Professor Sues Southern Illinois University at Carbondale over Rights Violations

By August 7, 2008

The Southern Illinoisan reports today that Professor Cal Y. Meyers has sued Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIUC) for barring him from campus on unspecified claims of sexual harassment and various other unspecified offenses. He essentially claims that SIUC has violated his due process rights under the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions and has defamed him for the sake of unjust enrichment. In banning him from campus, SIUC prevented Meyers from directing a $2.5 million center which he had donated to the university.

Indeed, from a due process standpoint, the case against SIUC looks pretty solid. On November 8, 2007, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Dean John A. Koropchak wrote Meyers telling him that Koropchak had received and investigated a complaint of sexual harassment, that Meyers had already been found guilty, that he was being formally reprimanded, that he must cease contact with students in his department, that "further violations" could lead to termination, and that he must complete sexual harassment training provided by SIUC’s Affirmative Action Office by December 1.

According to Meyers’ complaint, "Defendant ignored all subsequent inquiries by Plaintiff to ascertain any information regarding the sexual harassment allegation (i.e. the identity of the accuser, the specific allegations, or any evidence involved)."

Then, on January 31, 2008, Chancellor Fernando Trevino sent Meyers another letter of the same ilk. Trevino told Meyers that "additional complaints" for "harassment and retaliation" had been received and that pending an investigation, Meyers was banned from campus on penalty of being charged with trespassing.

To this point, Meyers still had been provided with no details whatsoever about the allegations against him. Moreover, from the complaint it appears rather undeniable that official SIUC policy and procedures for the investigation and adjudication of sexual harassment claims were not followednot followed at all, it seems. The complaint quotes some of the provisions that were violated.

No hearing, no chance to respond to the evidence, no statement of evidence, no chance to respond to the accuser, no notification of a right to appeal. Nothing. Just two letters with unspecified allegations.

Finally, on April 28, 2008months laterMeyers’ attorney, Rebecca Whittington, received a list of "some" examples ("[t]his list is not intended to be a comprehensive list of the potential allegations") from SIUC’s General Counsel, Jerry Blakemore (emphasis added). Blakemore alleged that Meyers was in trouble for, among other things, making "inappropriate racial comments" and "smoking within buildings," plus a list of allegations that were more closely related to the original, unspecified allegations of sexual harassmentbut all of this was entirely new to Meyers. These were completely new charges in an investigation which had gone on for months, still with no hearing, and still with no attempt to get Meyers’ account of any of the alleged incidents.

The documents are available at the end of this file.

Cal Meyers is fortunate in one respect, at least. He is not SIUC Professor John Simon, who passed away after SIUC similarly charged him with sexual harassment. The due process elements of the case were, in my opinion, rather poor as well.

And SIUC is fortunate in one respect, so far, though an amended suit might change SIUC’s luck: Meyers has not yet challenged SIUC’s sexual harassment speech code per se. It looks facially unconstitutional to us, which is one among many reasons why SIUC gets a "red light" rating from FIRE. SIUC defines sexual harassment

as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal or other expressive behaviors, or physical conduct commonly understood to be of a sexual nature, when: [...] such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s status as a student or employee or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or educational environment.

Examples of behavior that may be considered sexual harassment include, but are not limited to, the following: [...] a pattern of conduct, annoying or humiliating in a sexual way, that includes comments of a sexual nature and/or sexually explicit statements, questions, jokes, or anecdotes; a pattern of conduct that would annoy or humiliate a reasonable person at whom the conduct was obviously directed. Such conduct includes, but is not limited to gestures, facial expressions, speech, or physical contact understood to be sexual in nature or which is repeated after the individual signifies that the conduct is perceived to be sexually offensive.

This code simply will not pass constitutional muster. Given the outcome of DeJohn v. Temple this weekwhere the Third Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Temple’s now-abandoned sexual harassment policy, which had some of the same flaws as SIUC’s current policyI do not think SIUC’s policy would survive legal scrutiny.

But on due process grounds alone, the Meyers case is atrocious.