Before I get on to the question I said I would next address, I want to touch on the subject of comments on this blog and anonymity. First, I’m not allowing comments on the blog, unless you want to comment and address some of my concerns. This is just a letter addressed to you, and thus so titled. Anyone is free to comment, of course, and I will read the comments, but I don’t have time to moderate the comments section nor to respond to comments. So I will not be posting any of them, favorable or unfavorable. I mean no offense to anyone. That said, I do want to say something on one topic raised by a couple of comments I’ve received, and that is anonymity. It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it? Does my identity matter? I’m not trying to disguise the fact that I support Varlo. Does that make anything I say less valid? I’m not just offering up opinions without any basis in fact. The question should not be what “side” I’m on but rather whether I have any kind of argument, whether what I say here is at all compelling, whether it stands up to scrutiny. Obviously I think it is and does, and I suspect many others do and will think so as well. But the comments I’ve received suggest that what I say won’t be taken seriously unless I attach my name, and further, that in writing anonymously I lack courage. I don’t wholly agree with either of these points, but I think they are good and fair points. And they lead me to want to point out something that I’ll be addressing in more detail later but now find appropriate to mention here. Here it is: After the faculty review committee effectively exonerated Varlo of the “assault” charge last year and recommended his reinstatement, you decided to keep him fired anyway. You didn’t really give much of a reason, at least until sometime later, when you offered up something to the effect that the faculty committee’s decision was “not consistent with the evidence.” Now, this was interesting. I think I get it. There’s no way you could reinstate Varlo, right? You already had promised the student’s family that Varlo was fired and wouldn’t be back. The faculty hearing was pro forma and nothing but pro forma. Truth is, Varlo had no chance of being reinstated no matter what the faculty recommended. At any rate, this is when things got really interesting, because in the meantime you had some meetings with Varlo’s chief prosecutor (about whom, more later), and you and other administrators then launched a little smear campaign, one you’re still hiding behind, and one that is based entirely on evidence you say you have but still—still to this date—have not been willing to bring forward. To be more precise, you have said that although Varlo didn’t mean any harm in the classroom incident that got him fired in the first place, it was still a good thing to fire him because “it had been going on for a long time.” And, supposedly you have some evidence that proves this (whatever “it” is), but for nearly a year now, you haven’t produced it. Now, here’s something you should know but appear to maybe not know: Varlo only learned of the existence of this evidence you claim to have when you and others started talking about it. It appears that someone had been storing up secret and perhaps anonymous complaints about Varlo. They were not in his personnel file, he never knew about them, and he was never given a chance even to see, much less to have a hearing on any of them. Contrary to your assertion that “Davenport received full due process”, this proves he did not. And your statement makes you look either stupid or mendacious.
Biff, I have to appeal to your strong sense of integrity here. You know, the old “family values” pitch you ran by Gail Smith and presumably others. Do you really condone this? Do you really believe that DSU, a public university in the United States, should be able to operate like the KGB? If that sounds extreme, get a little reading group together, you and a few other administrators, and read some Solzhenitsyn. You’ll recognize how what you’ve done fits a pattern: arrest (fire) a man that you or someone else wants to get rid of, then smear his reputation and assure everyone, on the basis of information to which only you have access, that he was indeed deserving of his fate. If you do condone this, I suggest that you should not be the president of DSU or any other university. Perhaps you and Mike Carter, J.D. should sit down together and discuss due process (he could be in your reading group too!), since it appears that there’s something crucial about the concept you have not yet grasped. But here’s the point: anonymity. You have said, in essence, “We have the information that proves we did the right thing.” Now, first let me point out that even if you have this information, as I’ve already argued, you didn’t do the right thing. But if it’s the case that you have it, why not produce it? In short, you’re effectively hiding behind a cloak of anonymity. And so perhaps those readers who believe my anonymity is a problem can tell me why mine is any more problematic than yours. If you can fire Varlo and claim it’s all justified by anonymous information, then why can’t I write you an anonymous letter and have it be taken just as seriously as you want to be taken in your assertions? If I lack courage, then so do you. And I would suggest the more serious lack is on your part. However that may be, I’m not, as it turns out, unwilling to attach my name to this letter. And I’ll do it just as soon as you set a good “family values” type example for me in courage and let Varlo and his attorney see the information you’ve told everyone is so damning. This would be the right thing to do, Biff. You’ve taken Varlo’s job and his career from him. The least you could do is try to give him an adequate reason for having done so.
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.