was "flawed."

First, the college believes professors should have no protection against unfounded sexual harassment claims. Second, the college wants professors like Prof. Thibeault to report other professors for unfounded sexual harassment claims. As I told my own college's disciplinary review board during my undergraduate years, "Finger-pointing is not accountability."

Two days after challenging the school's sexual harassment policy, Prof. Thibeault was fired by EGC President John Bryant Black for "sexual harassment," calling Thibealt "a divisive force in the college at a time when the college needed unity." He was given the choice of resigning or being fired. Thibealt, who was denied the right to face his accuser or even here the accusation made against him, refused to resign. Black then threatened him with arrest if he did not leave the campus and not return by 11:30am.

Less than one week later, Thibealt received a letter from Black, stating, "EGC has begun dismissal proceedings....Their charge is to advise me whether or not dismissal proceedings shall be undertaken." Apparently, Black realized he violated Thibealt's right to due process as guaranteed by the Georgia Board of Regents. The dismissal proceedings led to Thibealt's suspension.

Here's a quick summary of events:
  • Black fires Thibealt
  • Black threatens Thibealt with arrest if he does not leave the campus
  • Black informs Thibealt his case is under review
  • Black suspends Thibealt
After all of this, Thibealt still has not been informed of either his accuser or the accusation made against him. According to FIRE director Adam Kissel:
It is hard to imagine a worse failure of due process in this case. Nobody knows what the actual allegations are because they are being kept secret, even from Thibeault himself. In the stunning absence of any charges, evidence, or hearings, it is clear that EGC has punished Professor Thibeault for speaking out against a flawed harassment policy.

Posted by Eleutherian

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