East Georgia College Makes Mockery of Due Process in Firing Professor
September 16, 2009
by Adam Kissel
A professor challenges his school's sexual harassment policy because it fails to provide protection against frivolous or malicious accusers. The next day, his colleagues are asked to reveal dirt on the professor, even clean dirt, so long as it fills up the file. The day after that, the professor is told to resign right away or else be fired for his "long history of sexual harassment," no matter that there has never been an accuser or complaint, or any presentation of specific allegations, so far as anybody knows. A campus police officer escorts him from campus.
A few days later, the professor gets a strange note claiming that because he had failed to resign, the termination process would begin and a committee has been formed to determine whether the termination process would begin (try making sense of that!). Two weeks after that, the professor learns that the committee has approved of the professor's "suspension." It is the first time the professor has heard of his suspension.
This seems to be just what happened over the past several weeks to Professor Thomas Thibeault at East Georgia College, right out of some kind of Kafka tale. But how does the college spin it, the day after FIRE sends out a press release and the case is covered immediately by The Chronicle of Higher Education (full article available for five days) and Inside Higher Ed? Here's an official response from Vice President for Legal and External Affairs Mary C. Smith to a media inquiry:
Because this is an ongoing personnel matter, EGC is prohibited from commenting on the case. I can confirm that Thomas Thibeault was suspended from EGC on August 7th with full pay and benefits, pending a faculty inquiry and hearing. He was informed of the charges at that time.
First, just looking at what Smith does admit, we see that she acknowledges that Thibeault was suspended before a faculty inquiry and before a hearing. Thibeault must have been a major threat to the campus, with such swift and harsh treatment! How often does a faculty member need to be removed from campus by a campus police officer?
Besides, Thibeault was not actually informed of his suspension, it seems, until August 25 (in a letter he received a couple of days later). As he recalls the conversation on August 7, he was fired, and the convoluted letter he received from President John Black on August 11 made no reference to his being suspended.
As for being informed of the charges, a general statement of an alleged "long history of sexual harassment" or even vague statements about alleged "foul language" and "innuendo" does not add up to specific allegations. Thibeault has never seen a single allegation of anything he allegedly said that led to this Kafkaesque ordeal. Not only that, after asking for the alleged evidence and the faculty hearing he deserves under the policies of the Board of Regents, he has received nothing.
By the way, here's a gem from Black, speaking to The Chronicle of Higher Education: "it is not in The Chronicle's best interest to publish an article until due process in Mr. Thibeault's case is completed." Um, what about starting some due process?
All signs are that this case was a farce from the beginning. Evidence, anyone? It seems that East Georgia College is stalling while trying to come up with some way out, some kind of charge that might justify having a tenure-track professor immediately thrown off campus by the police. The fact that six weeks later there's nothing is a damning circumstance. Black and Smith should just give up before they dig a hole that engulfs them both.