Cause for suspension stated
By: Sarah Martin
Nearly eight months after Western's theater arts department suspended associate theater professor Perry Mills, he received a statement of charges -- which included written complaints from students and faculty members -- from Provost Andrew Bodman in June.
According to the statement, the reason for the suspension was that Mills' conduct fell below the standards to which faculty should adhere. Mills, who has been on paid suspension since Oct. 18, 2004, said the ordeal is a witch hunt.
"You can't prove that Julius Caesar ever existed," Mills said. "It's all hearsay."
In the statement Bodman wrote that he, Carol Edwards, dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts, and theater department chair Mark Kuntz believe enough evidence exists to warrant a formal hearing.
The next step in the process is a hearing in October during which a panel of at least five members will review evidence and hear witnesses.
Mills, a faculty member at Western for 25 years, taught theater arts classes such as introduction to cinema and dramatic writing and said he misses his job. Some students have mixed feelings about Mills' teaching methods.
"If he could get an attitude change, he wouldn't be that bad," said Kerrie Thornton, Western senior and Mills' former student. "It's just too bad that he doesn't have very good people skills."
Thornton said that, while his classes are difficult, Mills listened and helped with playwriting.
The charges Mills faces are based on actions some faculty and staff believe violated Western's Faculty Handbook, which specifies the professional standards the university expects from its faculty. According to the handbook, the university may dismiss faculty members from their position for violating one or more of five obligations for behavior. Mills allegedly violated two of the five.
Edwards, Bodman and Kuntz are charging Mills with "a serious and persistent neglect of faculty duties" and "intentional and malicious interference with the scientific, scholarly and academic activities of others," according to the statement.
Attached to the statement of charges were three written statements from faculty and students concerning Mills' conduct.
In a statement dated Oct. 7, 2004, Western junior Shareen Faleafine wrote that Mills, who was her professor for Theater 201 during the prior spring quarter, harassed her in a faculty parking lot for having a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on her car.
"I have always felt comfortable and at home here at Western," she wrote. "Today I felt uncomfortable, put down, discouraged and scared for the first time."
Faleafine wrote that Mills said that if a problem arose in his class, he did not care and students should drop the class immediately. She wrote, however, that she could not afford to drop the class.
In an internal statement to Edwards dated Sept. 24, 2004, Kuntz said he witnessed a conversation between Mills and an administrative assistant of one of his courses. Kuntz said Mills' language included "You bitch, you screwed up," and "Is she retarded?"
Mills said he suspects his suspension could be partly a result of him carrying a pocketknife around campus. Kuntz received a report of a student seeing him with a pocketknife. Mills said he carried a pocketknife for years and needed it for repairing onstage equipment.
Kuntz said he told Mills on several occasions not to carry his knife on campus.
"I believe in protecting his privacy and his rights while protecting the rights of students," Kuntz said.
Mills also speculated that his suspension is due in large part to a $12 lab fee theater students paid until recently. He said Kuntz spent the money for items such as computers, which was not the purpose of the fee, and Kuntz was upset with him for whistle blowing.
Kuntz said the fee was not a factor in Mills' suspension and the department discontinued the fee because it was no longer needed.
In a written complaint Edward's office received on Oct. 12, 2004, a former student of Mills' wrote that she returned to Western after doctors diagnosed her with cancer, and Mills was aware of her situation.
During class, when Mills called on her to present an assignment in front of the class, she said she was nervous.
According to her complaint, Mills said, "If you can't even put up with your piece for class, then you should have just died of cancer."
Mills said he did not think he said anything wrong or should treat students with illnesses any differently from other students.
"I hope that it hurts someone enough to either go home or do their work," he said. "If she died I wouldn't have given her an 'A.'"
Mills said he does not want to handicap his students by avoiding the issues.
"I don't talk nice," he said. "I say 'I hate that idiot' instead of saying 'I hold you in imperfect esteem.'"
Mills is on paid suspension until the hearing.
"Your tax dollars are going into me as we speak," he said.
I must applaud Perry Mills for actually having the guts to say whatever he wants to say. The University has no right to try to censor what their faculty say and do. Remember that First Amendment "Free Speech" Clause? Justice William J. Brennan, Jr put it best when he wrote:
"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable."
Bravo Mr. Mills, bravo...
posted 7/18/05 @ 8:21 PM PST
I am angry and appalled that this behavior and attitude is present at my alma mater.
Mark A. Hardie, 1953, Retired Educator
Puyallup School District
posted 7/23/05 @ 11:02 AM PST
Madeline Chauvin, Videographer
From the The Western Front Online, July 11, 2005