Faculty–deeply unsettled by campus harrassment–vote on standards of employee conduct

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Faculty–deeply unsettled by campus harrassment–vote on standards of employee conduct

Katie James, Opinion Editor

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The Academic Senate voted Wednesday to send Administrative Policy 3051 “Employee Standards of Conduct”—which would prohibit “behavior or language which belittles a coworker or student”—to the Board Policies and Administrative Procedure committee.

Cornelia Alsheimer voted in opposition of sending the policy forward, while Stephen DeVega and Anna Parmely abstained. It was also decided a work group will meet over summer to create a resolution on this issue to be voted on at the July 7 summer Academic Senate meeting. Danielle Swiontek, Kathleen O’Connor, Melissa Menendez, Cornelia Alsheimer, Patricia Stark, Eileen Vlcek-Scamahorn, and Chris Ulivo volunteered for and were elected to serve on the work group.

During the meeting, many senators voiced that the college is not doing enough to address faculty members’ harassment over social media and college forums, specifically the ‘all-campus’ email.

“I don’t feel safe at work. What has been happening to me has been escalating. Is the next thing going to be a physical assault against me? I don’t know,” said Danielle Swiontek, social sciences representative. “. . . and I think that’s why I am so angry is that this college has regardless of who has been in charge has just tolerated this stuff for years. If I were not tenured I probably would have quit given what happened to me this semester.”

“I cannot tell you how much time and energy and emotional anguish this has cost me this semester. So fuck the college. Fuck the people who are being allowed to do this and we need some kind of policy and someone to actually enforce the goddamn thing. I know I’m swearing and I know I’m upset but this is not okay.”

Physical education representative Kathleen O’Connor provided some historical context about harrassment at City College, saying no substantial change in the frequency of sexual assault has occurred at City College for years.

“I have been teaching self defense for 30 years, I have been teaching women’s health and dealing with rape and sexual assault on this campus and in this community for 30 years and nothing has ever changed,” she said.

“I have students who have been assaulted in the restrooms in the IDC building who have not come back to campus. I’ve had students raped on this campus. We’ve had faculty members assaulted verbally. It’s unacceptable.”

THE FACULTY COLLOQUIUM SPEAKER

City College’s ongoing conversation about harassment began on March 19, the day Dr. Michael Shermer spoke at a faculty colloquium held at City College. That morning, an all-campus email was sent by chemistry chair Raeanne Napoleon highlighting harassment accusations made against Shermer in a 2014 Buzzfeed article. Later that day, The Channels published an article highlighting the conversation that occured in the ensuing email chain. Over the following weeks, both Napoleon and The Channels were sent cease-and-desist letters by Shermer’s attorney, stating that he believed the accusations were libelous and defamatory.

Philosophy teacher Mark McIntire, lead organizer of the colloquium at which Shermer spoke, disseminated Shermer’s responses to the issue via the all-campus email system. In the weeks after, the same all-campus email system has been used by faculty members to send messages some feel constitute harassment and Napoleon has filed a workplace harassment complaint against McIntire due to posts on Facebook he has made.

SHOULD THE ADMINISTRATION BE DOING MORE?

Jason Barrios, a member of City College’s Associated Student Government, suggested the senate move forward with the draft of the policy.

“I think the most upset people by this would be students. I have been in the WCC building and I’ve seen students lined up outside Danielle’s classroom and they’re just mad, they’re pissed. Students just ranting about what Mark is doing to them [Swiontek and Napoleon] and to the students themselves. So it looks like the college isn’t doing anything to protect you guys and students are hearing that so when they are seeing that they are thinking ‘Hey that’s not cool,’” Barrios said.

The Channels reached out to Mark Mcintire for comment about what was said during the meeting.

“I urge the Academic Senate to retain custody of the unedited audio tape of that meeting. It is a public document and every taxpayer who supports this college has a right to hear the full tape and decide for themselves who started this insidious and invidious abuse of ‘all campus’ email,” McIntire said.

Luz Reyes-Martin, executive director of public affairs and communications, sent The Channels a response from Superintendent-President Anthony Beebe addressing the claims that the college has not done enough to protect teachers..

“While I cannot comment on any specific issue or accusation—there are processes we must follow and are following—I can share with you that broader work around gender equity is taking place. I will be following up in the next few days with a campus message about these efforts,” Beebe said.

THE FALSE NEWS-PRESS ARTICLE

An article was published about history professor Danielle Swiontek in the Santa Barbara News-Press Sunday containing the false assertion that Swiontek had violated campus policy in an email she sent out to ‘all campus.’ The email promoted a GoFundMe for the legal fees incurred by Napoleon. In the meeting, some senators said they believed the college had a responsibility to protect teachers in these kind of incidents.

Swiontek expressed frustration with the college, saying the college should have followed up with the reporter who wrote the article sooner, and it appeared to her the college had not persisted after its initial request for a retraction of the article. She will have to hire her own lawyer to represent her, she says, because she feels the college is not doing enough to defend her.

“That’s my name and my reputation that’s in the public. This isn’t The Channels article, this isn’t ‘all campus’ email, this is a public local newspaper and I live in this community. The college is doing nothing. So we need something, as an employee I need a policy that I can point to and force them to act because they are not acting,” Swiontek said.

Responding to a request by The Channels for comment on the matter, Beebe detailed numerous steps the college took and is continuing to take to address the News-Press article. Some of these steps include an ongoing effort to send follow-up emails about the retraction request (they have not heard back as of Thursday), the submission of a letter to the editor to the Newspress which clarifies the college’s position, and seeking legal counsel about the issue. (Here is a link to Beebe’s full statement.)

MORE HARM THAN GOOD?

The one concern that was brought up at the meeting was about whether the policy could be used to harm teachers and be used inappropriately. Most of the suggestions about how the policy might harm teachers were general in nature.

“There is surely a reason to become active and do something but we feel this is a dangerous slippery slope and it can harm faculty as well as help us,” said Cornelia Alsheimer, business education representative.

Anna Parmely, mathematics representative, was in agreement with Alsheimer, saying they should make sure it’s not vulnerable to being flipped against teachers.

Halfway through the meeting, Napoleon left in apparent frustration and did not return.

In a follow-up interview, Napoleon explained that she felt that everyone saying the policy could be twisted or used against someone were ignoring what she and others had gone through in past months and how current policy cannot prevent it from continuing.

 

Clarification: May 11, 2018
This story was changed to clarify the nature of the concerns raised at the meeting about the policy.

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