Students enrolled in Sociology 152: America as a Global Thing were among the first to learn of Professor Charles Lemert’s terminal leave from the University this summer. In an e-mail from Sociology Department Chair Jonathan Cutler, students were told that Professor Lemert “has terminated his connection with the Sociology Department.” The e-mail also noted that af¬ter a one-year leave from the University, Lemert would “immediately re¬tire.” According to administrators, Professor Lemert was not fired from the University. His decision to retire was reached through a “mutual agreement.”

The e-mail sparked a viral wave of rumors about the cause of Professor Lemert’s unexpected leave, prompting more questions than answers. As the John C. Andrus Professor of Sociology, Lemert had taught Sociology 152 and upper-division courses on social theory throughout his 29-year career at the University.
According to anonymous sources, however, Professor Lemert’s departure was related to comments he made in two faculty meetings during the last academic year, with the latter occurring on April 16. Lemert allegedly used the racial slur “colored people” in front of and directed at fellow faculty members.

In the wake of these events, Professor Cutler filed a complaint with the Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities (FCRR). The FCRR handles cases of discrimi¬natory harassment when it is deter¬mined that the alleged offense might result in a faculty member’s dismissal or sus¬pension without pay. The com¬plaint against Professor Lemert described a perva¬sive pattern of dis-criminatory and non-discriminatory harassment, both of which are violations of the faculty codebook. Once Professor Lemert decided to retire in July, Professor Cutler withdrew the com¬plaint. Professor Lemert admitted no wrongdoing and the FCRR made no recommendations.

According to sources, although the racial slur used by Professor Lemert contributed to the series of events that culminated in his retirement, allegedly it was not the first time that he had used such language in a public setting.

“The complaint alleged a ‘persistent pattern’ because it appeared that these were not isolated incidents,” Professor Cutler said. “But I subsequently withdrew those allegations.”

According to the University’s pol¬icy on discrimination and harassment, the University itself prohibits any form of harassment, and harassment of employees that can be construed as discriminatory violates state and fed¬eral law. The University also prohibits non-discriminatory harassment, or harassment not specifically based on a person’s or persons’ membership in a protected category.

To ensure the protection of academic freedom, however, the totality of the circumstances and the context in which the behavior is alleged to have occurred is considered in determining violations to the University’s policy. Sources noted that it is unlikely that the complaint against Lemert would have been taken seriously had it been a one-time remark.

According to sources, it is alleged that Professor Cutler’s complaint was forwarded by the FCRR to Joseph Bruno, former Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA), who subsequently launched an investigation. According to the FCRR’s procedures, after a complaint is made, the VPAA will ensure that the appropriate investi¬gation takes place. The procedures state that “if, after such an investigation, the VPAA concludes that the allegations, if proven true, might subject the respon¬dent to dismissal or suspension without pay, the VPAA will consult with an ad hoc committee made up of three former Chairs of the Faculty before pro¬ceeding with a formal complaint.”

According to sources, Bruno allegedly consulted with three former Chairs of the Faculty and subsequently recommended that Professor Lemert’s case be a Part III proceeding. This proceeding only applies to cases where the VPAA deems the harassment complaint against the faculty member sufficiently serious to result in dismissal or suspen¬sion without pay. These proceedings include an FCRR hearing followed by a written report and a recommendation made by the FCRR to the President. According to the FCRR’s Part III pro¬cedures, the President will then report his or her decision to dismiss a tenured faculty member to the Board of Trustees for review. The dismissal of a faculty member “shall require the concurring vote of not less than two-thirds of the Trustees then in office.” The decision of the Trustees is final.

However, Professor Cutler with¬drew his complaint and Professor Lemert retired before the case went through any of the Part III proceedings.

“[Professor Lemert] was not fired,” said Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Rob Rosenthal, who is also a sociology professor. “He voluntarily retired.”

“Some people may have interpreted my e-mail’s use of ‘terminal’ as terminated, but Charles Lemert was not terminated,” Professor Cutler said in an interview with The Argus. “I was given the phrase ‘terminal leave’ by the University’s General Council.”

As such, Professor Lemert has maintained his relationship with the University—according to sources, he will retire with all of the benefits that a professor would normally receive upon retirement.

Professor Lemert has, however, formally terminated his relationship with the Sociology Department. He has vacated his office and no longer has a mailbox. In the e-mail to students, Professor Cutler wrote that “effective immediately, he will no longer teach any courses or tutorials nor will he ad¬vise any students.”
According to sources, Lemert was absent from the last of the Sociology Department’s gatherings for graduating majors in May, and professors in atten-dance made no mention of him. Over the summer, a previously unscheduled 35-seat section of Sociology 151 was added to the department’s course offerings, taught by newly hired Visiting Assistant Professor Sarah Kaufman. This course replaced Sociology 152, which Professor Lemert was scheduled to teach this fall.

  • Anonymous

    i found cutler’s email to students enrolled in lemert’s classes (which i was forwarded) shamefully unprofessional. the gleeful bravado that oozed from that email was an easy tip-off that things are not completely as they seem here.

    because the reporter does not know the specifics of the situation that began the investigation, or the complexity of the sociology department’s internal dynamic, this article ends up dragging through the mud someone who does not deserve it. lemert was very controversial, to be sure, but as this article never states directly, there was never a “trend” of discriminatory remarks established–cutler himself adds that he withdrew that claim because it could not be proved, despite what the reporter’s not-even-termed-as-such anonymous sources allege. the argus would do well to consider lemert’s legacy more fully than it has–dont you think that his being beloved to hundreds of wesleyan students past and present deserves mention, too?

  • Wes Alum ’08

    This is so bullshit.

    Maybe people who had classes with Lemert can also chime in, but the man is far from being a racist.

    Prof. Lemert is a quite nice man who just happens to be an old-fashioned nice man kind of like Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino. Often misunderstood by the knee-jerk PC crowd, but for the students who actually had his class or interacted with him on personal level; he is a genuinely good person who’s willing to help. Ironically enough, it is only at a place like Wes where a poser like Cutler could know the right things to say and win the power-grab while a doer like Lemert bites the dust.

    I’m not going to go into details because it involves personal information about other people. But Lemert has helped minority students countless times in the past, even to the point of putting himself on the line against administrative red-tapes and departmental politics.

    Of course, this has nothing to do with discrimination/sensitivity. But all the more to do with power-play in department politics at a PC liberal arts college.

    And of course, none of this is surprising for a place like Wesleyan.

  • David Lott, ’65

    I must be too old.

    “Colored People” is racist but “People of Color” is celebratory?

    Just shut up sounds like the best advice.

  • Richard

    Remember David Howard, the head of Office of Public Advocate for DC Mayor Williams used a particular word that sounds like the n-word to describe the admistration of a specific fund in the presence of staff members who were people of color.

  • Jessica

    I find the whole racist allegation to be utter rubbish. Rubbish.

    I, too, was an ethnic minority student at Wesleyan and Professor Lemert was a huge source of support. He literally saved my life senior year. When I was unable to return to my home country over the winter, he ensured that I had enough money to survive during that break and made it a point to check in with me to make sure that I was ok.

    A racist professor would not have treated me so kindly.

    Wesleyan has suffered a great loss. A great mind but even bigger heart.

  • What about Joe?

    And what did Joe Bruno do, that he got forced out so suddenly (and so rudely) this summer, after appearing to do such an excellent job as VPAA?

  • Carl Lowrill

    I agree with David. It makes no sense whatsoever that the University gladly lumps together all ethnic minorities into a label like “Student of Color” (whether the students themselves like it or not) and then throws a fit when someone uses the term “colored.” “Of color” and “colored” are close enough that someone could very easily make an honest mistake.

  • ’01 alum

    I’ve never been a huge fan of Prof. Lemert (he was a co-prof. of the Ethics, Policy, and Triage Society class that I took as an undergrad), but do I not correctly remember his daughter being black? Hard to believe that a man with a black daughter is a casual racist.

  • Anonymous

    Reminds me of The Human Stain. That is all.

  • Philip Roth

    Except, you know. Charles Lemert isn’t a light-skinned passing black man posing as a Jew and having an affair with a 34-year-old female janitor.

  • ’09 Alum

    I am very close to two of the professors (Cutler and Lemert) mentioned in the article. Cutler was my advisor and Lemert was my mentor. And yes, I agree with an poster here that “things are not completely as they seem” at least in the sociology department.

    What you have to understand is that Cutler HATES Lemert. He would always try to undermine him in ways that are unbelievably petty. Cutler would not endorse the thesis of a soc major only because the student was influenced too much by Lemert.

    Lemert, on the other hand, has no problems with Cutler and kept asking me what his issue was with him. It is SO FUCKED UP how Cutler used the phrase “terminated his connection” to a professor that has taught innumerable students for almost 30 years at Wes.

    Lemert is the best professor I’ve had at Wes, who really tried to get to know the students outside the university as well. Many do not know this, but Lemert has an adopted daughter who is black.

    “Remember that, like you in your worst moments, I am very irritating and I don’t believe that any sociology class is meant to make people comfortable. So if you like to be comfortable and do not tolerate the annoyances human beings caused each other you might want to take the class from someone else. On the other hand,… I am very smart and can be mildly entertaining from time to time. Your choice.” -Lemert

  • Losing Faith

    For the 3 years in Wesleyan as a senior now, even as a non-Sociology major, this situation is making me lose faith in the institution.

  • wes student

    this is disgusting. wth cutler?

  • UK observer

    Pretty obvious why Cutler hates Lemert!

    No-one has heard of Cutler, or is it Cutter?

    In the UK and European Sociology, Lemert is a really big name.

    Simple, really.

  • student

    it’s kind of unsettling that people are making such a big deal about an old white guy being pressured to leave, yet when a highly qualified black woman gets denied tenure and publically slandered in the Argus, nothing really happens.

  • re: student

    dude, people flipped their shit when price didn’t get tenure. to the point that they offered her that ridiculous, semi-insulting make-work job so that people would shut up about it. i’m no lemert fan, and i think they fucked up over prof. price, but you’re bein’ silly