In a letter to the University of Denver’s provost and president on November 12, 17 members of the University of Denver chapter of the American Association of University Professors (DU AAUP) echoed FIRE’s concern for academic freedom in the case of DU professor Arthur Gilbert, whom DU found guilty of sexual harassment for relevant classroom comments that apparently were never investigated from an academic perspective.
That’s really important: context matters a huge amount. There are a lot of things you can and should say in a class about moral taboos that probably have no reason to come up in, say, your calculus class, or in a faculty meeting about wages and benefits. But that never stopped DU from treating Gilbert’s classroom like, say, a factory floor or an office supply company in Scranton.
DU AAUP’s letter, sent by Chapter President Dean Saitta, reads as follows:
We, the undersigned members of DU’s AAUP chapter, urge you to vacate the decision finding Professor Arthur Gilbert guilty of sexual harassment as recommended by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in its letter to Chancellor Coombe of November 4, 2011.
When the Gilbert story broke last spring our chapter quickly went on record to express concerns about both the due process and academic freedom dimensions of the case (see attached memo). We closely followed the case in subsequent months. The final decision against Professor Gilbert only deepens our original concerns. The findings of DU’s internal Faculty Review Committee combined with FIRE’s external, independent analysis of the case make a very strong argument for fully exonerating Professor Gilbert of the charges against him.
We don’t believe that justice in this case has been served. We renew our offer to help formulate policy to ensure that it will be better served in the future. We will continue to work with the Faculty Senate and others to produce a stronger and better academic community. In the meantime, failure to vacate the decision will seriously undermine the university’s expressed commitment to two vital elements of such a community: shared governance and academic freedom.
DU can save face by vacating the sexual harassment finding against Gilbert and admitting that since sometimes people and committees make mistakes, DU will revise its procedures in order to protect academic freedom. That’s not so difficult, is it? It’s a quick way to turn deserved shame into deserved praise. I recommend it.