I’m sorry to keep coming back to this matter of integrity. It’s very difficult to have integrity all of the time, as I think you would have to agree. I mean, probably very few, or maybe none of us can claim to always have acted with full integrity. On the other hand, not all of us try to use our moral bona fides, e.g., our commitment to “family values,” for self-advancement. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that I think in doing so you set the standard by which you should be judged. And it has occurred to me that we can review your actions in relation to firing Varlo Davenport and probably draw up a set of general rules of conduct. These rules might even be worthy of a little handbook, you know, something like, “Values and Leadership the Biff Williams Way.” But we can decide on the title later.
I mentioned I was going to say something about Don Reid and his interview with the alleged victim of assault and her parents. And I did write something about it, but I decided to leave that longer discussion for later and in lieu of it just draw your attention to the part of it quoted in Sunday’s SU Independent piece by Dallas Hyland. He quotes Officer Reid as follows:
“Let’s say [Dixie State University goes to] the far end of the spectrum and let’s say [Davenport] loses his job and his career, would that make a difference to you as to whether or not you want to file criminal charges? Cause then you are looking at he’s fired, his career is done, and he is still also facing criminal charges. In your mind are you saying “that’s how far I want it to go” or are you saying it might make a difference? A lot to think about and you guys ought to go and think about it. So you need to tell us what justice would be for you and you know more of how you felt and you know more of what you think his intent was and all those kind of things and so if it was something like this guy lost his job, meaning his pension and everything else, if you felt like that was enough and justice was done for you and if that is not enough. Or it would, it wouldn’t be justice to you until this guy had a criminal history. Those are the kinds of things for you to talk about. …”
This part of Reid’s interview, like other parts of it, stands out for several reasons. Here’s just one: he says all of this before he or anyone else had spoken to Varlo or the majority of the students who were in the class who had witnessed the alleged “assault.” Don’t you think that’s a little peculiar, Biff? In other words, he seems to take it for granted that Varlo is guilty as charged. And yet neither he nor anyone else had even bothered to mention to Varlo that an accusation had been made. Now, this interview took place either on the same day or at least not later than the day on which it took you “less than ten seconds” to decide to fire Varlo. And, let me repeat this, NO ONE HAD BOTHERED TO TALK TO VARLO TO ASK FOR HIS ACCOUNT OF THE ALLEGED ASSAULT. No one, Biff. Conspicuously, this includes Mark Houser. More than anyone, one could have expected Houser to have at least spoken with Varlo about the incident. He was the temporary Chair of the Theater Dept., and yet even he did not seem to think it was important to ask Varlo about this classroom incident before such drastic action was taken. In fact, he seems to have been pushing hard for the “assault” complaint. For my part, I think this casts more than a wee bit of suspicion on Mr. Houser’s motives. One could almost think that he wanted Varlo to be fired. In fact, there may be plenty of reasons to think that was the case. But the point here is simply to ask why no one mentioned this alleged “assault” to Varlo. How can that possibly be the start of a valid process? Before Varlo is even fired, before Varlo even knows anything has happened, Don Reid has already accepted that he is guilty and is offering up his services to help stick Varlo with a criminal history—if the alleged victim and her family decide that’s what justice would be for them. Biff, I think anyone can see there’s something about this that’s not quite right. And for your part, you didn’t even stop to ask any important questions, like, for example, “Hey, has anyone spoken with Professor Davenport about this?” You didn’t ask that question; Jeff Jarvis didn’t ask that question; Bill Christensen (whose well-known demotion for not following university policy is relevant) didn’t ask that question; Mark Houser, it seems safe to assume, didn’t want anyone to ask that question. No-body asked that question. It actually seems like maybe it was a little too exciting for you to really stop and think about what was happening: “C’mon boys, we got us some firin’ to do!” I mean this somewhat seriously. Think about it and tell me whether you were not all behaving a little bit like a lynch mob: assuming guilt and dishing out the punishment, all without ever giving the accused a chance to speak, not even a heads up. This should put fear into every DSU faculty member, and perhaps it has: one student makes an accusation and, just like that, a tenured professor with 15 years of service and an amazing contribution to the university is tossed out on his ear before anyone even talks to him or all of the witnesses to the alleged incident. Something is wrong with that, Biff, and of course you know it.
If you didn’t know it, then I think you wouldn’t have tried to lie about it. That occurred and was documented on the day that Varlo’s daughter asked you, in front of a group of students, why you had never met with Varlo prior to firing him. You said that you had met with him. You lied, Biff, straight up, and in doing so, called Varlo’s daughter a liar. Now, it’s true that later you recanted and said that while you hadn’t actually met with him that other administrators had met with him “three times.” But that only shows that you were not sure you could maintain the fiction, or, alternatively, that you suffered a small twinge of conscience. At any rate, the second statement was no truer than the first. And both statements show you believed someone should have spoken to Varlo before the decision was made. I mean, if you’re willing to lie about something, it has to be fairly important, right? How are we to understand this, Biff? Should we just let you off the hook and forget about it? If so, why? How is this lie not somehow indicative of a fairly serious flaw? Right, I mean, you not only lied but also called someone else a liar in the process. And try as I might, I just can’t square this with your commitment to “family values.” It makes me think that you owe Gail Smith, and Zoe Davenport, and even the larger DSU community, an apology. That’s up to you, of course, Biff. But I can’t understand a university faculty, a board of trustees or a community that maintains confidence in this kind of “leadership.” It's a black mark on your record, Biff. There's no way around it. The best you could do would be to try to make it right. To quote Officer Reid, "it's a lot to think about and you ought to go and think about it."