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Fired SUU professor shoots back with disdain for administrators

Published December 17, 2004 1:47 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

CEDAR CITY - The controversial political-science professor - terminated this week after six years at Southern Utah University - fired back Thursday, accusing administrators of caring only about three things: tuition, money and enrollment.

In a statement sent to the news media, Stephen Roberds said there's a climate of fear at SUU - fear to speak out and fear of reprisal. Faculty members have been "called on the carpet because of books and readings" they assign for their classes.

"As long as you fit in, you're fine. But if you are outside the box, they are very quick to intimidate you," wrote the professor, who came under scrutiny Oct. 12 when he used the f-word during a classroom discussion.

Following that incident, SUU President Steven Bennion said the issue was a personnel matter and he believed department heads looking into it would be fair.

"There are a variety of views at SUU. That's what a university is about," Bennion said earlier this fall. "We do not take a test of someone's philosophy."

On Thursday, campus officials could not be reached for comment about Roberds' e-mailed remarks.

Darren Vaughn, a junior communications major, isn't bothered by the professor's dismissal. He likes that SUU is more conservative than what he was used to at a "liberal" high school in Moab.

"If I wanted to go to a liberal school, I would have gone to one in eastern Colorado," he said.

Roberds, a divorced Missouri native, acknowledges that he has a more liberal bent. That's the reason, he claims, that he wasn't given a fair shake.

Upset by his termination, he now encourages parents not to send their children to the Cedar City-based university.

"Send your kids to the [University of Utah] and Utah State," he wrote. "I have the highest respect for [Brigham Young University]."

For now, Roberds said he will remain in Utah while looking for another job. He will receive his salary and full benefits for the remainder of his contract, which ends June 30.

Ironically, SUU students picked Roberds as their 2003-04 Professor of the Year. Last week, he gave the university's Grace A. Tanner Distinguished Faculty Lecture.

Political-science major Jessica Irwin called Roberds' firing "a shame," adding that the educator was a liberal professor in a conservative school.

"But universities are controversial by nature, and some students found what [Roberds] taught offensive," Irwin said. "The goal is to think in ways they haven't before."

Roberds said reasons for the termination and for not getting tenure changed every day since the Oct. 12 classroom episode.

"Every time I heard of one thing and tried to address it, they would throw in something new," Roberds wrote. He accused SUU officials of "making up the rules as they go along."

He said it was no accident that he was fired during finals week - as students were preparing to go home for the holidays.

"Their hope is that when students come back in January they may be upset for a few days but will eventually get over it," he wrote. "Had they done this weeks ago, or waited until spring [semester], there would be massive student unrest. They [administrators] are very good at doing their dirty work in the secrecy of the dark."

Roberds said an administrator told him that one of the things that contributed to his firing was an e-mail the professor exchanged with another faculty member in response to concerns about attempts to change the faculty constitution.

"I e-mailed that the administration and faculty senate were antagonistic to faculty. I said that there was more freedom in Iraq right now than at SUU," Roberds explained. "They didn't like that e-mail."

This week, the faculty committee considering Roberds' application for tenure returned it without making a recommendation, Dean Decker, head of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said earlier this week. The committee decided that the issue of Roberds' employment status "should be an administrative decision."

In the three-page written response to news media, Roberds said: "They say I am not 'collegial' . . . and I am not a good team player. Yes, I have had strong verbal disagreements with other faculty. In academia [and] in life, people disagree."

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