Roosevelt University Professor Fired after Telling Joke in Class
January 18, 2011
by Adam Kissel
A professor at Roosevelt University in Illinois was charged with harassment, but the university would not tell him who had charged him or for what.
Professor Robert Klein Engler was summoned to a meeting last year to discuss an unnamed student's allegation, but Professor Engler wanted to know the identity of his accuser and the nature of the accusation before showing up for this disciplinary meeting. How is it reasonable to expect someone to defend himself without knowing, for instance, whether he should bring in evidence that could disprove the allegation and end the case right away?
For insisting on such basic rights, Engler eventually was fired by Roosevelt University.
Officially, Engler's termination was for noncooperation with the harassment investigation, since he repeatedly chose not to attend meetings that would address the allegation.
Engler said he was willing to cooperate but the department refused to put the allegation in writing. When he brought legal counsel to an appeal meeting, university administrators immediately canceled it.
It wasn't until the student newspaper wrote about the case months after his dismissal that he learned of the origin of the allegations, he said.
"I didn't want to come to a meeting and be charged and not even know what it was," he said.
Here's the kicker: Engler's ordeal apparently originated with nothing more than this joke, which (like it or not) is obviously not harassment:
A group of sociologists did a poll in Arizona about the new immigration law. Sixty percent said they were in favor, and 40 percent said, "No hablo English."
Fortunately, Engler already has an attorney.
Roosevelt University should remember these words from former University of Alaska President Mark R. Hamilton:
Noting that, for example, "The University supports the right of free speech, but we intend to check into this matter," or "The University supports the right of free speech, but I have asked Dean X or Provost Y to investigate the circumstances," is unacceptable. There is nothing to "check into," nothing "to investigate."
If the only thing Roosevelt University has on Engler is a single joke, there was nothing to investigate from the beginning.