It is a notable fact that when Biff Williams visited the Washington County Attorney in his effort to have Varlo charged with “child abuse,” one of the people he brought along for (dare we say it?) “moral” support was prominent local, and current St. George LDS Temple President, Randy Wilkinson. Since we cannot doubt that our good brother Wilkinson—occupying, as he does, one of the chief seats in the local religious hierarchy—would never lend his influence to the prosecution of an innocent man without first asking what Jesus would do, he must have been quite convinced that Varlo was indeed guilty of child abuse. Or maybe not. Perhaps Biff merely explained to him that a malicious prosecution was necessary for the sake of Biff, and, by extension, good old DSU. Either way, I suppose one could doubt that Jesus would recommend such influence peddling to his sincere followers. But who are we, the lowly and powerless, to accuse or doubt a man of such high spiritual reputation?
Wilkinson’s participation very much highlights the fact that powerful local interests have Biff’s back. And his willingness to participate limns the moral universe in which those interests operate. What serves their interests is good and right; what harms their interests is bad and wrong. Of course this sort of morality has no real basis outside the bounds of the group, and it thus becomes complicated when the interests in question are compelled to defend their actions. The defense becomes “we did the right thing,” repeated ad infinitum. If the defense goes any further, it relies on falsehoods of one kind or another (including aspersions of guilt based on “confidential” information) or ad hoc legalisms (e.g., recently enforced “policies,” applied only against people they dislike), which, of course, just pushes the “we did the right thing” claim further back. It refuses to be questioned; it depends entirely on the force of its assertions.
A perfect illustration of these morally empty attempts to justify the actions of Biff and his cronies appeared this week in a series of comments to an article published in St. George News about low morale at DSU. A commenter, Tami Threlfall, brought out all of the assertions. Ken and Glenn were fired, she said, because they “violated policy” and “policy is policy” (if I’m not mistaken, this is the first time in the history of DSU anyone has been fired for a supposed breach of their “confidentiality” policy). Varlo “admitted to pulling the girl’s hair” (false: he did not, and apparently there was a video that would have shown whether he did or not, but that video and the security camera that captured it mysteriously went missing). DSU, she said further, can’t tell everything about why they fired Ken and Glenn because “confidentiality” prevents it. And we should be glad, because “confidentiality protects all of us” (i.e., the reasons for the terminations are probably really good, DSU just can’t tell you what they are because they are so conscientious about policy. Oh, unless you count the various ways Biff and Co. have violated policy. That’s doesn’t matter). You get the idea. Now Threlfall is the wife of none other than Jeriah Threllfall, the executive director of the office of St. George Area Economic Development. He owes his job to Biff Williams. As someone mentioned to me, Williams “strongarmed” Threlfall’s appointment through, and did so because Threlfall is his good buddy; their families became close while living in Indiana. I’m sure they both expect to profit handsomely over the long term from the “economic development” in which they are engaged. So we would hardly expect objectivity from Mrs. Threlfall. I mention this only to show how this “defense” of DSU circulates among the members of the group. There is no interest in the truth because it would undercut their interests. Of course if any of them were to be treated as they treat others, we would see a very sudden and lively display of moral indignation. As it is, these recent assertions of force (terminations on highly technical and therefore highly questionable grounds), and the doubling down on the “we did the right thing” claim, betray the weakness of their position, not merely on moral grounds, which obviously wouldn’t bother them much, but on legal ones. The august Mr. Hicks may have convinced them that they have nothing to worry about. I think they should not mistake their hired gun for someone with a real understanding of the law.
Recall, all of this began because Biff is not a competent university president. He is, to repeat from an earlier post, an under-educated careerist who is here to further the economic interests of the community. Nothing against the economic interest. It is obviously important, but its development should not come at the expense of maliciously destroying other people’s lives. Biff is now not only incompetent but also the primary cause of a moral blight that, as the more recent terminations show, will only grow more malignant under his watch. How much has his termination of Varlo now cost the taxpayers of Utah? How much more will it cost, i.e., how much is the state willing to pay to try to save Biff Williams? How many people has he implicated in the punitive costs for which he himself ultimately will be liable? How much easier would it have been to take a step back, try to understand what really happened in that classroom, to try to understand what was true before jumping to conclusions? In other words, how much easier would it have been to act in a manner befitting the president of a “university”? The powers that support Biff, precisely if they want to consider their own long-term interests, however crudely economic (we know we can't count on their morality), ought to be asking themselves such questions and whether or not Biff Williams is really worth it.
I suppose we shouldn’t expect power to operate any differently at lower levels than it does at higher ones. But that doesn’t make it any less shocking to learn of the lengths to which people in positions of power will go to cover mistakes as they try, sometimes desperately, to remain credible in the eyes of the people they are supposed to be serving.
In this regard, Political writer Nicolas J.S. Davies recently observed:
“As the recent PBS documentary on the American War in Vietnam acknowledged, few American officials ever believed that the United States could win the war, neither those advising Johnson as he committed hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, nor those advising Nixon as he escalated a brutal aerial bombardment that had already killed millions of people.
As conversations tape-recorded in the White House reveal, and as other writers have documented, the reasons for wading into the Big Muddy, as Pete Seeger satirized it, and then pushing on regardless, all came down to “credibility”: the domestic political credibility of the politicians involved and America’s international credibility as a military power.” (see: https://consortiumnews.com/2017/10/30/how-america-spreads-global-chaos/).
To any person of reasonable conscience and sense of justice, it must seem astonishing that the personal credibility of leaders would be more important to those leaders than the lives of countless human beings. But of course the leaders and their supporters often have recourse not simply to their own credibility but to that of the nation. Indeed, some will still argue that the war in Vietnam was right and correct simply because the United States is always on the right side, always good, etc., etc., and the leaders are men of good faith just “trying to do the right thing.” Well, if only it were so. As it is, our Vietnam War Memorial should include the names of millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian civilians murdered in the name of American credibility.
What has this to do with Biff Williams and his co-conspirators at DSU? The analogy to Varlo’s case is, of course, obvious. Even if these university bureaucrats were operating on a much, much smaller scale, is the behavior, in principle, really any different? Before we get to that question, consider a little email from Don Reid to Biff that is very revealing:
As published by DixieLeaks, on March 4, 2015, when Biff was really taking some heat for his arbitrary termination of a tenured faculty member, Reid sent him an email that included, as I think anyone would describe it, a touching, “personal note”:
“On a personal note, I’ve seen other presidents have to go through this very same knee-jerk reaction from certain faculty, (many of whom are upset they did not get to participate in the protests and sit-ins of the 60s), and it does seem always to come from a certain group in a certain location. I have been the target of the same group on a few occasions and I’ve been able to keep my sanity only by keeping a sense of humor, (having joked on many occasion that a well place grenade in a certain building could do wonders for the universal struggle between right and wrong). . .” (See: https://dixieleaks.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/other-documents-associated-with-the-davenport-case-25-26.pdf).
How lucky for Biff that Reid was able to “keep [his] sanity” amid the slings and arrows of such outrageous fortune and otherwise survive to offer this sage counsel. One wonders if Biff has developed his own “sense of humor” in this regard such that he jokes with himself and others about blowing up members of the DSU faculty. At any rate, what really interests us here is Reid’s statement about the “universal struggle between right and wrong.” In the context, it’s clear who (according to Reid) is on the wrong side: those darned liberal faculty members who get their knickers all in a twist when they sense that someone might have been treated unfairly. It’s these folks, most of whom work in the same “certain” building, that just don’t get it. They actually sense there was something legitimate about the protests of the 60s. They wish they could have fought for civil rights and protested against the war in Vietnam. What a miserable bunch of malcontents, right? Reid, jokingly, of course, would like to place a grenade and place it well, in their building, and blow them all to smithereens, thus striking a blow for the “right.” Perhaps he has fantasized about this as he has about taking a bullet for Biff. Both would be somehow “right” in his eyes.
But what is this “right”? It seems like it’s just plain old loyalty: “my country right or wrong” and hence, “my (current) university president right or wrong.” Or in other words, Don Reid would do anything to preserve the credibility of DSU. We didn’t really need further proof that he spent his career at DSU as a stooge, since of course all of this actions in relation to Varlo’s termination and subsequent prosecution in St. George City Justice Court confirm this. But I think it’s the mindset that’s interesting. Let us call it the “local” mindset, i.e., the “Dixie” mindset. It’s the mindset of the good old boys and girls ‘round here. Whatever they do must be right, because, well, they’re them. They can’t easily bear being displeasing to themselves, and so they maintain the delusion that they are always in the “right.” Should anyone dare to question that it’s so, they will exercise every community resource available to silence or discredit the questioner. One wonders, though, by means of what bifurcation in the brain do they continue to believe in their own goodness? For example, I listened to a recording of Don Reid interviewing Cassidy Sorensen and her parents after the alleged “assault.” At one point, he speaks (very gently and respectfully) of “those precious Constitutional rights,” to which we are all entitled, while of course at the same time being either in the midst or on the brink of egregiously violating Varlo’s “precious Constitutional rights.” But perhaps these precious “rights” are only for those who are in the “right.” Certainly for Officer Reid, a man perhaps, or hopefully, something less than one of St. George’s finest, this seems to be the case.
And what goes for Mr. Reid in this regard attaches to the whole lot of folks named in Varlo’s complaint. Not a single one of them, not one, not at any point, made an effort to ascertain whether Varlo was actually guilty of the “assault.” Of course some of them (Williams and Reid, e.g.) knew he wasn’t guilty, while the rest, at the least, took it for granted that he was and then assisted in various ways with the very conscious and deliberate attempt to discredit him, take away his career and ruin his reputation.
Unfortunately for the conspirators, the emails that were—after additional legal violations on DSU’s part—finally turned over to Varlo and his attorney are to Varlo’s case what the Pentagon Papers were to the US Government. Just as the latter revealed to the American public the extent to which their highest-level leaders had lied to them, so these emails show the utter lack of regard for honesty, integrity and fairness on the part of Biff Williams, Don Reid and multiple other DSU personnel. But not just that, they further betray a kind of callousness or ruthlessness that is more than a little shocking. Consider, yet again, that Williams, Reid, Paul Morris, Christina Durham and others made a special effort to have Varlo charged by Washington County with “child abuse.” Evidently this was Reid’s idea, one that he advanced on the basis that just the report of a such a crime would ruin Varlo’s reputation, and that he also would not have the financial means necessary to defend himself against such a charge. Is this a minor thing? How far would they have been willing to go? Would Varlo’s life have been worth Biff Williams’s credibility? I think we have to say we don’t know. After all, in a sense they were willing to take his life, in the form of his career, his income and his reputation. Earlier I raised the question as to whether the actions of these small-time university bureaucrats (but including also law enforcement and various public servants of St. George City) were any different than those of, say, Lyndon Johnson or Robert McNamara, who were willing to sacrifice so many lives for the sake of American “credibility.” I argue now that, though obviously not in consequence, nevertheless, in principle, their behavior is the same: “your life for my credibility.”
And so, try as I might, I just can’t place these folks on the truly “right” side in that "universal struggle between right and wrong." If their behavior isn't wrong, what is? I think that if this affair ever gets the press coverage it deserves, it should go a long way toward undermining that old “Dixie” mindset—the “everything we do is right because we’re good people”—mindset of Southern Utah’s Lilliputian ruling class.
So, Dixie State University has a president who is allegedly guilty of what amount to criminal activities. And he's still employed as president. Surely no one sees this as a good reflection on the Board of Trustees or the Board of Regents. Consider, Varlo was fired by Biff and he did absolutely nothing wrong. Meanwhile, Biff and his cronies, Paul Morris, Don Reid, et alia, the whole grinning and grubby little lot of them, haven't suffered a day's loss of pay, though they deliberately conspired to ruin Varlo by bringing criminal charges against him they all knew were bogus. Biff has lied to the public repeatedly about this, and Don Reid, more than once, lied to United States court of justice about it.
Now, Reid has recently retired, and as word has it, it was not his decision. But that's what he gets for being a dishonest schmuck. They gave him a good send-off anyway, complete with letters of gratitude from the governor and others. Biff spoke and mentioned that Reid had told him that he (Reid) would "take a bullet" for him (Williams). Perhaps you find this as funny as I do. Reid evidently fantasizes about noble self-sacrifice (Clint Eastwood-style) but in reality is not even willing to tell the truth in court on behalf of someone being abused by power and privilege (at a cost of much less than his life). I suppose he likely has other ways of deluding himself about the state of his character.
Williams soldiers on, bearing down on that career of his. How he sleeps at night is anybody's guess. But there's no sign that he is bothered by anything resembling a conscience. As noted, he has lied to the public repeatedly about this whole affair, claiming over and over again that he had nothing to do with the charges being filed (they were his idea) and accusing Varlo and his attorney of "abusing the legal system." The irony with regard to this latter runs so deep as to suggest a sociopath, because, of course, we wouldn't be writing about any of this if Biff himself had not undertaken to abuse the legal system in a number of ways, including conspiring with Reid to suppress/destroy evidence.
In this regard, a couple of comments I received that I am long overdue in posting:
Though not about Williams, I was present in court when DSU Police Chief Don Reid acknowledged under oath that he had conducted a biased investigation against Varlo.
These allegations are not merely ethical or policy breaches. In fact, many constitute violations of state law. Who would investigate this possibility?
Indeed, who would investigate this possibility? Will it ever be investigated? Will Williams just move on from this as though nothing ever happened? For most people there would be consequences. Apparently, however, all of the good old boys and girls here in Utah are fine with it. And that's a very, very sad thing. Someone could say that it's all just alleged and that maybe Biff did none of the alleged things. Of course, Varlo never had the benefit of any such doubt from the DSU faculty senate, Board of Trustees or much of the public. But however that may be, it's all allegedly in those emails that Biff tried so hard (again, illegally) to suppress. And if that's true, there's plenty of evidence to take a look at. I vote that someone with the authority to do so, someone with a strong streak of integrity, take a look at it. Who's with me?
I received a comment from a certifiable dunderhead calling him/herself "Another Concerned Citizen." If this makes anyone wonder how a dunderhead becomes certified as such, the answer is that while there are many ways, one is to offer commentary on something you clearly have not read. That's just a dunderheaded thing to do and therefore a quick path to earning one's dunderhead bona fides. Here's what "Another Concerned Citizen" had to say in response to my criticism of Biff, his credentials, etc.:
"I don't know the guy. But if you're curious about why there wasn't a better candidate this post should provide a clue. It's easy to sit back and mock at the work that's being done without fully understanding what a Univeristy [sic] Presidents job actually entails."
Leaving the dunderheaded ambiguities of this statement aside, it seems obviously to have been intended as a barb of some sort, a little jab with the point of dunderhead's rhetorical stick, calling me to account for just not seeing the big picture. In that respect, I can only suggest that our dunderhead, precisely because she/he is so well-intentioned, sharpen the stick, or perhaps head for the (metaphorical) woods in search of a new one. More importantly, of course, she/he should actually read what is written in this blog before writing a single additional word of commentary. But having said that, I feel compelled to confess that I appreciate the offered comment (in all of its dunderheadedness) very much, because it provides an excellent introduction to a list of Biff's misdeeds. After all, if I've been "mocking at" anything it is at these misdeeds. And since, further, our dunderhead has implied that the misdeeds are, so to speak, all in a day's work for a university president, we can use the list to see clearly just what I have failed to "fully understand" in relation to a university president's job. So here we go. I remind the reader that what follows is all in the category of alleged and awaits the ultimate validation of a judge and jury.
Biff Williams, self-proclaimed champion of 'family values', is alleged to have done the following:
1. Fired Varlo on the basis of a reported classroom "assault" of a student without a pre-termination hearing of any sort and without Williams or any other administrator asking Varlo for his point of view of the incident. It is likely that at the time Williams took the decision, Bishop Don Reid had watched the surveillance video of the alleged incident, discovered that it did not support Cassidy Sorensen's account, and had informed Williams of such. (Reid later testified in St. George City Court, under oath and with a smirk on his face and his LDS temple recommend hot in his pocket, that there was no video of the incident because there never had been a surveillance camera in that particular classroom).
2. Because it was against policy for the President to initiate the termination, Williams instructed Bill Christensen to deliver the news to Varlo and to make it look like it was Christensen's decision.
2.a. - it is worth noting in this regard that Christensen and Jeff Jarvis soon realized the firing Varlo without a pre-termination hearing was also a violation of policy; therefore they conspired to state that Varlo had been suspended rather than fired. The fact remains that he was fired without anything resembling a hearing.
3. Williams hired the supposed victim of assault, Cassidy Sorensen, to work for him in his office, befriended her and promised her such things as his current prayers on her behalf and future letters of recommendation, all the while knowing he was to be the final judge with respect to Varlo's termination (needless to say, he saw the prospective Faculty Review Board (FRB) hearing as merely pro forma, as he already had fired Varlo clandestinely).
4. After the FRB had heard the case and voted unanimously for Varlo's reinstatement, Williams instructed Human Resource Director Will Craver to keep the findings of the hearing confidential, since he did not want word to get out that no evidence had been presented to support Varlo's termination.
5. Williams specifically instructed Craver not to provide Varlo with a copy of the FRB findings.
6. Since he knew that no evidence had been presented to justify terminating Varlo, in a blatantly egregious violation not just of policy but of fundamental fairness, Williams contacted Mark Houser requesting access to Houser's secret file of supposed complaints about Varlo.
7. Williams then used the false claims contained in Houser's secret file to justify Varlo's termination, all the while knowing that Varlo had never been given an opportunity not only to refute the false claims, but even to know of their existence.
8. Williams went against the FRB's recommendation to reinstate Varlo and fired him anyway without providing a reason. Later, of course, he would tell the press that "it had been going on for a long time" and other such statements betraying the fact that he had based his decision on (false) information obtained from Mark Houser.
9. After Varlo's termination was confirmed, Varlo wrote to Will Craver asking whether Williams had relied on information not presented to the FRB. Williams instructed Craver to have no further contact with Varlo.
10. After word got out that the FRB had recommended Varlo's reinstatement and as pressure mounted on Williams to account for himself, he met with Paul Morris and the two conspired on a plan to make Williams's actions seemed justified. First, they would leak false information to try to smear Varlo's reputation. Second, although they knew no crime had occurred, they would try to get a criminal charge filed based on the alleged classroom incident.
11. Williams instructed an apparently somewhat (at first) reluctant Bishop Reid to a file a criminal complaint with the prosecutor's office.
12. Williams then conspired with Reid to try to get the charge filed for felony child abuse, because this would destroy Varlo's reputation and be financially devastating to defend himself against. (Keep in mind, in this regard, that both Williams and Reid were fully aware that no crime had been committed, that there was no probable cause for a charge of any sort to be filed).
13. In order to feed the rumor mill, as he and Morris had planned, Williams then told Nate Staehli, Erin O'Brien, and Spencer Ricks, among others, that Varlo was being investigated for having an affair with a student, a fact he knew not to be true.
14. Williams lied in public forum when asked about his handling of the situation with Varlo, falsely claiming in response to a question, that he had met with Varlo "three times" prior to firing him. Of course he had never met with him, and neither had any other administrator, prior to his termination.
15. Williams falsely told numerous parties that he had relied only on evidence presented to the FRB in making his determination to fire Varlo.
16. Williams met with at least two reputable locals, Randy Wilkinson and Rod Savage, and persuaded them, on the basis of what can only have been false information about Varlo, to accompany him on a visit to County Attorney Brock Belnap's office, with the intention of persuading Belnap to file the child abuse charge.
15. Williams instructed the maintenance department to remove the video surveillance camera from the classroom where the alleged incident occurred and to cover up any and all indication that the camera had been there.
16. Williams also persuaded Christine Durham, Chair of DSU's Board of Trustees, to accompany him on another visit to Belnap's office in a continued effort to persuade Belnap to file the child abuse charge.
17. Once the criminal proceeding was under way, Williams conspired with other DSU personnel to attempt to avoid the requirements of a court issued subpoena and not turn over emails related to Varlo's termination. He did so, of course, because he knew the emails would reveal the very misdeeds described above.
18. In response to Varlo's trial, Williams wrote a press release filled with false statements in a last-ditch attempt to publicly justify his conduct.
19. Williams, apparently in order to blackball Varlo, and on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, instructed university personnel to notify prospective employers that Varlo had been fired by DSU for assaulting a student in class and for violent behavior toward students and faculty.
I think that's a pretty good list, for now. Perhaps "Another Concerned Citizen" will want to offer some further thoughts to explain how all of this fits in within the job description, i.e., within "what a university president's job actually entails." But it's rather hard to imagine a university, any university, really wanting as its leading figure someone capable of such unethical behavior, someone who demonstrates such a lack of anything resembling moral character. In any case, if this is all just part of the "work that's being done", then I think anyone would agree that, however easy it is to do, it is very justly "mocked at."
Someone pointed out to me the rather gross inaccuracy in my statement that "NO ONE ELSE IS WRITING ABOUT IT," since it overlooks the tireless efforts of Dallas Hyland at the Southern Utah Independent to keep Varlo's story alive. I admit this mistake and in my defense can say only that my intent was to highlight the relative silence of The Spectrum in particular. But other publications have behaved similarly. St. George News, for example, though they ran a story about Varlo's civil suit, neglected to mention any of the more egregious actions alleged to have been taken by Biff and others. It gives one the sense that the editors (and I emphasize that these are editorial decisions, i.e., not necessarily the decisions of the reporters) of these publications are either complicit or afraid (which ultimately amounts to the same thing) of making their friends at DSU look as bad as they are. They're unwilling to report even what is alleged. And I simply can't understand that. There is such a thing as "watchdog journalism", and I can't imagine any serious journalist who wouldn't aspire to it. But maybe they're afraid of John Pike, or Bishop Reid, or some other local power. I don't know. It's more than curious. In that regard, it is surely true that Mr. Hyland is subject to no such fear. He has, as noted, been tireless in his efforts to shine a light on the malice, dishonesty and corruption of Biff and Co. I hope what I write here serves to complement his more voluminous efforts.
As I reflected on the last post, it occurred to me that I could be accused of being too critical of Biff Williams. Someone might say that I just have an axe to grind and that in criticizing his credentials and not, so to speak, taking the high road, I am hurting Varlo's cause more than helping it. There might be something to that sort of accusation. I certainly am guilty of having an axe to grind, and the last thing I would want to do is to hurt Varlo's case. But because I regard Biff's actions with respect to Varlo as contemptible, and because I regard Biff himself as unqualified for his position and as a dastardly liar (the evidence on both counts being, so far as I can see, conclusive), I have no regrets about anything I have written, with one exception: I regret saying the the official study of "curriculum and instruction" is not a serious endeavor. Like any academic subject, it can be a serious endeavor, especially, of course, insofar as it deals with questions related to how human beings learn. So let that stand as a retraction of any earlier statement that may not have given "curriculum and instruction" its due respect.
The argument with respect to Biff's Ph.D. stands: he went after the Ph.D. that he could obtain in the easiest possible manner, not because he is interested in any serious way in "curriculum and instruction" but because he needed the credential to further an administrative career. Take a look at his CV and his "dissertation" and you'll see what I mean. He's a careerist, and, comparatively, a 2nd-rate one, and that's generous. He had no experience as a university president when he was hired at DSU, which is odd in itself. One cannot look at his credentials and experience without wondering exactly what qualified him for the position, especially when, again, so many had much better credentials. DSU trustee Gail Smith said he stood out with his commitment to "family values." Even if he walked the walked in that regard--and as we know, he doesn't--rather than just playing to the preferences of people like Gail Smith, since when did a commitment to "family values" become the primary qualifier for the president of a university? Biff Williams really has no business being the president of DSU or any other university. If there ever was any question about that, his actions with respect to Varlo decide that question. And I'm writing about those actions because NO ONE ELSE IS WRITING ABOUT IT. As noted already, all of the local powers support Biff, including that paragon of investigative journalism "The Spectrum". Despite the fact that the allegations in Varlo's legal complaint are in the public domain, no one has written about the most serious ones. Compare what happened when Varlo was charged. The Spectrum ran his photo on the front page, with the headline "Davenport Charged", complete with a statement from the university, and an account of all that was alleged. This was a favor to Biff and DSU, courtesy of St. George City's own little "Pravda." But did The Spectrum even mention the allegations in Varlo's suit, the one's that implicate Mark Houser, Biff, Don Reid and others in fabricating a case against Varlo, lying to the public, supressing/destroying evidence, submitting false information to a court, as well as lying in court? No, not a word. And further, it looks like everyone is just giving these folks a pass, while in the meantime, Varlo's career, everything he's worked a lifetime for, has been destroyed. Not accidentally. Not as a consequence of something else. Deliberately. Biff Williams didn't just decide to fire Varlo. He went after Varlo, with the intent to ruin his career, and he seems to have done so for no other reason than that Varlo didn't go away quietly when Biff fired him. So, yes, I do have an axe to grind with Biff Williams. And I'm going to keep grinding away. For anyone who has not read the complaint, I will, when I continue, supply a little list of the actions of our great champion of family values that render him worthy of our collective scorn and contempt.
"We can serve privilege and power or we can serve justice and truth. And those of us who commit to serving justice and truth, the more we make concessions to those who serve privilege and power, the more we dilute the possibilities of justice and truth."
-- Julien Benda
I sometimes wonder the extent to which anyone who happens to have come across this blog understands some of the basic dynamics of Varlo’s situation. He’s up against not only the local powers but those of the State. We want to believe that he has some hope in federal court. But, oddly, the case is already in the hands of its third federal judge, with no real explanation of what happened to the first two judges. We could be forgiven for thinking that it’s perhaps a little fishy. We know, in any case, that the Regents have Biff’s back, which means, really, that everyone at the state level has Biff’s back. This case might as well be Varlo Davenport v. The State of Utah. In order to put a little flesh on this skeleton of an assertion, let’s take a look at Biff, his credentials, and his ascension to the presidency of DSU.
There are different kinds of people in academia. Some get into it because they love a subject, and the opportunity to spend their lives studying and teaching is more appealing than anything else. Along with their students, these are the people that universities should be all about. Ultimately, a “university” in the true sense is about the arts and sciences and providing the opportunity for a true liberal arts education. If the institution is serving other purposes, then you don’t really have a university but something else, a technical or vocational school. This idea of the university is an old one, and it is an ideal. There are plenty of places that assume university status and the “university” name without being universities in the true sense; they are vocational schools pretending to be universities. It is at these latter types of institutions that you are likely to find in abundance another type of person, the 2nd-rate careerist administrator. Careerist administrators exist at real universities as well, but they usually have serious academic credentials. 2nd-rate careerists often have degrees outside the arts and sciences and their CVs exhibit their attempt to pile up credentials that can help them advance an administrative career. Most tellingly, if they have a Ph.D., it will be something of a faux Ph.D., one obtained in the easiest possible manner, obtained not for the sake of study of a serious subject but for the sake of the credential itself. Now you might be thinking it would be astonishing if such a person could become the actual president of a university. And I would agree. And if you are thinking “do you mean to tell me this describes Biff Williams?” The sad answer is that yes, yes it does. But why does this matter?
It matters because, as I happen to know, there were several candidates for the presidency of DSU who were much, much more qualified than Biff. One individual I know of, for example, has a serious Ph.D., in a serious subject, from Harvard University and years of university experience. Biff, in contrast, has an undergraduate degree in “Lifestyle Management” (say it out loud and I swear you can almost hear the mushy sound), some sort of related Masters degree, and then a Ph.D., obtained through an online program, in “Curriculum and Instruction.” Now, I don’t mean to denigrate curriculum and instruction. It has its place in university departments of education. But, with appropriate apologies, it is not the study of any serious subject. When you find a Ph.D. of this sort, especially one obtained via an online program, that does not belong to someone teaching within an education department, it is most likely to belong to a 2nd-rate careerist administrator. And such, indeed, is our man Biff.
The question, then, is “Why Biff?” You can call me a snob, but I believe, very simply, that a university president should have real academic and intellectual credentials. Otherwise, he or she will not have a sufficient grasp of the arts and sciences and, consequently, of the meaning of the university. Rather, he or she will tend to see the university in terms of his or her own careerist ambitions. At any rate, what you have to understand is that the answer to the “Why Biff?” question has almost nothing to do with his qualifications. Many were more qualified. The answer is that he was somebody’s darling. He had the right connection, whatever it was. No one would become a university president in Utah without such a connection, without a real promoter or advocate who had the ear of the Regents, Trustees, etc.
I do not know Biff, but I can tell a lot about him from how he has handled this situation with Varlo. And what I would argue is that it’s precisely because he is a 2nd-rate careerist that it was impossible to him to admit any kind of mistake. So when it became clear that firing Varlo in the way that he did may have been a mistake and not in line with policy, he chose to try to cover it up. After all, to do otherwise might interfere with his career ambitions. This is the path he chose, again, to have Varlo charged with a crime that he himself knew Varlo was not guilty of committing. He made the decision to have the assault charge filed but has then lied repeatedly to the public about it. He’s done everything he could do to try to cover up his role in it. And this is the “president” of our “university.” I believe the community and, especially, the students need to understand who is at the helm of the institution. Earlier I said that you do not have a university if it does not put the arts and sciences, i.e., liberal education, character education, at the center of things. You surely do not have a university with someone capable of this behavior as president, someone in whom moral education so obviously failed. It’s nothing less than an ethical debacle, for the school and the community.
Nonetheless, the Board of Trustees (including Mayor Pike) and the State Board of Regents will continue to have Biff’s back. If he looks bad, then they all look bad. And God only knows what kinds of strings they can pull. They have all of the resources and influence that power always has, and nothing suggests that they won't continue to use them on Biff's behalf. They don’t care about the destruction of one man’s career. Who is Varlo to them? And there’s the irony: Varlo Davenport, a man who loves Theater and acting, who has been the teacher and mentor to countless students, a man who devoted his life to a serious art for nothing but the love of that art and joy of seeing others develop their capacities in it—this man, sacrificed for the ambitions of a 2nd-rate careerist with no moral character. It's much more than a shame.
Previously devoted to an attempt to appeal to a possible better angel of Biff's nature, on the faulty assumption that there might be such an angel, this blog will now track the progress of Varlo's civil suit against Biff and the sundry other characters who participated in dragging him through hell, pitching him out the other side, and leaving him for dead.
Varlo filed his civil complaint in January, and the counselors of the state AG's office have now responded to it. What follows is an account of the AG's attempt to have the egregious shenanigans of Mark Houser, Biff, Don Reid, and others, dismissed--with prejudice. If this tactic is successful, these folks won't have to answer for cooking up a phony criminal case, suppressing evidence, etc.
I. Varlo's complaint asserts that his right to due process was violated. Now this seems like a no-brainer. After all, as the evidence shows, Biff and others concocted a plan to frame Varlo for a crime (the alleged "assault") that they knew did not happen. How did they know it did not happen? Among other reasons, it was because Don Reid had reviewed the video footage from the security camera that was in the classroom. Now, if you've followed the case at all, you may recall that Mr. Reid (we should call him Bishop, because of his ecclesiastical service in that capacity)--Bishop Reid claimed under oath in a court of law that there was no video footage of the incident because there never had been a video camera in the room. Yes, that's right, Bishop Reid, who also teaches "criminal justice" at DSU, allegedly either suppressed or destroyed evidence that would have prevented the case from ever going forward (he probably has a special lecture for his students on the emotional demands of lying in court; he tears up, no doubt, when presenting it). We know this because according to his own notes on the matter, the video did not support Cassidy Sorensen's claims. And it was for this reason also that our man Biff, no doubt after consulting that strange book of "family values" of his, ordered the camera removed from the room and any evidence of the presence of said camera to be covered.
There's more, but you get the point. Like I said, shenanigans. And like I also said, egregious. We'll have occasion to take a look at other aspects of this. First I want to focus on the response, on the AG's motion to dismiss the case against these actions and others involved in the bringing of the false charge. The AG's office has moved to dismiss everything related to Varlo being falsely charged with assault. This includes, Mark Houser's fabrication of evidence in the form of statements that he himself wrote but attributed to students; Bishop Reid and Biff, as previously mentioned, colluding to suppress/conceal the existence of security video footage of the alleged assault that did not support Cassidy Sorensen's (or Mark Houser's) fabricated accounts. It includes the Biff's and Paul Morris's two part plan to (1) leak false information suggesting that Varlo was guilty of some unknown but soon-to-be-revealed misdeed(s) and (2)--with the help of Bishop Reid--to get him charged with a crime. Recall, all of this was done for Biff's sake, to try save him from his incompetence, to persuade concerned faculty and others that he really is fit for the job. Perhaps you are still wondering, like I am, where the outrage is over this? Why does Biff still have his job? Why does Bishop Reid still have his job? Why does the DSU Faculty Senate do nothing to force them to account for themselves? But, alas, I digress.
The AG's argument as to why this particular part of the case should be dismissed is as follows: there really was no violation of Varlo's 14th Amendment right to due process because--get ready for this--he was found not guilty. That's right, it's as if they are saying "Hey, no harm done, so let's just forget about it." It all hinges on the definition of "process". The defense attorneys argue to limit the definition of "process" to the "trial." Accordingly, all of the aforementioned shenanigans are excluded from the "process," because the "process" is the trial only. Absurd as this may seem, they are able to cite some case law to support it. I'm not a lawyer, so I really have no idea how strong their argument is. It seems absurd to me in the true sense of a reductio ad absurdum, since if true it would mean that it never matters if people are brought up on false charges as long as they are found innocent. Their rights are violated only if they are found guilty on the basis of the false charges. But surely we don't have a legal system that allows for apparently dirty cops, like Bishop Reid, and apparently dirty university presidents, like Biff, to fabricate cases against people and to suppress evidence that would prevent the charges from ever being filed in the first place. Surely we don't have a system that allows such actions to be outside the definition of the "process" due to a citizen of the United States. Surely we don't have a system that allows such cases, cases that have serious and multiple negative effects on the lives of those so framed, cases that are prosecuted not for the sake of any alleged victim but just to make someone avoid looking like the incompetent administrator that he is. I say, surely we don't have such a system, one where a defense attorney just has to say "Hey, no harm done here. It's all good." Excluding all of the nefarious nonsense perpetrated by Bishop Reid and others from the definition of "process" should not work as a defense. If it does, then there may be a genuine constitutional question in this case that needs to be revisited by a higher tribunal.
I believe you are in a bit of a pickle, and I’m going to be tuned right in to see how it all turns out. In the meantime, I’d like to share with you my own thoughts on DSU’s statement regarding the not guilty verdict. There’s a very good response to it here: http://concernedfordixie.blogspot.com/
I’m simply adding my voice to that one.
I would wish you luck, but such a wish on my part would lack integrity. So I’ll just say that I hope you enjoy the proper consequences of your actions.
DSU's Statement is in italics; my response is in this script.
“With the conclusion of the City of St. George vs. Varlo Davenport trial, Dixie State University can now fully comment on the incident that occurred in Davenport’s introductory acting class in November 2014 without hindering legal proceedings.
Note that the purpose of what follows is not simply to “comment” on the classroom incident but also (and mostly) to try to justify DSU by slandering Varlo, his attorney, the defense witnesses, and, by implication, the jury for not agreeing with them. As you read, ask yourself this question: why is DSU do disappointed in the verdict? One could hardly be blamed for thinking, as someone pointed out, they would be glad one of their professors was found not guilty of assaulting a student. But clearly they would have rejoiced in a guilty verdict.
First, Dixie State University would like to acknowledge Davenport’s years of service to the institution. During his time at DSU, Davenport made positive contributions to the university’s theater program as well as to students’ development. However, the public should be aware that at the time of the incident, Davenport was on probation for aggressive behavior toward a fellow DSU employee. Even though the jury found Davenport not guilty of a misdemeanor charge of assault, the decision to terminate his employment was based on institutional policies and DSU’s commitment to keeping students safe.
If DSU wants to state the Varlo was “on probation”, then they should tell the whole truth about it, namely, that it was an informal probation issued by the untenured Theater Dept. Chair, the same person who made sure Varlo was fired before anyone ever spoke with him about the alleged incident in the classroom, that the “aggressive” behavior in question amounted to expressing frustration concerning work that was supposed to have been completed and was not. At the time of his termination, Varlo had asked for a due process hearing of the matter; that request had never been granted. I invite DSU to explain the “institutional policy” that was operative in this situation.
Dixie State University did not take part in charges filed against Davenport; that was a decision made by the victim, who was a minor at the time of the incident, and her parents. Dixie State University stands firm by its decision to terminate Davenport’s employment at the institution. During Davenport’s faculty review hearing, he admitted to pulling the student’s hair for a long period of time. Furthermore, Davenport stated that this particular technique is not a typical physical restraint exercise. Student safety is a top priority at Dixie State University, and the institution will not tolerate inappropriate behavior of any kind toward its students.
First, note that the statement refers to the “victim,” though a court of law determined she was not a victim of anything. Second, the assertion that DSU took no part in the criminal charges is clearly and demonstrably false. Consider: the alleged victim’s step-father testified in the courtroom (under oath) that he was told he didn’t have a choice as to whether to file charges. So, either he lied under oath, or the statement here is false. Which is it? Again, if DSU really had nothing to do with filing the charges, what were they doing in the courtroom flanking the prosecution, and why are they so darned disappointed in the outcome? On the other hand, what does the step-father gain from lying? He could easily say, “Yes, we wanted to file charges. DSU was reluctant, but we insisted,” and lose nothing. Instead he said they didn’t give him a choice. You be the judge as to who is telling the truth.
Regarding the technique, everything that was said in the courtroom by other acting teachers validated this form of pedagogy in acting classes. DSU’s statement here fails to mention that the alleged victim was participating in the exercises herself, for example, by punching another student’s open palms with her fists (was she assaulting the other student?). The point was to elicit the emotion necessary to perform the scene authentically. The claim that this is “inappropriate” behavior toward a student patently absurd. The statement invokes the faculty review hearing but omits its result: a jury of Varlo’s peers exonerated him and recommended his reinstatement. Thus, what the statement tacitly admits is that DSU was actually looking for a reason to fire Varlo. This is validated by the fact that Don Reid, who “investigated” the alleged assault not only did not talk to all of the students who were in the classroom when it happened. He also didn’t bother to talk to Varlo. That’s some “investigation.” Rather, he listened carefully to the faculty review hearing to try to find something Varlo said that, presumably, could be used against him. I invite DSU to explain regarding this and other actions the “institutional policies” to which they conform.
During the trial, the defense presented evidence of the common practice of physical restraint exercises in acting classes. Defense witnesses stated that while using physical restraint techniques, it is standard to provide students with an explanation of such physical exercises and/or provide descriptions within their syllabi. The defense witnesses added that the restraints are not intended to be traumatic experiences for students and none of them presented testimony that they had ever pulled a student’s hair in the manner that Davenport did. DSU would like to clarify that Davenport had no mention of such techniques on his class syllabus nor did he ever provide verbal instructions before pulling the victim’s hair or ask for her express consent.
Again, the student already was participating in the exercises. Her consent, as the trial jury seems to have agreed, was implied. And, please note, again, the alleged victim has been found not to have been a “victim” of anything other than an attempt to help her perform a scene from a play, one that she herself had chosen.
In the months leading up to the trial, the defense has made numerous false and inflammatory comments to the press and open court that misrepresented the university and its administration. These accusations were an attempt to take the focus off the assault charges and were an attempt at jury nullification.
This accusation lacks substance. Note one example is cited. For my part, I assert that much of this DSU statement is false and inflammatory, that it misrepresents Varlo, his attorney, the defense witnesses, the City Court of St. George, etc. The “jury nullification” bit suggests the contribution, if not the sole authorship, of DSU counsel. Charity restrains me from naming names, since said counsel is obviously in need of some coaching. But I’m sure DSU has an “institutional policy” that will help him out. Regarding attention being drawn away from the “assault” charge, it’s a bit hard to argue that that ever happened. Varlo was tried for assault. The whole question of the trial was whether he had assaulted a student. The jury said he did not. I’m sorry this disappoints DSU as much as it does. Their statement seems to want to “draw attention away” from the fact that he was found not to be guilty of assault. Unfortunately for the author, it draws attention to how desperate DSU was for a conviction.
The defense claimed that DSU did not cooperate with the defense’s discovery requests. However, Dixie State University has cooperated with every request from the court for information. Judge Read did not request emails related to Davenport’s administrative hearing, however, Judge Myers did, and the university immediately cooperated. The university believes the defense has abused the court system, particularly by filing a motion of contempt against President Richard B. Williams and calling for his arrest, and issuing subpoenas for the president and several DSU administrators to appear as defense witnesses. The university is pleased that Judge Myers saw through the unethical approach of the defense by denying the motion and subpoenas.
Uh huh. Unfortunately, not quite true. The defense requested all emails related to the incident, which the defense knew were many. DSU turned over a small file with a few emails in it. Judge Read, who recused himself because he was found (incontrovertibly) to have discussed ex parte with Mike Carter allowing DSU to remove an identifying email address from one of those emails, simply was not going to ask for any more emails. The university may believe the defense abused the court system, but I don’t think they do. The truth of the matter is they are angry at having had a conspiracy to prosecute an innocent man uncovered To anyone who believes DSU is being forthright and truthful in the matter, I ask you: Who is more likely to have abused the court system in this case, a theater professor who has been fired, left without resources and charged with a crime he obviously did not commit, or the public institution with essentially unlimited (taxpayer) resources that has done something unethical and stupid and wants to cover it up? Answer yourself honestly as to which seems more likely. The defense simply requested to see the investigatory files of DSU Police Chief Don Reid, which, in his words, consisted of “packets and boxes” full of information, along with emails related to Varlo and the incident. When you request that and in response get a few pages of documents and a handful of emails, you know something fishy is going on. You move for the subpoena and call for the administrators’ testimony, because they were all involved and you can’t get DSU to turn over information that could well prove your client’s innocence. And since Biff is the head, you file a motion to hold him in contempt—which he indeed was—in order to try to get the information that should have come to you as a matter of course. Is DSU unhappy that they finally had to turn over all the emails? Yes, yes indeed they are. I note that when the emails finally were turned over, they numbered in the thousands.
The grade the student received in Davenport’s class also became a point of discussion. Dixie State University cannot directly comment on these accusations, as discussing a student’s grades is a violation of The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The university can confirm that no improper actions took place concerning the student’s grade. The university can also confirm that the student didn’t receive any kind of offers or compensation in relation to the incident.
It’s hard to say what grade the student actually received. But this much is true: Varlo said he received an email instructing him to give the student an “A” grade for the class. The prosecution and DSU lawyers, in court, asserted (falsely) that no such email existed. When the emails were turned over, there, lo and behold, was an email to Varlo from Mark Houser instructing Varlo to give the student an “A” for the class, a grade that she in no way would have earned. Note that the DSU statement conveniently omits this part of the story.
DSU is disappointed with the defense’s witnesses openly perjuring themselves in court, such as Davenport’s family member denying his relationship to the defendant when testifying on his behalf — which was admitted on the audio recordings of the faculty review hearing — and another witness denying personal relationships with Davenport. Additionally, several of the student witnesses stated that Davenport did not pull the student’s hair, which directly contradicts the audio recordings of the faculty review hearing and their own written statements.
This part of the statement is as sloppy as it is repugnant. Whoever wrote the statement is, evidently, not terribly smart and should have their qualifications for the job reexamined. No “relative” of Varlo’s testified at his trial, making it impossible for the supposed “open perjury” to have occurred. As for the students, to say that they all are liars, which is what the statement says, is so incredibly childish as to be beyond belief. They testified as to what they remember now, almost two years later, of an event that, when it happened, did not strike them as significant. If there are small discrepancies in their testimony, does that mean they are blatantly lying? Note that these are either current or former DSU students. And this institution of higher learning, masquerading as a “university,” now slanders them without conscience.
Dixie State University respects the jury’s decision regarding the misdemeanor assault charge, but stands firm by its decision to terminate Davenport’s employment at the institution. DSU will always uphold policies and procedures that protect its students, faculty and staff.
If DSU respected the jury’s decision, they would have issued a different statement, i.e., one that did not implicitly accuse the jury of letting them down. DSU can stand firm by its decision until, as the saying goes, the cows come home. But there’s not an ounce of proof in any of this, or in anything they’ve put forward, that shows a single student, faculty or staff member needed protection from Varlo Davenport. Quite the opposite. It seems clear that he needed protection, not only from the failure of DSU administrators to follow their own policies and observe due process, but also from their conspiracy—and yes that’s what it was, and still is—to brand him a criminal. Let’s not forget that, as reported previously in this blog, their original effort was, on the basis of the same flimsy evidence that failed to convict him of misdemeanor assault, to get Washington County to charge him with felony child abuse. On that basis alone I suggest that these are not simply the good and decent people they present themselves to be
In consideration of all of the above, if you were in Varlo’s shoes, how would the claim that you had abused the legal system strike you? I'll give you one word, at least: ironic.
A final note, something else to think about. After the charges initially were filed, a St. George City Council member called Andrea Davenport, Varlo’s wife. She told her she had spoken with City Attorney Sean Guzman and he had said the city had a “really strong case” and that Varlo shouldn’t use Aaron Prisbrey as a lawyer but rather a public defender. And, she said, with the case being so strong against him, Varlo should take a guilty plea. Safe to say, this is what Don Reid and the other thugs were hoping for. That’s how all this was really supposed to go down, no important questions asked. Well, sincerest condolences, good old boys and girls . . . looks like this one got away from you.
There’s something else I want to mention to you. I almost forgot. It occurs to me that this trial might not actually go forward. I very much doubt that Cassidy Sorensen has ever really wanted to testify. And now that the trial is almost here, I think there’s a chance she might back out on you. It might even be the case that you and your advisers have decided this trial might not be in your best interest after all. So I’ll be only half surprised if, sometime between now and Wednesday morning, we learn that the charges are being dropped. I’m not saying that it will happen, but it’s not unreasonable to think it might.
If it does happen, here’s my prediction. The Spectrum will be ready with a story about the case. That story will include a statement either from Cassidy Sorensen herself, or from DSU, about how she has suffered so much because of that day in her acting class that she just wants to put it all behind her, can’t bear to be in the same room with her acting teacher, etc. She, or DSU, while expressing regret and indignation over the alleged “assault” and suggesting that the alleged perpetrator is escaping condign punishment, nevertheless will insist that, all things considered, a trial would be more than she could take. Regardless of what actually happens, I think you’d have to agree, Biff, that something like that would be par for the course.
Meanwhile, the truth will remain: Varlo was attempting to help Ms. Sorensen perform a scene she had chosen. And for doing so, the university that had employed him to teach acting, tried to call it "child abuse", and when that didn't stick, "assault." One thing's for sure, Biff, no one will ever, ever mistake you for a man of culture.
P.S. -- Have you visited the Temple lately? If not, I urge you to get there, because (a) it looks good to your fellow citizens and (b) I think I've given you some good things to think about as you meditate in the Celestial Room. Take Don Reid with you. It would be a good way for you two to spend an evening. I'll bet you could even go on paid time from work.