Mondoweiss: Marc Ellis dismissal hearing begins at Baylor University

Mondoweiss, Mar 05, 2012, Adam Horowitz

Kiera Feldman reports for New York Magazine:

This morning, the Starr administration began a three-day dismissal hearing that was the culmination of a year-long investigation into Ellis’s alleged misdeeds. The tenured professor and director of Baylor’s Center for Jewish Studies is a leading critic of Israeli policies toward Palestinians, which earned him a spot in conservative author David Horowitz’s book The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America

Ellis is charged with sexual misconduct, which at Baptist-affiliated Baylor is a far-reaching category indeed. The school’s faculty handbook, which notes that “human sexuality is a gift from the creator God,” defines sexual misconduct as “sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, adultery, fornication, and homosexual acts.”

The details of the charges against Ellis have not been fully disclosed, but the events under investigation date back nearly a decade, to when the complaining witness was Ellis’s graduate assistant, a fortysomething Ph.D. student who became a “close friend of Marc’s,” as Ellis’s lawyer, Roger Sanders, puts it. After completing her Ph.D., the woman came aboard as a Baylor faculty member. According to a letter sent to Starr by the American Association of University Professors, in March 2011 the woman filed an EEOC complaint of sexual harassment against Ellis. The Starr administration offered a settlement in exchange for Ellis’s departure; Ellis declined. And so the Starr administration opened a wide-ranging investigation, phoning just about everybody who’s ever known Ellis, trawling for what Baylor institutional lawyers called “abuse of authority.”

Ellis has argued that Starr, a conservative evangelical Christian, intends to “remake Baylor in his own image.” The professor’s supporters, led by Cornel West and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, launched a petition urging Starr to “stop persecution against Prof. Marc Ellis.” Not everyone at Baylor agrees. “I can understand withholding judgment. I can understand presumption of innocence. But I don’t understand presumption of persecution,” said Professor Barry Hankins, a colleague of Ellis’s in the history department. He chided West and friends for “rushing to Ellis’s defense” without knowing the facts.

Baylor officials swear up and down that Starr has had nothing to do with the investigation of Ellis and had no role in approving the charges. But university bylaws give Starr the final say after the judiciary committee gives its recommendation. Ellis and his lawyer, Roger Sanders, provided New York with three additional pieces of evidence to support the claim that Starr is pulling the strings:

  • According to Ellis, on June 29, 2011, during Ellis’s first meeting with Baylor lawyer Doug Welch, Welch said Starr had “tasked” him to proceed with charges.
  • According to Sanders, during his first meeting with Welch on July 1, 2011, Welch told him that both Starr and Baylor Provost Elizabeth Davis had authorized the charges.
  • Sanders provided to New York a July 25, 2011 e-mail exchange between Sanders and Welch regarding students who were scrambling to rework their fall schedules upon hearing of the last-minute cancellation of Ellis’s classes. In the e-mail, Sanders proposed that Starr meet with Ellis (and the lawyers) to discuss the canceled classes because “when we first met you traced the approval of this process back to the President”; Welch’s response does not dispute that characterization. Instead, Welch replied, “While ultimately, Judge Starr will have to approve any settlement, he will not meet on this matter.”

For more on the Ellis case see here and here.

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