Dear Biff Williams,
This is the opening installment of a serial letter I’ll be writing to you concerning your decision, last year, to fire Varlo Davenport, and your subsequent decision to pursue “criminal” charges against him. As you know, Varlo soon will be tried for “assault” by the City of St. George. You have asserted that “firing Davenport was the right thing to do.” Was it? Needless to say, some of us are not convinced. And what about the further attempt to permanently ruin Varlo’s academic career by tarnishing his reputation through slander and attempting to stick him with a criminal record? Is that also the “right thing to do”?
It seems maybe more than a little questionable, Biff. And that’s why I’m writing to you about it. As I proceed, and just by the way, I want you and everyone else to remember the commitment to “family values” for which you were praised by DSU Trustee Gail Smith when you were hired. Such a commitment should mean something, of course. At a minimum it could be thought to include a genuine concern with personal integrity. And for someone in your position it also would seem—again, at a minimum—to mean a genuine concern for the integrity of a process through which a man is deprived not only of his current livelihood but also of the career to which he has devoted his life.
Over the next few weeks, as the trial approaches, I am going to be taking as close a look as possible at just what happened and the role you and certain others have played in it. This is likely to raise a number of possibly troubling questions. I hope you won’t flinch from them, as indeed a man of any character would not. I hope, in fact, that you will answer them, that you will become accountable. I think it’s the least you could do.
So, without further ado, Biff, let’s get started. Let’s get on with the first part. And let’s begin, just briefly, with a little bit about Varlo and his contribution to DSU.
Part I: Devoted and well-respected acting teacher fired . . . for trying to teach acting?
I believe I’m more familiar with Varlo’s work probably than anyone in the school of Fine Arts, that the length of time that we worked side by side for most of those 12 years. And to give a little context, my history, and I’ve been working in musical theater continuously for 35 years, at various institutions, professional and academic in higher education with vast exposure and experience to a variety of directorial approaches. And I can say without hesitation that working with Varlo as director, he has been the most professional I’ve ever worked with. And his rapport and his respect for the students and colleagues is without comparison.
He is consummately organized, respectful of individuals, their feelings and particularly their time. He is efficient. And in those nine years, I’ve never heard a harsh word to anybody, faculty, colleagues or students. And from my perspective, the students that have been in shows that Varlo has directed, without hesitation say that they would happily jump at the chance to do a production with Varlo Davenport again. He is highly favored.
So in terms of the Theater program, I don’t think many people are aware of what was accomplished before we even had any bachelors degrees. This little theater program, with just very few faculty, had acquired, I think I counted, like, four national awards or recognitions, because of the quality of work that was done, and people were wanting to gravitate to this program, thinking that we had graduate degrees, because of the quality of the work that had been done. And in fact, you know, we just had this two year program. We didn’t have a degree. And I don’t think that’s been adequately recognized, that an unknown institution would garner national awards that would be coveted by major programs nationwide. That is largely due to his vision, to his genius and to his willingness to collaborate. . .
Biff, I include that comment in part to begin to counter the slanderous suggestions from you and others that Varlo is a bad guy who, regardless of the of the classroom incident for which he was ostensibly fired, deserved to be fired anyway. And we’ll get to a detailed discussion of that in due course. For now I just want to say that I think it’s important you weigh Varlo’s contribution to DSU against the classroom incident that set in motion your ‘less than ten second’ decision. And that’s almost the next order of business. But we’ll first take a look at a very troubling aspect of what happened: Officer Don Reid’s interview with the student who filed the complaint and her parents, his encouragement of their complaint and his suggestion that in considering criminal charges against Varlo they are "doing the right thing." Reid’s little exercise of “thinking out loud” (if we can call it that) with the alleged victim and her family is a very important moment in all this, because it shows that Varlo never, ever had a chance. As that interview shows, by the time he knew what hit him, it was all already a done deal. He was, as you later said, “done,” no matter what. Truth and justice be damned. I think it’s pretty interesting, Biff, and I believe others will think so too. I hope you’ll turn up that sturdy moral fiber of yours and stay tuned.