The abuse of campus sexual harassment policies to punish dissenting professors has hit a new low at East Georgia College (EGC), located in Swainsboro, Georgia, between Atlanta and Savannah.
Professor Thomas Thibeault made the mistake of pointing out—at a sexual harassment training seminar—that the school’s sexual harassment policy contained no protection for the falsely accused. Two days later, in a Kafkaesque irony, Thibeault was fired by the college president for sexual harassment. More than a month later, despite multiple requests for information, Thibeault has never received a statement of the charges against him, nor any evidence, nor any idea of whether there is actually an accuser, nor any hearing.
Thibeault’s ordeal started shortly after August 5, 2009 when, during a faculty training session regarding the college’s sexual harassment policy, he presented a scenario regarding a different professor and asked, "What provision is there in the Sexual Harassment policy to protect the accused against complaints which are malicious or, in this case, ridiculous?" Vice President for Legal Affairs Mary Smith, who was conducting the session, replied that there was no such provision to protect the accused, so Thibeault responded that "the policy itself is flawed."
The next day, at least one or two of Thibeault’s colleagues were called into Smith’s office, apparently in order to help Smith build a case for getting rid of him. One of Thibeault’s colleagues recalls being asked about some sort of "present," and Thibeault can only imagine that Smith was asking about a birthday present he received more than a year ago, the book An Encyclopedia of Assholes, which is about people who supposedly deserve to be called "assholes," including Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. But this seems to have nothing at all to do with sexual harassment. If this is really in Smith’s dossier against Thibeault, it is a mind-blowingly silly example (though not the first) of judging a book by its cover. But since nobody, not even Thibeault, knows what the alleged evidence or charges are, the actual contents of the dossier are a big mystery.
The day after Thibeault’s colleagues were called into Smith’s office, Thibeault was summoned to EGC President John Bryant Black’s office. According to Thibeault’s written account of the meeting (which was sent to Black and which Black has not disputed), Thibeault met with Black and Smith. Black told Thibeault that he "was a divisive force in the college at a time when the college needed unity" and that Thibeault must resign by 11:30 a.m. or be fired and have his "long history of sexual harassment … made public." The allegation came entirely as a surprise to Thibeault, who reports that there had never been any sexual harassment claim against him. Black added that Thibeault would be escorted off campus by Police Chief Drew Durden and that Black had notified the local police that he was prepared to have Thibeault arrested for trespassing if he returned to campus. At no point was Thibeault presented with the charges against him, the identity of any accuser, or given any chance to present a defense. Refusing to resign, Thibeault understood that he was fired.
Most likely realizing that he had fired Thibeault without any of the due process mandated by Georgia’s Board of Regents, Black then began attempting to justify Thibeault’s firing after the fact. On August 11, Black wrote Thibeault to say that since Thibeault had failed to resign by the deadline, "EGC has begun dismissal proceedings. … [A] faculty committee has been appointed to conduct an informal inquiry." He then paradoxically wrote, "Their charge is to advise me whether or not dismissal proceedings shall be undertaken." Meanwhile, Thibeault still had not been provided with any charges, he was still banned from campus, and he still appeared to be fired—with the "dismissal proceedings" occurring after the fact.
Then, on August 25, Black wrote Thibeault again, claiming for the first time that Thibeault had actually been suspended: "the committee’s finding was that there is sufficient evidence to support your suspension." Black added that Thibeault was about to be terminated for sexual harassment, that the charges would finally be sent upon request, and that Thibeault finally could request a hearing. Thibeault requested the charges on August 28 but has received no response. His lawyer also has inquired for weeks with no response.
It should be no surprise that the utter failure of due process here violates not only the Constitution but also the stated policies of Georgia’s Board of Regents. FIRE outlined many of these shocking violations of due process and freedom of speech in a letter to University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis Jr. on August 27, with copies to Black and Smith. None of them have responded. Neither Black nor Smith has even bothered to comment on the discrepancies between Thibeault’s account and Black’s erratic letters.
In fact, it is hard to imagine a worse failure of due process. 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, accusers, or hearings, it is clear that EGC has punished Professor Thibeault for speaking out against a flawed harassment policy.
Tell EGC to restore the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Georgia Board of Regents. Send a letter to EGC and the Board of Regents here.
Or, you can contact these Georgia officials directly by phone or e-mail to let them know what you think: