Instructor Suspended After Criticizing Sex-Harassment Policy Is Reinstated

By November 3, 2009

An English instructor at East Georgia College who was accused of violating the college’s sexual-harassment policy in August, and suspended after he used a risqué story to criticize the policy in public, has been reinstated, and the sexual-harassment charges against him have been dropped, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

But the college’s president, John B. Black, wrote a letter to the instructor last month saying he was still being reprimanded for using “offensive language in public work spaces,” and warning him to “refrain from angry outbursts when interacting with your colleagues.” The college has also asked the instructor, Thomas Thibeault, to sign a statement acknowledging that he is “expected to act in a professional manner at all times” on the campus.

The foundation, also known as FIRE, criticized the college today for issuing the reprimand without specifying what Mr. Thibeault said that was offensive and without holding a hearing on the charges against him. Mr. Black did not respond to a telephone call and an e-mail inquiry from The Chronicle seeking comment.

John Millsaps, a spokesman for the Georgia Board of Regents, said: “Given that this is a personnel matter at the institutional level, we do not see the need for additional comment.”

The whole controversy started last August, when Mr. Thibeault, who has worked as a full-time instructor at the college for five years, attended a meeting during which a college administrator explained the campus’s anti-harassment policy. During the meeting, Mr. Thibeault said students’ complaints of sexual harassment could be frivolous, and as evidence he related an encounter he said he’d had with a young woman who he said was dressed provocatively, with her cleavage showing. Yet she complained to Mr. Thibeault that another professor always stared at her breasts, the instructor said.

Following the meeting, Mr. Thibeault said, he was called to the president’s office and asked to resign on the spot or face a police escort off the campus, which is exactly what happened.

In a letter to the instructor last August, Mr. Black said a faculty panel had found sufficient evident “to support your suspension,” and he told Mr. Thibeault that he was “about to be terminated for cause” for violating the college’s sexual-harassment policy.

But according to the more-recent letter Mr. Black sent in October, the charges against Mr. Thibeault were referred to the state attorney general’s office and subsequently dropped. Still, the statement the college asked Mr. Thibeault to sign cites a college policy he must abide by “prohibiting disruptive behavior on the part of any student, faculty member, administrator, or employee.”

The statement also says some people at the college fear that Mr. Thibeault “will lose his temper and do something rash.”

In a telephone interview today, Mr. Thibeault said he would sign the statement but add one of his own, saying that despite the college’s suggestion, he had never done anything to intimidate anyone.

Schools: East Georgia College