This is from Robert Klein Engler’s Defense Fund website. It’s a story we ought to hear about.
In 1999 I began teaching at Roosevelt University as an Adjunct Professor. I loved my job and my students, and I take great pride in the fact I had never been the target of any complaint from any student, faculty member, or administration official.
That all changed on May 10, 2010, when during a phone call with my Department Chair Michael T. Maly he mentioned that a “harassment complaint” had been filed against me. I asked what the complaint was about. Mr. Maly said he couldn’t tell me.
For months I practically begged Roosevelt University officials to provide me with at least some clue as to the nature of the “harassment complaint” lodged against me. I couldn’t imagine what it might be, but thought I at least had a right to know what someone was alleging.
But for months the University ignored my pleas.
On August 6, 2010, Mr. Maly notified me by e-mail that I was fired from the University. He claimed I wasn’t cooperating with an investigation. This was beyond absurd. For months the University stonewalled my attempts to learn even the most basic details of the allegation against me.
It is certainly true that one side wasn’t cooperating. And that side was the University.
On the day I was fired via an e-mail message on the basis of a “harassment complaint”– I still had no idea what the underlying “complaint” was about.
Adam Kissel of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education published this about my case: “How is it reasonable to expect someone to defend himself without knowing, for instance, whether he should bring in evidence that could disprove the allegation and end the case right away? For insisting on such basic rights, Engler eventually was fired by Roosevelt University.”
Fired for telling a harmless joke in class? You gotta be kidding…
Finally, two months after Roosevelt University fired me, and only after I hired an attorney to help me get some answers, I was for the first time advised by the University that the so-called “harassment” complaint related to one harmless joke I told in front of an entire classroom of students.
Apparently, one student complained about a joke I told to the entire class–a joke which by the way directly related to that day’s classroom discussion. Not only was the joke harmless, we now know that the University never should have tagged the complaint as “harassment” in the first place. The University breached its duty from the very beginning by lumping me in with true harassers–simply because I told a joke of an identical kind that one could hear from Jay Leno or David Letterman five nights a week.
I’m now asking that age old question, where do I go to get my reputation back?
Fergus Hodgson of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy has more on my case, including the specific joke that started it all.
Kissel sums it up perfectly, “Engler’s ordeal apparently originated with nothing more than this joke, which (like it or not) is obviously not harassment.”
My union stood with me, right up until they threw me under the bus.
My union representatives agreed that Roosevelt University’s firing of me in August of last year was in clear violation of multiple sections of the Roosevelt Adjunct Faculty Organization (RAFO) union contact. In a letter dated July 6, 2010, RAFO’s grievance chair Joseph Fedorko advised Roosevelt University that “The Agreement . . . has been violated in several respects (most obviously Article 4E, but also possibly 4H and 4K and others). RAFO filed two grievances against the University on my behalf.
For several months, I was reassured by my union representatives that things were moving along and that the union was working hard on my behalf as our contract requires. This past December my union filed a “Step 3” Grievance. Basically that’s the union saying it’s not satisfied with the employer’s response and it’s notifying the University that we’re moving to arbitration.
So far so good. My union seemed to be standing up for me. I was very confident that any fair and neutral arbitrator would agree that I should get my job back. All we had to do was follow through on the arbitration that my union demanded (at least on paper) from the University.
But now comes March of this year. Now my union tells me that it’s doing a complete reversal. Now that we’re finally to the point where I hope to get a fair remedy–my union decides to throw me under the bus.
Now I’m shocked to hear my union parroting University officials, and telling me they won’t fight for my job or for my reputation. I’m expected to accept a small cash settlement offer that will do nothing to restore my job, my professional standing, or my reputation.
For nearly a year I have remained in employment limbo as I relied in good faith on my union’s representations that they were fighting in solidarity with me for my contractual rights. The University has severely hurt my future employment prospects in academia by recklessly and falsely branding me as a “harasser.”
Unfortunately I’ve leaned the hard way that my union is great on the rhetoric about collective bargaining. It’s the follow through and actually doing something for their dues paying members that my union has a problem with.
Why is my fight your fight?
When academic freedom is squelched or threatened, every American loses.
Robert Weissberg, emeritus professor of political science, University of Illinois-Urbana and currently an adjunct instructor at New York University Department of Politics, said this about my case in his article earlier this year entitled: Standing Up to the PC Bullies:
“Consider what might now happen at Roosevelt University. . . . Topics like crime, teenage pregnancy and welfare dependency will vanish lest a slip of the tongue, even the wrong facial expression, brings charges of harassment. Prudent faculty might also revert to plain vanilla boring lectures and award sensitive students “A’s” as an insurance policy. Other might just pander to these groups to play it safe.”
I need your help.
I ask for your help, because if it happened to me, it can happen to you.
I’m standing up and seeking fair treatment against two powerful forces: politically correct academia, and an arrogant union establishment that long ago lost sight of its proper mission.
Help me make Roosevelt University a better place to teach and learn. Help me make Roosevelt a university where academic freedom is respected and a harassment policy is not used for political purposes.
Any donation you can make to my legal defense fund will be greatly appreciated. (You can follow the link at the top back to his website.)
Robert Klein Engler
Doug Ibendahl, attorney
5/11/2011 – New Website Launch
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WEISSBERG: Standing Up to the PC Bullies l January 27, 2011
KISSEL: Roosevelt University Professor Fired after Telling Joke in Class l January 18, 2011
HODGSEN: Here’s the joke that got college prof fired l January 13, 2011
NBC CHICAGO: Professor fired for immigration joke wants job back l October 21, 2010
THE TORCH: Professor still seeks answers l September 27, 2010
THE TORCH: Student comes forward about fired professor l November 10, 2011
VIDEO: Social Justice is Not Funny
Mr. Engler’s books are available from amazon.com.