In October 2004, Western Washington University administrators suspended Professor Perry Mills from teaching. The Western Front, WWU's student paper, broke the story.
Department chair and professor Mark Kuntz said he would not reveal the reasons for Mills' suspension because the matter concerns department personnel.
"This is to honor and protect Perry's privacy," Kuntz said. Mills tells a much different story.
"I was suspended and told to leave the campus because the department chair got a report of a student seeing (me) with a pocketknife," he said.
Mills was thereafter exiled from campus, to which he could return for his office possessions only by permission of Theatre Department Chair Mark Kuntz who, on such occasions, arranged a police escort.
Now with plenty of time on his hands, Professor Mills consulted local law enforcement officers who, upon inspecting Mills' pocketknife, determined that the tool was legal to possess under Washington State law.
However, the legality of Mills' pocketknife will later in our story be overlooked by Mr. Kuntz and other university administrators, in favor of placing the pocketknife center-stage, a nice sharp focal point around which to build evidence of Professor Mills' character, once merely gruff and unfriendly, but now allegedly dangerous and violent, a threat to the security of students, and a liability to the goals of higher education.
For eight months, the administrators responded to questions regarding Mills' suspension evasively, cherishing the pristine and easy ethical considerations of teacher and student "privacy" over the dirty and difficult ethical considerations of telling anyone why they had suspended a professor for eight months without cause.
Finally, on June 6, 2005, the crusty office of the Provost and Vice President, Andrew R. Bodman, issued Mills a Statement of Charges, available here. (pdf)
As we have already learned, the Statement of Charges would lean heavily on the pocketknife (about which we will hear testimony later), thus charging the Good Provost's Statement with an electrifying appeal, a tangible excitement in prose that Provosts are seldom allowed to express, not for their lack of interest in the literary craft, but for the lack of exciting material that presents itself to them at insignificant backwater state colleges of sparse acclaim. So that when a non-mediocre figure comes along, calling students funny names, and carrying a pocketknife to boot, it allows the administrator, who once was young and still remembers the thrill of colorful life since turned gray, to rise to the occasion, at once expressing the power of his position (that he has spent so long in attaining), while also allowing him to write memos that don't simply make him tired after lunch.
The Provost's Statement of Charges against Professor Mills kicks off with clear direction and no sass, stating that Provost Andrew R. Bodman, Dean Carol Edwards, and Theatre Chair Mark Kuntz collectively hold the view that Professor Mills' "behavior and conduct towards students and fellow faculty falls substantially below the standards to which faculty should be held."
From here, however, the memo moves into nebulous realms. There were complaints "lodged". These complaints were forwarded from Professor Kuntz to Dean Edwards to Provost Bodman. Professor Mills had "waved a knife around". This was "threatening, inappropriate and concerning." Provost Bodman reported that Dean Edwards reported that Professor Kuntz reported that "library staff had reported to him that they were very uncomfortable in having to work with Professor Mills" who was "menacing and threatening".
As if brutalizing the frail psyches of librarians weren't enough, we next learn that Professor Mills did not exempt faculty of the weaker sex from his abusive, derogatory, and hostile words. According to the report, Mills called a fellow professor a "bimbo", "slut", and "once even 'cunt'". This professor reported to Dean Edwards that she's heard Mills call his students "shit-for-brains", "blondies", "faggot", and one overweight student "a 400 pound canary who warbles nothingness".
Having now determined that, in his reckless manner of offending everyone, he has also been discovered offending frail and helpless women, mentally-challenged students, gays, and fat people, Provost Bodman closes the memo with direct official pluck, having trotted out a cast of victims so sanctified that to now put in a word for Professor Mills might be like bringing a boxcutter to the airport.
It took eight questionably unlawful months for Provost Bodman to state the charges against Professor Mills, but it appears his time was well-spent in calculation.