Paul Wellman (file)
Thursday, September 20, 2018
After six months of sustained public outcry, and in response to a blisteringly critical letter signed by nearly three dozen faculty members, SBCC President Anthony Beebe publicly apologized last Wednesday for how the college responded to multiple harassment and hostile workplace claims filed by female employees against male colleagues. “My team and I made statements, took actions, and responded to difficult things over the last several months that have hurt members of our college community,” he said in his open letter. “I deeply regret that my actions caused harm.”
The saga began last March when chemistry professor Raeanne Napoleon sent an all-campus email outlining sexual assault allegations against Michael Shermer, a guest lecturer invited to speak at Santa Barbara City College by adjunct philosophy instructor Mark McIntire. In response, Shermer shot off strongly worded legal threats against Napoleon, while McIntire denounced her and her supporters as “hysterical victim posers” who “secreted” social justice “venom.” McIntire’s continuing barrage of social media posts and private emails, which referred to the female professors as a “sorority,” prompted Napoleon and three other faculty members to file formal Title IX harassment claims against him.
As the Title IX investigations unfolded, SBCC fired McIntire, ostensibly for unacceptable teaching habits. McIntire claimed he was in fact let go for his comments and for being an outspoken Trump supporter on a mostly liberal campus. He said his statements were protected free speech, and he vowed to sue the school for wrongful termination. The two sides reached a $120,000 settlement agreement last month. At the time of his dismissal, McIntire, a member of the philosophy department for 13 years, was teaching a single online critical thinking course. Former SBCC president Lori Gaskin called the payout “a sad outcome for the college.”
The assigned Title IX judge ultimately ruled that while McIntire’s statements to his female colleagues were “gender-based in a purposefully disparaging fashion” and clearly violated SBCC’s Code of Ethics, they didn’t rise to the level of actionable harassment. McIntire said he felt vindicated by the settlement and the ruling, and he’s moving on from the controversy by launching a Santa Barbara News-Press–sponsored radio program called Freedom Matters. In online message boards he continues to defend himself. “You can only be bullied if you are weak and have no plausible defense,” he recently wrote. “Admitting you have been bullied is admitting you have been dominated.”
Throughout the ordeal, Beebe and City College administrators remained conspicuously silent. They voiced no public support for the four women and denied Napoleon’s requests for legal assistance, claiming she had acted as a private citizen in her protest of Shermer’s appearance. Instead, Beebe implored the school to not “get distracted” by the dispute, and he curtailed access to the all-campus email system. Media interviews were declined, and when Napoleon and others did speak with reporters, they were accused of “stirring the pot.”
Frustrated by what they viewed as purposeful inaction by SBCC leadership, a letter was composed by a group of 33 faculty members in the Sciences Division — Napoleon works there but emphasized she had no part in writing it — and sent to Beebe and the Board of Trustees on September 5. They condemned the administration’s lack of support and communication, and they voiced bewilderment it possessed little awareness of the many faculty- and student-initiated Title IX complaints that had been lodged with state authorities.
One of the complaints, the letter states, involved a male faculty member “engaging in sexual misconduct in plain view of students, staff, and faculty.” The economics professor, a close ally of McIntire’s, was observed by multiple people on multiple occasions viewing hardcore pornography on his office computer. When this was reported to former executive vice president Paul Jarrell, he responded SBCC didn’t have “any policy to prevent this,” but he was hopeful the school could find a legal way to stop the professor “other than us simply telling him not to,” perhaps with a “hostile work environment” complaint to the school’s human resources department. Human Resources, however, declined to take any action until a Title IX grievance was filed, the letter states. The professor was permitted to retire with full benefits soon after.
“The faculty involved in the above-described events are suffering,” the letter reads. “They feel discriminated against, gaslighted, alienated, and disposable to the institution.” SBCC’s reputation as a school sensitive to gender-equity issues has been jeopardized, the letter goes on to say, and it will continue to suffer poor PR as long as the administration stays silent, which “in a time of declining enrollment when we are trying to court members of the community and high school students” is “particularly dangerous.” The science faculty demanded that the administration issue an apology, become more transparent, and take reports of harassment and sexual misconduct more seriously.
In his September 12 mea culpa, Beebe committed to greater openness from his administration. He vowed to hire a full-time Title IX officer and make the number and status of all the college’s Title IX claims and investigations publicly available online. (SBCC did not respond to a request from the Independent this week for information on pending and recently closed Title IX cases.) Beebe also suggested the creation of a President’s Action Committee on Gender Equity, and he said $20,000 in funding would be given to the Academic Senate to develop best practices in balancing “academic integrity, free speech, academic freedom, and civility.”
With respect to the last six months, Beebe acknowledged the frustration and anger that roiled the campus. “Although attempting to give thoughtful consideration before making every decision, I recognize that some actions could be perceived as insensitive, uncaring, or simply wrong,” he said. “I will admit there were instances over the last several months where we could have moved faster as an institution. … I apologize for this. Period. No excuse.” Beebe said he hopes the college will move forward together “with some positive and significant actions.”
For her part, Napoleon was unmoved by the apology, calling it “a disingenuous attempt from Dr. Beebe to be the leader and superintendent-president that we need and have needed for some time.” She found it striking that as soon as Beebe received the science department letter, he forwarded it to SBCC’s Board of Trustees and complained, “None of this makes any sense … ”
“What doesn’t make sense,” Napoleon rebutted, “is that he would offer that sentiment after countless emails, meetings, and pleas from so many faculty members to address the resentment that was festering on campus.”
Napoleon is considering resigning her tenured teaching position, because at the end of the day, she said, McIntire “was allowed to harass me, and anyone associated with me, for months.” That’s unacceptable, she said, and “it’s just too bad his bad behavior got rewarded with such a payout.”