DU ‘Clarion’ Highlights University’s Appearance in ‘Unlearning Liberty’

By on November 8, 2012

The Clarion, the student newspaper at the University of Denver (DU), has published an article noting the inclusion of DU professor Arthur Gilbert’s case in FIRE president Greg Lukianoff’s new book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. Given the outrageousness of Gilbert’s treatment by DU, that inclusion is well deserved.

Clarion reporter Anita Balakrishnan does a good job explaining DU’s prosecution of Professor Gilbert for sexual harassment and the opposition it encountered. (Readers can also acquaint themselves with the case by reading this chronology.) Gilbert’s ordeal started after the submission of two anonymous complaints by students in one of Gilbert’s graduate-level courses. Balakrishnan reports:

Gilbert was put on paid administrative leave on April 6, 2011, and was required to attend a "sensitivity training," which was eventually modified to a conversation with [the Office for Diversity and Equal Opportunity] after an appeal of a formal grievance granted by Gregg Kvistad, Provost. In Kvistad’s October 2011 letter, which responded to Gilbert’s grievance that "unethical procedures  followed in connection with the complaints for sexual harassment filed against [Gilbert],"  Kvistad upheld Hill’s decision to suspend Gilbert.

"The Provost refused to re-open my case even though the [university] senate asked him to do so," said Gilbert. "Even though the Faculty Review Committee of DU supported my rights on a 10-1 vote and I had massive support from individuals and organizations and prominent scholars all around the world, I was ordered to talk to an individual appointed by DU about sexual harassment. Originally I was ordered into sensitivity training but that was withdrawn."

DU Provost Gregg Kvistad did not offer comment for the article other than to say that "this case is much more complicated than what the author describes."  For the record, here is the section of Greg’s book in question:

In 2011 the University of Denver provided another example of how far the concept of harassment has morphed from its legal origins when Professor Arthur Gilbert was declared guilty of sexual harassment and sentenced to mandatory "sensitivity training" because the content of his class "The Domestic and International Consequences of the Drug War" was considered too racy. According to the syllabus, one of the themes in the course was "Drugs and Sin in American Life: From Masturbation and Prostitution to Alcohol and Drugs." How, precisely, you can have a meaningful discussion of these topics without offending anybody is beyond me. While Denver faculty, FIRE, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) rose to Gilbert’s defense, the university refused to reopen the case.

Perhaps Kvistad believes that a longer telling of the story and a full review of the facts available would somehow make DU’s case look better. To the contrary, I think that he should be glad Greg didn’t have the space to go into more detail about: 

  • DU’s summary suspension of Professor Gilbert and his banishment from the DU campus, which lasted for more than 100 days. 
  • The DU Faculty Review Committee’s scathing report (which Kvistad rejected) on Gilbert’s treatment, which it concluded was "outrageous" and "violates academic freedom and overall concepts of fairness."
  • The concerns raised by AAUP Associate Secretary Anita Levy that "The imposition of a severe sanction without a prior faculty hearing is seriously at variance with established Association-supported procedures with regard to sexual harassment complaints, especially those related to academic expression in the classroom."
  • The DU Faculty Senate’s decisive vote calling for DU to vacate its finding of sexual harassment against Gilbert on the grounds that "the academic context of Professor Gilbert’s classroom speech was never considered during the investigation." 

On this last count, the Colorado Conference of the AAUP reports that Kvistad rejected the Faculty Senate’s resolution, allegedly stating that he "could no more vacate the finding of sexual harassment than he could change the score of a hockey game." This insulting and outrageous falsehood will be visited in a forthcoming Torch post. 

In the meantime, however, we’re thankful that The Clarion is helping to keep the public aware of DU’s deplorable treatment of Arthur Gilbert, a decades-long veteran of the DU faculty. I hope it isn’t too much to ask that the DU administration read this article to the end to get this quote from Gilbert: 
 

"It’s not just about DU — I’m not trying to be meanspirited. But if universities forget academic freedom, we are stealing money from you," said Gilbert. "Students should demand the right to be made uncomfortable. If we aren’t doing that, the challenge of academia is gone. We’re failing you."

It’s high time for DU to stop punishing one of its longest-serving faculty for sticking to this fundamental and admirable principle. 

Schools: University of Denver Cases: University of Denver: Sexual Harassment Finding Violates Professor’s Academic Freedom in the Classroom