A Georgia professor’s fight for due process

Think it’s hard to defend yourself in a he said, she said situation? Try he said, who said.

That’s been the challenge faced by Thomas Thibeault, who until last month was a professor of English at East Georgia College in Swainsboro. His case bears all the characteristics of the decline in free speech and due process at America’s universities.

There are still several unknowns in this case — including the things still unknown to Thibeault himself, which is part of the problem. But this much is beyond dispute:

On Aug. 5, Thibeault attended a faculty training session where he criticized the college’s sexual harassment policy as lacking provisions to protect the accused. Two days later, he was summoned to the office of college President John B. Black, who asked him to resign due to his “long history of sexual harassment,” or else be fired and have the unspecified allegations against him aired publicly.

In the seven weeks since that meeting, Black has told Thibeault by letter that a faculty committee had begun and then concluded dismissal proceedings against him, and that he was suspended with pay pending an inevitable firing. But during those seven weeks, neither Black nor anyone else has told Thibeault exactly what harassment charges have been filed against him, or by whom, despite the professor’s request.

“Literally, the very first time the words ‘sexual harassment’ were ever used in connection with me was in Black’s office on August 7,” Thibeault told me this week. “The exact opposite is true, because I have a reputation as an extremely faithful man with my students.”

East Georgia College’s vice president for legal affairs, Mary Smith, declined to answer my questions about the case — including whether the school routinely waits until an employee has a “long history” of harassment before addressing the alleged problem.

A spokesman for the University System of Georgia, John Millsaps, also would not elaborate on the charges. Millsaps said Thibeault would be informed of them before an as-yet-unscheduled hearing, and that he was “not going to prejudice [Thibeault’s] case by public comment.”

Fair enough. But surely seven weeks is plenty of time for someone to tell Thibeault himself exactly why he’s in imminent danger of losing his job.

How unusual is Thibeault’s plight? It “is maybe one of the most extreme cases [nationwide] where there’s due process violations…and we don’t even know what the allegations are,” said Adam Kissel, of the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which is helping Thibeault.

While Thibeault’s case may be extreme, Kissel said it is not unusual at all for colleges to have “speech codes masquerading as civility policies.” Up to 75 percent of American colleges, Kissel said, have unconstitutional speech codes.

Federal and state courts consistently strike down such restrictions, he said, but the high financial cost to individuals of challenging speech codes means most of them remain intact.

Thibeault has not been charged with a crime, so his case doesn’t rise to the level of the fake rape accusations against Duke lacrosse players in 2006 or, just this month, against four Hofstra University students.

But Kissel noted one commonality among the three cases: the increasingly popular idea on college campuses “that as soon as you’re accused, you’re guilty and have to prove your innocence.”

And, apparently in Thibeault’s case, to guess what you’re even guilty of doing.

52 comments Add your comment

jconservative

September 25th, 2009
6:49 pm

Sounds like the University System of Georgia is about to pay another big award. Remember the student who turned in a professor who was not doing their Job & got terminated from school for her troubles. Won a big award.

More taxpayer money being wasted by the State.

Thibeault needs to call the ACLU for legal help. Surprised he has not done so. An individual vs the State is just their cup of tea.

Bob

September 25th, 2009
8:19 pm

either he sues for alot of money or the people he has harassed will come forward and collect even more. What university official will admit to knowing the staff had a habitual harasser ?

Joan

September 25th, 2009
8:44 pm

This phenom, unfortunately, isn’t so isolated. People are very quick to believe accusers, and slow to grant the accused a fair hearing. This happens in corporate environments as well. If an employee complains about another, the personnel director may call the accused employee, tell them the problem, but refuse to tell them who is making the accusation — because they don’t want any retaliation. Well, in my book, (and the Constitution) the accused has every right to confront the accuser.

Melendez-Rios

September 26th, 2009
7:55 am

Does Duke lacrosse ring a bell? Hofstra university? Is “innocent until proven guilty” just an empty phrase?

In light of the above (and many more examples), it is perfectly fair to ask what policies universities have in place to combat false accusations. And any university which does not already have such a policy may be considered remiss in its duties to its faculty, staff, and students.

Michael H. Smith

September 26th, 2009
7:56 am

After reading the second link furnished… Oh boy. :roll:

http://www.thefire.org/public/pdfs/2336d8c05623fa1562efabe641580bda.pdf

These are the educated people, right?

If you are “publically advertising” what you have (your body or explicitly parts thereof) in an “indiscreet manner” that would “draw attention” to yourself (a.k.a. seduce or entice onlookers), then don’t blame the free market.

That is commerce not harassment!

Get It Right

September 26th, 2009
8:36 am

Leave the ACLU out of it. They are a big part of the problem with free speech. As long as he has FIRE on his side, then he should be OK

norman ravitch

September 26th, 2009
8:52 am

University and college campuses enforced political correctness far too much.

Kaipo

September 26th, 2009
9:08 am

The University System of Georgia President, I beleive reports to the Governor. In this lean times of limited government resources, I know the Governor will not tolerate any action that puts the states limited resources in jeopardy. This is madness. The Professor is already guilty without knowing what he is guilty of. This is supposed to be the fairest country in the world. Are we back to the era of “just accuse somebody and the person is done”. I hope not.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

September 26th, 2009
9:31 am

The obvious cure here is to legalize sexual harrassmant, and to require everyone to buy a .45 magnum for insurance. Proceed at your own risk.

Bill

September 26th, 2009
9:36 am

Perhaps we should just send him to Guantanamo. I think that is where we keep most of the people we wish to deny due process.

David Granger

September 26th, 2009
10:36 am

All too common in higher education nowadays. If you don’t toe the party line, the party starts lyin’.

get out much?

September 26th, 2009
10:47 am

Sounds like all he would need to do is have his union file a grievance. Duh, what am I thinking, unions are bad, we can’t have them in Georgia because they might offer workers some protection and we can’t have that.

Billy Bob

September 26th, 2009
10:50 am

The professor’s point about protecting the reputation of the accused is well-made. An disenchanted student can make a harrassment charge part of an effort to “get back at” a professor who does not grade on her curves – so to speak.

A clear listing of harrassing behaviors by the University System seems warranted but a clear verbal rebuke (I’m not interested in a sexual relationship) should be a prerequisite (I like that) of most complaints. The University can make this “education” part of the students orientation – they probably already do.

Unwanted physical contact is almost always grounds for a complaint and the accumulation of these complaints can be considered ‘harrassing behavior’. Herr Professor, this is a University not a ‘meet’ market. That being said, when a female student is clearly “throwing bait in the water” (calling attention to her ‘remarkables’), it hard to feel sympathy when she attracts unwelcome fish.

Michael H. Smith

September 26th, 2009
2:34 pm

Sounds like a return to using common sense is all that is needed. Oops, silly me, what could I have possibly been thinking… Universities cannot teach common sense it would discriminate against political correctness. :lol:

Left wing management

September 26th, 2009
3:06 pm

Is this distressing for the individual accused? I’m sure it is. But you do not offer so much as a shred of evidence to warrant the following insinuation: “While Thibeault’s case may be extreme, Kissel said it is not unusual at all for colleges to have “speech codes masquerading as civility policies.”"

What is the professor’s record in the department? Was he even tenured? You don’t really provide much to go on here other than that it does appear that his department has it in for him. For us to judge the situation on its merits, I think we’d need a little more of the facts of the case.

Ben

September 26th, 2009
3:41 pm

To Left Wing management,… That’s sort of the point. The school won’t divulge any facts. It’s certainly not the fault of Wingfield’s reporting. For anyone to judge this, they need more facts, but the school obviously would rather not reveal any evidence, which should make you and anyone else suspicious of their motives. The one person who seems to be open and honest is the accused.

As far as the quote about speech codes, why don’t you check out the FIRE website yourself and see the many examples proving that point?

catlady

September 26th, 2009
4:26 pm

The College cooked its own goose by waiting till he had a long history of sexual harrassment (if he does).If I were the person harrassed, the administration and BOR would also be sued. If he has been repeatedly accused of it before, where was the action? And if he hasn’t, the SUS are in big trouble on the other end.

I hope the truth is actually found. But, either way, it is going to cost the College and SUS some SERIOUS bucks.

clyde

September 26th, 2009
5:49 pm

Joan @ 8:44,
Been there at the corporate level,had that happen.I was informed that allegations of sexual harrassment had been filed and that I could not be told what I said nor whom I said it to.There were three women working in the department and I never could figure out what I said
to one of them,if anything.We had all worked there together for probably 15 years before this incident happened.I certainly sympathise with this professor.

ugaprof

September 26th, 2009
8:33 pm

“Speech codes masquerading as harassment policies” — Not at UGA, and as far as I know, not anywhere in the University System. We do not have speech codes. Our harassment policy, at least at UGA, is clear and fair and includes measures to protect the accused (including an ombudsman system, so that accusations can be discussed confidentially with an administrator before being passed along for further action). If East Georgia College is that far out of step with the rest of the system, the Regents must be quite worried about it at this point.

ugaprof

September 26th, 2009
8:35 pm

Catlady, you are right — EGC seems to have cooked its own goose by asserting that there was a “long history” of the problem, which EGC ignored up until now. If the offenses were real, they should have been handled when they first became known, and the victims can sue EGC. If they weren’t, then the accused professor can sue EGC. Heads you lose, tails you lose.

Adam Kissel

September 26th, 2009
10:14 pm

I appreciate ugaprof’s comments, but ugaprof is not quite right about speech codes at UGA — UGA’s one “red light” policy comes out of the Department of University Housing: http://www.thefire.org/spotlight/codes/407.html

Here are links to the speech codes at some other Georgia schools: http://www.thefire.org/spotlight/states/GA.html

“Left wing management,” check out this 2009 FIRE report (I work at FIRE) on hundreds of speech codes, many of which are indeed in the guise of civility policies, and many as harassment policies — http://www.thefire.org/code/speechcodereport. Also see this wonderful language about what is wrong with a “civility” policy from a First Amendment perspective, from a judge’s opinion an a real case:

“The First Amendment difficulty with this kind of mandate should be obvious: the requirement ‘to be civil to one another’ and the directive to eschew behaviors that are not consistent with ‘good citizenship’ reasonably can be understood as prohibiting the kind of communication that it is necessary to use to convey the full emotional power with which a speaker embraces her ideas or the intensity and richness of the feelings that attach her to her cause. Similarly, mandating civility could deprive speakers of the tools they most need to connect emotionally with their audience, to move their audience to share their passion.” (http://www.thefire.org/article/8668.html)

Algonquin J. Calhoun

September 26th, 2009
10:16 pm

Thibeault brought this issue up on August 5th and was asked to resign, due to a long history of sexual harassment, on August 7th? Seem odd to you Kyle? Clearly, Mr. Thibeault anticipated accusations being made against him. Why did he bring this up at this particular time? How did he know he was about to be accused of wrong doing? He is saying he was surprised by the allegations but was he really? I don’t think so. He claims to be innocent of harassing anyone but I’m thinking this looks as if he’s trying to mold opinion to his advantage. If Mr. Thibeault has a long history of being an harasser he’s aware of it! I seriously doubt Mr. Thibeault was fired for holding views that are anathema to the administration. When all is known, Mr. Thibeault will be exposed as a sexual degenerate who has has abused women, fellow faculty and students, for a long time. I’ll put money on that!

Bob

September 26th, 2009
10:46 pm

Georgia is a right to work state, which means you can be fired at any moment for any reason except those protected by federal law: sex, age, and race. Where is the outrage at this unfairness? University professors are different, they have tenure, I get it. I don’t get why conservatives only care about due process and fairness to employees in the workplace when they think they might get fired for not being pc enough.

Algonquin J. Calhoun

September 26th, 2009
10:50 pm

This is an account by Thomas Thibeault: Last week two students were talking to me in the hallway after class. One
student said that she didn’t want to go to a professor’s office because he looked
down her cleavage. The woman was wearing clothing that was specifically
designed to draw attention to her cleavage. She even sported a tattoo on her
chest, but I didn’t get close enough to read it. The cleavage was also decorated in
some sort of sparkly material, glitter or dried barbecue sauce. I couldn’t tell. I
told the student that she shouldn’t complain, if she drew such attention to
herself. The other female student then said, and I hope you’re not offended by
her actual words, “if you don’t want anyone looking at your titties, I’ll lend you a
T-shirt. I have one in the truck.” The first student then said, “No. I’m proud of the
way I look.” I left the conversation at that point.

I doubt that’s an accurate transcript of what was said. Even if it was, he had no business commenting on her breasts and the visibility they enjoyed. Professor Thibeault certainly checked them out pretty well if he thought there was barbecue sauce on them. If he admonished the young woman for being sensitive to the prying gaze of a fellow professor that’s wrong too. Clearly, Thibeault said or did something in this encounter he knew to be wrong. that’s why he broached the topic of accusations at the training.

I’m a professor in the university system of Georgia and I can tell you I do not discuss cleavage or anything else that could be construed as inappropriate or sexually suggestive. There’s more to come on Thibeault and I guarantee that! This isn’t a curtailment of free speech. This is about a lecherous professor being found out and fired!

clyde

September 27th, 2009
4:50 am

Bob,
Remove age from your list.

Michael H. Smith

September 27th, 2009
8:39 am

Hey Bob or whoever you really are, unions have become so corrupt I wouldn’t have one within fifty miles of me. Before I’d join another “D” union I’d join a DNC PAC and do things the honest way by honest means not through slimy filthy arrangements like ACORN and SEIU. Unions are nothing more than the Democrat Mafia.

Sixty-two percent of Americans view unions as detrimental to non-union American workers who make up about Eighty-eight percent of the labor force. Fifty-one percent say unions “mostly hurt” the economy and we of the eighty-eight percent are right.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2009/09/public-support-for-unions-slumps-afl-cio.html

Furthermore, unions support amnesty for illegal aliens – even worse they do so at a time when millions of Americans are unemployed, homeless and depending on assistance both from government and charities.

Obama, the Democrats and the unions are giving this sixty-two percent and fifty-one percent of America more evidence every day to support and confirm our beliefs.

Now where is the OUTRAGE!

Mike V.

September 27th, 2009
10:18 am

You have outlined the Professor’s problems and now the University must come forward with the evidence to back up their accusations. The professor, even if perceived to be guilty, should stand fast and be adequately accoused, and then punished only if found to be guilty by a jury of his peers.

Nope

September 27th, 2009
11:07 am

I wonder when Kyle Wingnut is going to address a REAL tragedy… like the census worker who was found BOUND, GAGGED AND HUNG in a graveyard in Kentucky with the word FED scrawled across his chest. Seems to me like his civil rights were really violated. But for some reason I think we will see the press and far right ideologues like Kyle continue to ignore this story as it is proof that their continued right wing screeching is finally paying off.

Michael H. Smith

September 27th, 2009
12:23 pm

Roll another joint for the left-wing fringe socialist cause and all of those willing to go “one toke over the line”.

http://www.wkyt.com/wymtnews/headlines/61542472.html

clyde

September 27th, 2009
12:56 pm

Nope,
Been listening to Nancy,have you??? She warned about all that up coming right wing violence.

StevenCee

September 27th, 2009
2:55 pm

This sure was one poorly written, rambling mess of a column! I read it in the printed paper, and it was made even worse by a ridiculous headline of “SPEECH NOT SO FREE ON CAMPUS”! This issue has nothing at all do with anyones free speech, nor does it sound like an issue at all. So it’s taken them seven weeks to put the entire case together & present it to this professor? He’s on paid leave, and while the school has said they don’t wish to have this case tried in the media, apparently the professor & you Kyle, do!

You criticize other cases where the charges WERE put out there right away, and did receive a great deal of ink & notoriety, which in this case, the school is rightfully trying to avoid.

So, really, what is your problem with this? How is this an issue? With all the far more urgent, serious, & life & death issues we are all facing, this is the best you could come up with for your Sunday column?

I’ve been patiently giving you a chance to get your voice here, but so far I’ve honestly not been impressed. I’ve seen the AJC, in general, diminish itself in light of all the cutbacks & layoffs, but it’s been very evident that the once vibrant & top flight (whether one agrees or not with the writers) editorial department, has fallen pretty far off their mark.

While not often in agreement with various conservative opinions, I always welcome well-reasoned, intellectually sound, diverse perspectives, and would like to more of that in your columns….

Vexorg

September 27th, 2009
3:11 pm

Age, Race and Sex MAY protect you against employer harrassment. BUT, these “administrators” attend conferences on how to screw the employees…LEGALLY, along with the company attorney.

If your employer wants to get rid of you, and they cannot find ANY violation of rules or policy…then they’ll send you to the “company” doctor. And it takes is for that doctor to write a “unfit for employment/duty” report…and you’re history with NO benefits whatsoever. And don’t expect any help from that protector of the worker’s rights, E.E.O.C. unless you’re a woman or “minority”.

And guess just WHO pays for that doctor’s examination, and the results of are gonna be in favor of? Lets just say, you had better contact a competent labor attorney BEFORE you see that doctor……especially if he has an office in Smyrna specializing in “diagnostic” examinations!

13 years of selfless service…get a new boss; he don’t like ya. Out to the curb I was tossed, and thrown under the bus by “sympathetic” supervisors……

clyde

September 27th, 2009
3:49 pm

Vexorg,
Another way to get rid of an employee is to eliminate the job title.I once worked where they eliminatd all the superintendents in a plant because they wanted to get rid of one particular individual.Once the superintendents were gone,other people were hired to fill the position of plant coorddinators.Same job description as the old superintendent position.

ole' hippie

September 27th, 2009
7:25 pm

Enter your comments here
I know from personal experience (I used to teach there) that the management at East Ga are racist, sexist, ageist, and do not tolerate dissent. They coddle students to make them feel that they are still in junior high instead of an adult program. The management treats students as if they were bqbies, instead of adults looking for “higher education”.

Concerned Faculty, Staff and other Georgia Citizens

September 27th, 2009
8:05 pm

To correct the misperception in one of the comments above, Governor Perdue stated in his August 10, 2009 email in response to one of the many emails he has received recently regarding the blatant misuse of Foundation and State funds by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia in their deferred presidential compensations (David Bell, Macon State College $600,000, Wayne Clough, Georgia Tech $804,000, and others) and NOT disclosed appropriately to Foundation donors and Georgia taxpayers, Governor Perdue stated:
“GEORGIA’S CONSTITUTION RESERVES TO THE BOARD OF REGENTS THE EXCLUSIVE AUTHORITY TO MAKE SUCH DECISIONS.”
In other words, until legislators introduce change, the Governor has NO authority and – just like the informed legislators – Perdue has chosen to simply look the other way. Currently, the Board of Regents is accountable to no one.

leeh1

September 27th, 2009
8:58 pm

Looks like the senior college management and all department heads should go. Hire newer employees from outside, who are cheaper, and will change the system by lopping off the head and starting new again.

The best way to stir up group think and dusty procedures is to bring a guillotine to the campus and ending lifetime employement for the managers.

Far too often we fire the teachers instead of the supervisors, planners and admininstrators.

Just Human

September 27th, 2009
10:56 pm

“His case bears all the characteristics of the decline in free speech and due process at America’s universities.”

This statement is made without evidence that there is such a decline…it’s a popular meme within the right-wing anti-intellectual, anti-academic mainstream to suggest that the Academy is politically motivated and opposed to debate…as a PhD student I can attest (anecdotaly, I realize) that this is nonsense. My seminars are populated by students and professors from the entire spectrum, and NO one is mistreated or censored because of their views. That’s kind of what a doctoral program is about – arguing. Funny how right-wing idiots who barely have bachelor’s degrees are the ones perpetuating this false perception…

Chia Hair Plugs

September 28th, 2009
1:23 am

The messiah is about to extend the Patriot act. Gird your loins.

Avery

September 28th, 2009
1:44 am

Public universities can do this crap because they bear none of the legal fees……..if they don’t act on the accuser’s behalf, they can be personally liable. On the flip side, if the defendant wins, we (the taxpayers) foot the bill.

In short, the current legal climate encourages this behavior.

Also, it appears “Just Human” misunderstood the point. The point relates to the student-teacher relationship, not the “challenge” atmosphere in a PhD seminar. Trust me, the debates (and student reactions) are not the same.

CJJScout

September 28th, 2009
6:56 am

This is a freaking joke. We have become so concerned about political correctness that if you don’t do everything exactly right then you better get prepared for a McCarthy-esque witchhunt to come after you.

pd

September 28th, 2009
9:03 am

What I’ve always wondered is, are you allowed to ask a woman if the hair on her can of coke is a pubic hair, if the hair actually turns out to be one from a pubic region?

Kyle Wingfield

September 28th, 2009
9:58 am

Algonquin: Regarding your two comments…does any of this excuse the fact that he hasn’t been told, seven weeks after being told he’d be fired, what exactly he allegedly did?

[...] Kyle Wingfield tells about a Georgia professor’s fight for due process. [...]

Rick Sansoni

September 28th, 2009
11:32 am

This is not by any means the most extreme cases where there is no due process. There is NEVER any due process involved in sexual harassment cases. Sexual Harassment Law is the biggest fraud put upon the American people in it’s history. Thousands of lives have been ruined, and many business as well. For no reason. Most HR people are aware of that, and most are reluctant to speak about it.
Here’s another real life example: http://www.myspace.com/gwinnettsoon

GSUProfessor

September 28th, 2009
9:56 pm

A generally good debate, better, frankly, than the opinion piece.
The core concern, no matter what one’s political perspective, is that the accused has still not been informed of the content or nature of the accusation. Either the professor has violated the Harassment policy he agreed to follow by signing his contract, or he has not, and only a fair hearing can determine this. So far, there has been no movement toward a hearing.
Tenure does not protect a Professor from dismissal. As we joke here, tenure only means they have to be a little more creative to fire you. I wonder if we are seeing some of that creativity here?

Rick Sansoni

September 29th, 2009
12:45 am

He won’t have a fair hearing. The policy clearly states “the feelings of the offended were proof of the offensive nature of the behavior”, that’s why he won’t be included. So anytime someone’s feelings get hurt, a career gets ruined.

Now Sexual Discrimination Law clearly states that “ANY employment action based solely on sex, race, religion, age etc. is against the law.

Yet this kind of insanity exists in every workplace in the US that employs 15 or more employees. Most sexual harassment policies and the law it self violates Civil Rights Law that is supposed to apply in the workplace.

Imagine if this was applied outside the workplace. Person gets a DUI, gets arrested, turns around and sues for sexual harassment. Her feelings were hurt because she was pulled over.

This is absolute insanity.

Rick Sansoni

September 29th, 2009
4:57 am

A correction to my last post. Sexual Harassment Law does not violate Civil Rights Law…..I commented too soon.

If it turns out this professor gets fired for opposing this sexual harassment policy, assuming he feels it violates discrimination law, he may have a harassment case against them.

See EEOC, harassment. just a thought.

Globals

October 3rd, 2009
12:50 am

all good things

Georgia taxpayers

October 7th, 2009
7:39 am

It would not surprise many USG faculty and staff if the professor’s rights have been (alledgedly) violated – as it is common practice at the University System of Georgia. But the USG is currently getting away with much more.
Jim Walls with Atlanta Unfiltered has confirmed the amounts below that USG presidents have accumulated or collected in deferred pay since 2004, according to records provided by the University System, tax returns and financial statements. The figures reflect payments or set-asides of state money and, where known, of funds from a school’s associated foundation.
$1,820,697 — Wayne Clough, former Georgia Tech president (includes $500,000 cash, a $38,000 car and a split-dollar life insurance policy valued at $750,000 from the foundation)
$1,666,639 — Carl Patton, retired Georgia State University president
$1,573,606 — Michael Adams, UGA president (includes $786,106 due from the UGA Foundation as of June 2008)
$600,000 — David Bell, Macon State University president (includes $400,000 due from the Macon State foundation)
$495,990 — Thomas Meredith, former University System chancellor (includes $180,990 from the University System of Georgia Foundation)
$480,000 — Daniel Rahn, Medical College of Georgia president
$262,500 — Erroll B. Davis Jr., University System chancellor
$127,000 — Beheruz Sethna, University of West Georgia president
$90,000 — Dan Papp, Kennesaw State University foundation
$75,000 — Bud Peterson, Georgia Tech president since April 1
$7,191,432 – Total

Richard

October 28th, 2009
4:49 am

Dear Algonquin J. Calhoun: let’s not be quite so prudish. If you have a good relationship with your students, there is nothing with clarifying to one of them that she is dressed too provocatively. I find his presentation of the conversation and circumstances entirely believable.

Much more likely, at this point, is that Prof. Thibeault raised uncomfortable questions and had perhaps offended members of the school administration. That is no grounds to fire a professor! In fact, raising uncomfortable questions is very much part of the job description.

Cheers,

Brad (who is also a prof.)