Extra Large! Extra Cheese!
New article about Perry being back on campus, though still a pariah. Here's the naked "truth"--opinions will follow after a glass of sleep.
Suspended Professor Returns
|by Ashley Mitchell|
|Friday, December 05, 2008|
Four years later, after hearings and allegations of harassment and misconduct toward students, Western theater professor Perry Mills resumed teaching classes on campus this fall.
Mills, a professor who has taught at Western for more than 25 years, was suspended in the fall of 2004 for one year after the university decided he had violated too many sections of the Code of Faculty Ethics to resume teaching.
The Code of Faculty Ethics are specified standards in the Faculty Handbook that professors and faculty are expected to follow and respect.
According to documents of a Western hearing panel, composed of professors, the university felt Mills’ behavior toward students and faculty demonstrated a considerable disregard for his faculty duties. The violations ranged from not exercising self-discipline and judgment in the classroom to intimidating and exploiting students.
Mills said he feels the university went about his suspension unjustly and illegally.
Western wanted him gone and they went searching for ways to do it, he said. He said he has hired a lawyer and other legal help to look further into his suspension.
Mills said he is suing because of a process violation. According to university documents, there is supposed to be a formal confrontation of the issue with the professor in question as well as a public hearing before any action is taken. Mills said he was handed a yellow slip, suspending him, and the entire issue was kept a secret before a public hearing occurred.
Mills was suspended for one year with pay, but after a hearing panel was held, ended up being suspended without pay from all faculty and teaching privileges for two full academic quarters before he was allowed to return.
He was also required to sign a statement that stated, “I agree to comply with the Code of Faculty Ethics for the Faculty of Western Washington University,” in order to teach again.
Mills said he felt the university and theater department were looking for ways to kick him out of the university and argues while the university said he violated conduct according to the Faculty Handbook, he had done nothing wrong legally.
“They tried to burn me at the stake,” Mills said. “But the stake was wet.”
Mills did not resume teaching for more than four years—just enough time for all of the students he had to graduate. He said he is aware of his reputation to newer students, but those worries pale in comparison to his legal issues.
“I have never had [Mills] myself as a student,” said Western senior and theater major Kristin Bruce. “But he has a pretty crazy reputation. It’s been a while since he’s been on campus, but he is still known for pushing students to crazy levels and making unusual, ridiculous comments in class.”
Upon Mills’ return, guidelines were drawn up for him, according to Whatcom County Superior Court documents. Mills is no longer allowed in the Performing Arts Center, and his office no longer resides in the building. His office is now in Haggard Hall, and his classrooms are in close proximity to his office.
“Most other theater faculty members and I have not physically seen [Mills] since his return,” Theatre Department Chair Mark Kuntz said. “It’s pretty whacky because he is no longer connected to the theater department at all, even though he is still a professor and teaches theater classes. That’s pretty hard to find on-campus someone teaching outside a department like that.”
Kuntz said he believes Mills hasn’t been welcome at department meetings since his return.
Mills was assigned two classes this quarter, and only four students signed up. One of the classes was cancelled, but two students remain in a second class, which he has taught all quarter. According to Class-Finder, it appears more students are signing up for his classes for winter quarter, Kuntz said.
The hearing documents contain written instances of students responding well to his challenging teaching methods, but others have been offended by his style. In one particular occasion, which was used by the hearing panel in its decision, a former student of Mills’ wrote a letter to Performing Arts Dean Carol Edwards, who received it on Oct. 12, 2004, about his negative conduct toward the student during a class period.
The student was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and took a class from Mills upon her return to campus, according to the written complaint. She became nervous upon presenting one of her projects in front of the class.
According to the letter, Mills had said, “If you can’t even put up with your piece for the class then you should have just died of cancer.”
In another instance not used by the panel during the hearing, Mills was suspected of harassing Western alumna Shareen Faleafine in the school parking lot.
There were several witnesses, but each had a different perception of the events, and the panel could not find any specific set of facts, according to panel documents.
Despite what some students perceived as a negative attitude, not every student was put off by his teaching methods and some were even looking forward to his return, Western freshman Bobby Delos-Reyes said. He said he hopes to become a theater major and has had friends rave about Mills’ unusual tactics.
“My sister took a class from him and has never taken a more aggravating class in her life,” Delos-Reyes said. “But she loved every minute of it. Some people can take his abusive encouragement and others can’t from what I’ve heard, which is why I think he was suspended. I like challenges and I hope to take a class of his as soon as it works with my schedule.”
Mills said his teaching style is designed to make students stronger. He asks questions and calls students out on their mistakes in order to make them think about their work, he said.
“This no child left behind thing in schools is what makes students lazy and apologetic,” Mills said. “I may not be liked but I have strong students.”
Buckley Sykes, one of Mills’ former students, writes for a blog that was started by former students of Mills’ in support of the professor, even after his suspension. Sykes said he felt the reasons behind Mills’ suspension were personal in nature and thinks Western lost one of its best professors when Mills was suspended.
Although no longer a student, Sykes said he is glad to see his mentor back on campus. Sykes said he doesn’t understand why Mills' information is missing from the theater department's biography page. He said he wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not and believes it to be unfair either way.
In the blog, Kuntz is referenced as one of the main people who wanted Mills out of the department.
“They make me out to be this horrible person,” Kuntz said. “It’s funny because there are two sides to this. People need to know both sides and know that I did what I felt was right.”
Kuntz said the bad relationship between Mills and the old department chair, professor Gregory Lawrence Pulver, is one of the main reasons he is not considered a part of the theater department. This is probably the reason Mills' biography isn't on the department's Web site, he said.
“Mills is back and teaching and will resume teaching through next quarter,” Kuntz said. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”