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.