Mere months after the University of Denver paid $2.66 million to settle a complaint by female law professors, who were systematically underpaid compared to their male colleagues for decades, the institution is under fire again.
Aaron Schneider, the prof who heads the American Academy of University Professors' DU chapter, says he's been informed about complaints from fourteen past and current professors at the distinguished, nationally acclaimed Daniels College of Business about how they've been treated on the job. And one member of this group — Ron Throupe, an associate professor at the Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management — has filed suit against the university in Denver District Court, alleging that he was a victim of retaliation and Title IX violations.
The suit, filed in January, is accessible below.
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Schneider says he's personally spoken to ten Daniels profs with gripes and has been told about four more who've shared similar experiences with peers. All of them are professors on multiyear contracts, not adjuncts; several are on the tenure track, while others participate in the college's teaching series. He groups their concerns into three main categories: "Humiliations, like having bad scheduling times. Also, things that may violate university policy, such as intrusions into their academic freedom and unusual and inappropriate processes related to tenure and promotion. And other episodes that may approach violations of the law, like discrimination, mistreatment or the creation of a hostile workplace."
In response, Jon Stone, a DU spokesman and media manager, says that beyond Throupe's lawsuit, which he declines to discuss because it's an active matter, the university is largely in the dark about the situation. Prior to Westword's inquiries, he says the university's main source of information was a letter Schneider sent last year to a number of officials, including the chancellor, the provost, the associate dean and both the outgoing and incoming presidents of the faculty senate, that discussed the concerns in a general way.
"When I talked to leadership at the college, they didn't know where the number fourteen was coming from," Stone maintains. He adds that only three Daniels professors have been denied tenure in the past decade, promotions are handled by peer review and not edicts from higher-ups, and no formal complaints have been submitted in relation to academic freedom.
"We have a professor teaching about marijuana in the school," Stone notes in reference to Sam Kamin, who's made many appearances in Westword over the years. "So the idea that we're telling faculty what they can and can't teach isn't something I've ever heard before."
An associate professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Schneider has plenty of positive things to say about DU and its business school. "The university is a great place to work in many ways for a lot of us who are professors, and Daniels is an important institution at the school and in the city."
However, he goes on, "Daniels has been under some stress. The college has been experiencing lower enrollment because, I suspect, many of the 25-year-olds who might otherwise go for their MBAs are getting good jobs because of the economy."
Based on the professors' accounts, Schneider feels Daniels has reacted to such challenges by treating its employees in less than ideal ways. "This pattern, as it was experienced by some of these individuals, drives people to leave," he says. "It makes them feel they're being drummed out of their job. And that's especially hard to take by individuals who feel they're being scapegoated or punished. It's created a sense of dissatisfaction or fear in the school where people are afraid of retaliation, afraid to speak up, afraid they're going to be the next to be singled out."
If this is true, Throupe represents a cautionary tale.
An eleven-year DU veteran, Throupe says his problems at Daniels began in 2013, when he finished second in a bid to become chair of his department. During the process, he took umbrage at some comments made about him by a couple of faculty members and talked to the provost about issuing a grievance against them.
Shortly thereafter, Throupe alleges that he began taking heat for work outside the university of the sort he says the provost encouraged him to explore. But far more problematic, in his view, was what he saw as a deliberate and coordinated attempt to make it seem as if he was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a graduate assistant — something he passionately denies and which he blames for the student suffering a breakdown. But rather than leaving the college over these rumors and a class schedule he characterizes as suddenly becoming overloaded with courses he shouldn't be teaching, he put forward a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — and when the EEOC dismissed the matter, he moved forward with the lawsuit.
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DU spokesperson Stone says Schneider hasn't provided representatives of the business college or the university as a whole with other names of professors who've got gripes, and maintains that in the aforementioned letter to assorted officials, "he asked people to come forward to him if they had complaints involving Daniels. So from what I'm understanding in this, it's not that fourteen people came to him with complaints, but that, at some point, he was soliciting people to come to him if they had complaints."
The suggestion that the number of complaining professors was somehow inflated by his efforts frustrates Schneider. As he puts it, "I don't want anyone to say I'm beating the bushes. My door's always open, and I welcome anyone who wants to contact me. But I make it a point not to reach out to anyone" in order to avoid such accusations.
Indeed, Schneider would love to foster a solution by bringing various parties together through his role with the American Academy of University Professors. According to him, "I still believe there's an opportunity for us to work together to make Daniels and DU a place where everyone wants to work."
Click to read Ron Throupe et al. v. University of Denver et al.