Much of what has been printed in newspapers regarding the firing of Professor Stephen C. Roberds is less than accurate. For various reasons (privacy and gentlemanly conduct come to mind) the administration of Southern Utah University has not responded to such inaccuracies. I am not under the same constraints and so offer the following comments as a differing opinion and in defense of the faculty, administration and policies of SUU.
Roberds claims that, among other reasons, he was fired because "he used the f-word in class during a heated debate with a student" and that the reasons "changed by the day." Regardless, neither statement is correct. Neither is it correct to imply that Roberds' misbehavior in October in using the f-word in class was a one-time thing as a review of past publications of The Journal (the student newspaper) will show.
For example and as reported in The Journal, in the spring of 2004 students organized a demonstration in support of traditional marriage that Roberds attended. Roberds is captured on video ranting at a student, ridiculing the purpose of the demonstration and calling the student names. Given Roberds' position of authority in relation to the student, such behavior is inexcusable. That ranting and name-calling also was not Roberds' first offense.
Roberds states he was fired because he was not collegial and that he does not know what collegiality means. SUU Policy 6.28: Faculty Responsibilities is SUU's definition of collegiality, and this policy is available to Roberds in an online document. Part of that definition is: "Faculty members will provide a respectful atmosphere and not reward agreement or penalize disagreement with their views on controversial topics." I submit that Roberds' admission of using the f-word in class to a student, and of ranting at a student and calling the student names is evidence of not being collegial.
Roberds states there is a "dominant culture" at SUU where those who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fit in best. A majority of the faculty of the campus (including myself) are members of the LDS Church, and it may be that such individuals fit in best on campus. But the SUU culture is not one that rejects all others. Dr. Abe Harraf, the provost of the university, three of the six academic deans, and some faculty are not members of the dominant culture. There is a place at SUU for people of all opinions and religions.
Roberds also refers to administration and the Faculty Senate being antagonistic to faculty. This is a really strange claim, as the members of the Faculty Senate are elected by the faculty and serve a three-year term. Any faculty member who is antagonistic to the faculty would be replaced quickly by someone who represents the faculty. (There is also a process for removing a sitting senator.) Roberds singles out Harraf who is not a member of the dominant culture as one who has "no tolerance for dissent or disagreement." Arguing that a person who is not a member of the dominant culture has no tolerance for disagreement is silly.
Roberds states that there is more freedom in Iraq than at SUU. This was written in response to a proposed Faculty Senate Constitution. Several years ago, SUU President Steven Bennion gave approval to the Faculty Senate to change its constitution. A constitution was written, voted on by the faculty in the spring of 2004 and rejected.
Subsequently, a Faculty Senate retreat was held and views exchanged. From that retreat I wrote a proposed constitution and sent it to those who had attended the retreat, asking if I had captured the essence of the discussion. To me, it was in reference to that document that Roberds directed his "freedom in Iraq" comparison. I do not understand how I, as a single faculty member, or how my writing a proposed Constitution constrains his freedom.
David Rees is Faculty Senate president at Southern Utah University.