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.