Pacific U Fires Tenured Professor For Supposedly Insensitive Statements Like “Every Person Has A Gender”
Dr. Richard Paxton has sued, asserting the university violated its own commitment to academic freedom, due process, and civil rights.
Pacific University has taken action to fire Dr. Richard Paxton, despite his status as a full, tenured professor in the College of Education, and sixteen years of service to the school. The termination comes after students complained that he said, “Every person has a gender,” and “Native Americans were aggressive and war-like,” among other supposedly insensitive statements.
Located in Forest Grove, Oregon, Pacific has accused Paxton of violating the civil rights of students in his class with insensitive language. The school took this action without a hearing on the matter, apparently denying him due process. Pacific had previously suspended Paxton over the allegations and pressured him to resign, prompting him to file a federal lawsuit against the university. According to the lawsuit, the resignation demand came with no evidence or opportunity for Dr. Paxton to respond to the allegations.
Paxton claims in his lawsuit that he was summoned to an online meeting on October 9, 2020, with 15 minutes notice. The meeting was arranged by Jennifer Yruegas, university council and its Title IX coordinator, and included the dean of the College of Education. Yruegas placed Paxton on paid administrative leave and gave him a matter of days to submit his resignation. Paxton refused.
On August 26, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported:
The three-page memo from Pacific’s University Personnel Committee sent to Paxton on Wednesday is presented as a recommendation and lays out appeal options, but it essentially constitutes the professor’s termination.
Paxton sued the university for his suspension earlier this year, stating that the university did not award him due process. That lawsuit is ongoing. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the private university’s treatment of Paxton, which is also still underway.
The initial student complaints led to Pacific launching an external Title IX investigation of Paxton, which was dismissed last month.
But, Pacific launched its own internal investigation, in which the school’s Provost found that Paxton violated some university policies.
Students allege that at various times, Paxton made offensive comments about gender and Native Americans:
Paxton was placed on administrative leave last year following complaints from students about alleged comments he made about gender and ethnicity while teaching. Specific alleged comments Paxton made in a class include saying that “every person has a gender,” ignoring the gender identity of agender and nonbinary students. Students in a separate class alleged Paxton described Native Americans as “warlike” and “aggressive,” among other comments.
These and other statements led Pacific University to claim Paxton violated the civil rights of his students, and to initiate suspension and dismissal proceedings.
In response, Paxton appealed to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for assistance in defending himself against the allegations. AAUP wrote a letter to Pacific on February 1, 2021, saying:
On December 8, the university’s outside counsel sent Professor Paxton’s attorney a “Notice of Allegations” describing the complaints that had ostensibly led to his removal from the classroom.2 According to this document, a student in one of his fall 2020 undergraduate classes had alleged that Professor Paxton “told a story during which he stated that ‘every person has a gender,’ which ignored the gender identify of agender and nonbinary” and made “negative and gender–stereotyping comments”; acknowledged to the class that some might consider his comments offensive but nevertheless persisted “to engage in the conduct”; and treated the complainant “dismissively” and with a “harsh tone of voice.” In addition, five students in a graduate course that fall had alleged that Professor Paxton had “engaged in negative and stereotypical comments” with regard to ethnicity and gender—specifically, that “Jews funded the Revolutionary War” (Dr. Paxton is Jewish), that he thought it “weird” that some women instructors were crying on election night 2016, that “young women today” do not carry “purses like they used to,” that Native Americans, historically, were “warlike” and “aggressive,” and that Italians “worship” Christopher Columbus.
We understand that, as of the date of this letter, nearly four months after Professor Paxton was suspended from his primary responsibilities, Ms. Watson, the outside investigator, has not contacted him, much less interviewed him. We understand, further, that the Pacific University administration has failed to afford Professor Paxton a faculty hearing in which to challenge the charges that have been placed against him, leaving unresolved whether the action against him was based on considerations that violated his academic freedom or on other impermissible considerations. In the meantime, his attorney informs us that outside counsel continues to ignore her requests for material she considers vital for representing her client: Zoom recordings of the classes in question, a recording of Professor Paxton’s October 9 meeting with Ms. Yruegas and Dean Gustafson, and “specific allegations” of sexual misconduct that would justify an investigation under the university’s Title IX policy.
AAUP notes in its letter that Pacific University has endorsed its 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure and states its support for academic freedom and academic due process in its faculty handbook.
The October 2020 suspension of Paxton also caught the attention of the National Association of Scholars, which wrote an open letter to Pacific University’s president. That letter laid out some disturbing details of the conduct of Pacific’s investigation:
NAS was told that at approximately 2 o’clock on Friday, October 9, Ms. Jennifer Yruegas, Counsel to Pacific University and also its Title IX Coordinator, called and texted both Professor Paxton and his wife to insist upon an emergency Zoom meeting 15 minutes later. Professor Paxton agreed and attended along with the Dean of the College of Education, Dr. Leif Gustavson.
At that meeting, Ms. Yruegas apparently informed Dr. Paxton that he implicated the civil rights of his students who had complained that he was sexist, racist and anti-Semitic. She then demanded that he resign by the following Monday or else be subjected to a Title IX investigation which would not only terminate his appointment at Pacific University, but would also ruin his reputation and therefore also his prospects for other employment. She also forbade him from speaking to anyone else about the matter, banned him from campus and offered to draft resignation papers (a “soft landing”) which she promised would include 6 to 12 months of severance pay.
Within an hour, Ms. Yruegas emailed Dr. Paxton the resignation agreement, called the “Voluntary Separation and Release Agreement,” which included three months of severance, not the six to twelve originally discussed, and included a pledge to “not initiate a Title IX review of Employee’s conduct.” Though the Release stated that he had 21 days to sign, Ms. Yruegas told him that Title IX required an answer within two days – that is, by Monday, October 12.
As OPB reports, Pacific University claims it offered Paxton a hearing. Paxton’s attorney told OPB “he was only given 10 days notice and could not be there on the day it was scheduled.” They requested a reschedule multiple times, but Pacific refused, proceeding to termination without any opportunity for Paxton to defend against the allegations.
Paxton’s full federal complaint, which is pending a hearing, can be read here. If Paxton’s claims are true, it appears Pacific University has violated its own dedication to academic freedom, due process, and civil rights.
Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, “Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy,” available at www.WhoOwnsTheDems.com. Jeff hosts a podcast at anchor.fm/BehindTheCurtain. You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff, on Parler at @RealJeffReynolds, and on Gab at @RealJeffReynolds.DONATE
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