Triggered 1/5/22

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Two of my students decided to complain about sexual harassment.  They were both on the same sports team and good friends, and they were overheard talking about plotting to get me fired because they didn’t like my class.  I taught chemistry, a difficult subject for many students, and I was a single male professor making me an easy target.  It had happened a few times before, although half the time students complained that I was homosexual, so they couldn’t even get on the same page about my orientation in their complaints.  This time, the university launched a full-scale investigation.

I was not supposed to know about it, and the students were (according to the university policy) not supposed to know about whom they were being interviewed, but several students (yes, there were students who did like me) came to me with a warning that they were interviewed about inappropriate actions by their chemistry professor.  Well, as the only chemistry professor, clearly the students knew the target of the investigation, and because they did like me, I knew it was happening.

The investigation ended with a letter of reprimand from the president saying that there were complaints about sexual harassment, and a thorough investigation yielded “significant evidence to support the complaints”.  So, I asked to see the report.

After ignoring my request to see the report twice, I finally sent a third request reminding the president that it is my right by federal law to see anything in my file and if I don’t get a copy of the report, the next request will come from my attorney.  Finally, he sent me a pdf of the report.  Fifteen pages worth of report, in fact.  The bottom line (quite literally as it was the very last sentence on the very last page) read, “no significant evidence was found to support these allegations.”

Did you catch that?  The wording was nearly identical, but in my letter of reprimand, the word “no” was changed to “significant”.  So, I went to the president and insisted that the letter of reprimand be withdrawn, to no avail.  I went to my union representative to file a complaint which yielded in a meeting between the president, my union representative and myself.

The president offered me a “deal”.  He would remove the letter and the report if I wrote a letter of apology explaining what I did wrong and how it must have made the students feel, and he promised to remove the letter from my file in five years.  The union representative thought this was an amazing deal.

Did you catch it?  He wanted to remove the report contradicting his own letter of reprimand and replace it with what would have amounted to a signed confession for something they couldn’t find the evidence to support because, frankly, the allegations were fabricated.  And five years?  The policy at the university was to purge all documents from faculty files after five years as a matter of standard practice.  He was offering me nothing but the opportunity to confess to something that I never did. 

I just looked at him, and asked how stupid he thinks I am.  I pointed out to him, even as my union representative was still pushing me to accept the “deal” (it’s clear where his loyalties were), that I realized that he is looking for a confession that he could have taken action on to dismiss me despite my tenure.  I walked out, and immediately dropped my union membership (it was optional, and I was one of only a handful of faculty who were in the union in the first place). 

This is fresh in my mind because I received yet another email from the university charity office, asking if I wanted to donate.  Through the years, I had donated literally thousands of dollars (at least $20 thousand) and, if they didn’t take it down, my name should still be on a plaque commemorating my donations.   But every year, I would get this email asking me to give more to a university that mistreated me from the President down to the Science Coordinator.  The faculty at the university (or at least many of them) did and still do like me.  The issue was with the administration.  And every time I got another email asking for money, it brings back these same memories and feelings.  It’s a trigger email.

Finally, this year, I replied.  I said that I’ve donated a lot of money through the years, and all I ever got in return was disrespect.  I asked to be taken off of the list.  We’ll see if they actually do next year, but I do hope so.  For my readers, here is my recommendation; if you get emails that are triggers for you, insist that they take you off of the list.  You deserve better than to open old wounds and pains from the past.  Maybe it’ll work, or maybe it won’t, but it’s worth the effort, don’t you think?

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