In light of the recent firings of Dixie State University professors Glenn Webb and Ken Peterson, it was reasonable to expect that there would be a public outcry. As the social media threads began to flood with comments and questions, it was a familiar theme of calls to write the Board of Trustees and perhaps the Utah Board of Regents in the hopes that some measure of governance over the public university here in St. George would administer some sensibility to the situation. My first reaction was admittedly to note the naivete of those purporting that such things would have any meaningful effect. Past experiences have consistency demonstrated otherwise.
So when I called in to the Kate Dalley show last Friday afternoon to talk a little about the situation and some of the perhaps precursors which lead to the current events, I was caught unprepared for her question of what can people do? And convicted of my own often admonition of the saying that the identification of a problem, absent a solution, is merely a complaint, I felt compelled to formulate an answer.
Over the weekend, I gave it some serious consideration, and on one of the Facebook threads concerning the firings, I offered a course of action that will prove effective in these matters.
I should like to recap that now and expound some on the suggestion to the students, faculty, and community as a whole.
First and foremost, while intending no disparagement whatsoever to those who appeal to the emotional narrative that these men were beloved professors and pillars in the community, it cannot be emphasized enough that however true this may be, it is not the point. The point is to ascertain whether or not their firings were just, legal, ethical, and in line with legitimate policies and procedures as well as state and federal laws and, if the previous cases are any indicators, to determine if the motive behind the firings was an abuse of entrusted authority granted the university and its subsequent administration as well as the state entities that govern and represent the school, up to and including members of local government who also hold positions on the board of trustees.
And in the process of discovering these things, be diligent in the following things:
—Exhaust any and all administrative remedies. This means that even if a policy is in flagrant contradiction to the law, the time to sort that out is in court at a later date. At present, due diligence is to know the policy and the law as it exists and follow both explicitly. This means, for example, that despite the fact that at some point in a previous case a letter to the Utah Commissioner of Higher Education David Buhler outlining possible abuses by DSU President Biff Williams was subsequently emailed to Williams within a short period of receiving it thus exposing the person who wrote it to the possible retaliation written about to begin with, it is a necessary risk because it eventually exposes these things. And it cannot be maintained by the school or otherwise that efforts to resolve a matter administratively were not attempted.
—Document everything in triplicate: dates, times, places, names, context, and recordings when possible. Do not be lured into a conversation or meeting with anyone you are not comfortable talking to without taking a witness and a recording device. The law in Utah pertaining to recorded conversations requires that only one person need be aware of the recording, and so long as that person is a party to the conversation, it is not only legal but usable in later proceedings. Also know that you are not required to disclose that you are recording and cannot be barred from doing so. Know that it is very likely members of the administration are taking the exact same measures.
—Do not sensationalize or engage in hyperbole or emotional rhetoric. Ask questions and repeat answers for clarity. Questions like how many people have been fired at DSU since Williams took the reigns? Subsequently how many were women? And furthermore, how many were fired in the same way? Questions like why freshman retention and enrollment are demonstrably down. Questions like if Williams is running the school like a business, which he patently is not, why there is such high turnover in both administration and enrollment. Anyone with even a faint hint of business management sense knows that high turnover is indicative of poor management.
—Consolidate the many different concerned groups into one group with a leader, a board, and a clear and defined mandate. One such group has already mobilized and is holding meetings. Check out their website and contact them with questions or even other issues that perhaps require “full disclosure.”
—Send letters outlining the occurrences to The Independent and the timelines to every news media outlet, academic institution, and civil rights attorney in this country. Repeat with updates weekly. Do not relent. Do not with ease allow Williams or anyone else involved to leave this town to work at another school, institution, or business only to behave the same way. Write them to inform them of what is happening so that they may decide to perhaps wait to hire pending the outcome of these many issues. Do your part to see to it these people stay here and face the consequences of their behavior, whatever that turns out to be. Take the attitude that it is your duty not only to hold people accountable but to ensure that they harm no one else in like manner in the future.
—Let the elected officials who sit on the boards of this institution know that their actions in these matters reflect their positions on equal treatment of all people under the law. Document every thing they say in these matters, and remind voters about it in upcoming elections.
You can also write to or contact the following:
—The Department of Justice. There may be criminal actions on the part of the school with regards to how it has utilized law enforcement to investigate and prosecute people.
—The American Civil Liberties Union. DSU currently has active and pending civil rights lawsuits against it and it seems they are dogged in their determination to create more. The ACLU may take this on.
—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. I have been told by reliable sources that they are actively monitoring this and other cases at DSU and are possibly waiting for someone to contact them.
—The American Association of University Professors. DSU’s firings would be egregious by any employer, but these are tenured faculty members at a university where academic freedom is a central value. The AAUP has a model policy on academic freedom and another on shared governance. The university has certainly strayed far from these models. Someone needs to educate the university and the community about how things should be done.
The DSU policy on academic freedom, specifically refers to the AAUP model policy on the topic, then deviates from the policy with the recently revised policy on faculty termination. Tenured faculty members have a right to a hearing of their peers before administrative action. Here is a link.
In addition, the hearsay used to justify termination was obtained under extreme legal duress since it required other faculty members to sign a legal statement and be cross examined with an attorney. This was certainly not the normal faculty investigative process.
AAUP will accept complaints from faculty members but also from members of the community and the press. You simply call or write to the AAUP at its Washington, DC office. AAUP may choose to investigate (I suspect it will since the case is so egregious). It typically tries to “educate” university administrators, and in the event that this fails, it can choose to formally censure the university. This is a stain that few universities want. Here is a link to the complaint process.
The State of Utah and DSU have also strayed very far from the principle of shared governance, which is located here.
And last but not least, consider the possibility that the relinquishment of gnats with sledge hammers is indicative, which is to say that the manner of force and lack of forbearance used in destroying peoples lives without regards to their rights in such a flagrant and public manner begs the question of what perhaps the motive is.
If in fact, in spite of it all, DSU is found by an outside investigative source to have acted in the best interest of the school and the community, let that truth stand. This is with one small caveat: The investigating source must not be from Utah alone. The possibility that this corruption and collusion in these matters reaches the highest levels of church and state here are too glaring. There must be outside public, private, and federal entities that either convict or exonerate in these matters on all levels academic, private, and political. This is why checks and balances are core to the fabric of a free society.
But if certain individuals are using the trust and authority bestowed upon them by the community and the voters, as well as the public resources and monies, to exact with impunity and the authority of the powers that be in this community and state, personal hostile agendas to cover their own misdeeds, then it is the duty of the community to expose them and hold them accountable and possibly bring upon them a reckoning. There is no greater abuse to a society than that of a person or entity possessing the latitude that public trust bestows and using it to further personal interests and/or harm innocent people who stand in the way of doing so.
Parting shot: Follow the money. More to come, soon. #followthemoney
See you out there.
The viewpoints expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Independent.
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