Monday, October 03, 2016

Educators accused of sexual misconduct often find new posts

Vermont Academy fired an assistant dean in 2007 for allegedly propositioning a 16-year-old female student in lewd text messages. Yet the boarding school still produced three recommendations for its former employee, and he landed a job months later at Wesleyan University in Connecticut — overseeing student sexual misconduct hearings.

Brooks School in North Andover kicked a former admissions officer out of her campus residence in 1993 after she was accused of sexual misconduct with a male student. Even after her banishment — and Brooks’s $300,000 settlement with the student and his family — the admissions officer held jobs at two more private schools in Massachusetts.

And at Emma Willard School, a private school in Troy, N.Y., a teacher was fired in 1998 after he allegedly raped a student. But the school still wrote him two recommendations, and he later found a job at a private school in Connecticut.

The Globe Spotlight Team, as part of its ongoing investigation of sexual misconduct at the region’s private schools, identified 31 educators since the 1970s who, after being accused of sexually exploiting, assaulting, or harassing students, moved on to work at other schools or other settings with children, sometimes with a warm recommendation letter in hand.

It is a pattern that put additional children at risk. In seven of the cases reviewed by the Globe, the educators faced fresh sexual misconduct accusations in their new jobs.

In an era when employers routinely conduct multiple interviews with job candidates, check references, and search their backgrounds online, how could some of the most prestigious private schools in the country fail to discover that applicants had left previous jobs amid accusations of misconduct?

The answer, it turns out, lies in a toxic combination of schools and abusers alike trying to hush up scandals, schools failing to ask enough questions before hiring educators, and the fact that these are private institutions, with nothing like the scrutiny given their public counterparts. Private school teachers don’t even have to be licensed in most states, meaning it is harder for the state to block fired teachers from continuing to work in education and less likely for there to be a public record of any disciplinary action.

Revelations this year that some of the leading private schools in the country covered up sexual misconduct have infuriated and distressed many parents, students, and alumni, and have prompted at least two dozen schools to launch investigations. More than 100 private schools in the region have been touched by sexual abuse allegations involving more than 300 students over the past 25 years, the Spotlight Team found, including many cases that are only now coming to light.

Some of the schools played a direct role in sending accused staffers to other institutions. In nine of the 31 cases examined by the Spotlight Team, schools where teachers faced allegations of sexual misconduct nonetheless wrote the teachers letters of recommendation or served as references, in what critics describe as a deliberate effort to conceal scandals and help disgraced employees.

That total doesn’t include the notorious case of an athletic trainer at St. George’s School in Rhode Island who got a recommendation but didn’t take a new job. Headmaster Tony Zane wrote a letter of recommendation in 1980 for Al Gibbs, whom he had just dismissed amid allegations that Gibbs had sexually abused female students in the training room. Gibbs “has had a great deal of experience as a trainer, and he is most certainly competent,” Zane wrote — the same day he sent a St. George’s colleague a letter saying that Gibbs could not return to school “because of Al’s behavior in the training room.’’ A total of 31 former St. George’s students recently told investigators that Gibbs — who died in 1996 — harassed, groped, or raped them.

Officials at several schools that unwittingly hired teachers with a history of misconduct allegations were dismayed, when contacted by Globe reporters, to learn of their staffers’ pasts. A Wesleyan spokeswoman, Lauren Rubenstein, said administrators had no idea that its associate dean of students, Scott Backer, had been dismissed by Vermont Academy in Saxtons River, Vt., in 2007 and later sued by the former student whom he allegedly propositioned. The case was settled out of court in 2011.

“Had we been aware of this, Mr. Backer never would have been hired,’’ Rubenstein told the Globe in an e-mail in July. She added that Backer had received letters of recommendation from two deans at Vermont Academy and its athletic director.

Hours after the Globe inquired about Backer’s past, Wesleyan fired him and promptly hired a law firm to review about eight years of misconduct hearings that Backer participated in. The review concluded he handled those hearings properly, according to Wesleyan. Backer did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Stanley Colla, the recently appointed interim head of Vermont Academy, said the 2007 recommendations were “unauthorized letters’’ but declined to elaborate.

Last week , the Pomfret School in Connecticut admitted writing recommendation letters for four educators accused at the time of misconduct, including one teacher who resigned his current job in July, days after the Globe contacted his school in Colorado.

A total of six educators were fired, resigned, or left shortly after recent Globe inquiries about the accusations lodged against them in prior jobs in New England.

Among them: H. Andrew Thomsen, a longtime math teacher and soccer coach at Suffield Academy in Connecticut who abruptly left his position this summer a few days after the headmaster talked to a woman who reported Thomsen’s alleged misconduct. Janna Jacobson accused Thomsen of initiating a sexual relationship with her in the 1970s, when she was a student at Kingswood Oxford School in Connecticut and he worked there.

Suffield headmaster Charles Cahn III said that his school contacted Kingswood Oxford to check references before hiring Thomsen in 1995. Kingswood Oxford officials didn’t disclose at that time that they had investigated another female student’s complaint against him in 1994 with inconclusive results, Cahn said. That former student and Jacobson both contacted the Globe this year, and Suffield launched an inquiry. Thomsen did not return several messages seeking comment.

Peter Tacy, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools from 1989 to 2004, said school leaders have sometimes failed to disclose allegations of sexual misconduct to other schools out of a misguided belief that the wrongdoing was an isolated incident.

“They are guilty of wishful thinking,’’ he said. “It might very well be that someone who steals might not do it again. But particularly with sexual misconduct, it’s likely to happen again.’’

Tacy called it “dangerous and irresponsible” for schools to hide sexual misconduct. “A well-run institution that finds out it has been lied to by a colleague institution can no longer roll over,’’ he said. “We have an ethical responsibility to tell the truth.”

Much more HERE 

U of Michigan Student Successfully Changes His Preferred Pronoun to ‘His Majesty’ on Class Roster
As Heat Street‘s Politics Editor Jillian Melchior reported this week, a new policy at the University of Michigan allows students to choose their preferred pronouns— including the gender-neutral “they” and “ze” — to appear on class rosters.

With that in mind, one conservative student, Grant Strobl, who is also chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom board of governors, decided to troll the university administration by officially requesting his pronoun to be changed to “His Majesty.”

And it worked!

Although Storbl says he has “no problem with students asking to be identified a certain way,” he thought it important to show just how ludicrous it is for universities to institutionalize the use of “arbitrary” pronouns and threaten disciplinary action if students and staff repeatedly fail to use them.

“I henceforth shall be referred to as: His Majesty, Grant Strobl. I encourage all U-M students to go onto Wolverine Access, and insert the identity of their dreams” he told the College Fix.

The university vice president and provost of student life said employing preferred pronouns was “one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their identity and to cultivate an environment that respects all gender identities.”

Students can now add or change their preferred pronouns, and the changes will only be shared with “those who have a legitimate education interest in this information,” according to the new website.

Since the announcement, several students have followed Srobl’s example, registering an array of of regal pronouns.

The college made the change following a student-led initiative, Wolverines for Preferred Pronouns, which garnered over 750 signatures on this year.

We’ll see how long the administration will bow to “his majesty”‘s wishes.


BDS on campus -- update

BDS on campus was off to a quick start in September. Most notable was the appearance of an explicitly anti-Israel student-taught course at the University of California at Berkeley called “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis.” After strenuous protests, the course was canceled, ostensibly on procedural grounds, but then reinstated by the Department of Ethnic Studies after the student instructor, a BDS supporter and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member, made what he described as “cosmetic changes” to the syllabus. These changes simply rephrased statements as questions. The faculty sponsor, Hatem Bazian, is the co-founder of SJP and a leading member of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). BDS supporters condemned the initial cancellation of the course as ‘censorship.’

Courses vilifying Israel and describing it as a ‘settler colonial’ entity are common but are rarely structured or marketed as blatantly. The mainstreaming of the Berkeley course, with the explicit approval of multiple levels of the university faculty and administration, represents an escalation of political incitement against Israel within American academia.

In the wake of the Berkeley course controversy, antisemitic posters began appearing on campus, decrying “Jewish bullies” and alleging among other things Israeli government involvement in the initial course suspension.

The antisemitic orientation of BDS protests is becoming clearer, as is the utility of public shame. An example of this in September was the scheduled appearance of expatriate Israeli writer and BDS activist Miko Peled, recently quoted as calling Jews “sleazy thieves,” on behalf of SJP at San Diego State University. After Peled’s comments were criticized his appearance was canceled, as was an earlier appearance at Princeton. Even ‘Jewish Voice for Peace,’ a group with whom Peled had partnered many times, felt compelled to condemn his antisemitic remarks. JVP later reversed its stance.

For now, classical antisemitic rhetoric still remains partially outside the range of accepted campus behavior, even for BDS advocates. But the findings of an investigation commissioned by the City University of New York which found that SJP protests, that included shouts of “Death to Jews,” were protected speech indicates the boundaries of acceptability are shifting. In general, anti-Israel bias and antisemitism are increasingly acceptable under the rubric of ‘anti-racism.’

The effectiveness of shaming also depends on both vigilance and a cultural capacity for shame. Both become far more difficult when pro-BDS activists are deeply entrenched within student government and when the campus culture fully embraces ‘intersectional’ theories about the unity of all oppression and the a priori validity of all conspiratorial accusations.

This was confirmed in September when the Oberlin College student government condemned an alumni group that had complained about antisemitic statements from a faculty member and about campus BDS. The student government statement condemned the alumni “witch-hunt” against the now-suspended faculty member, Joy Karega, the ‘tireless campaign’ “to create a false image of Oberlin, damage the value of an Oberlin education, and then assert that the only appropriate response is that which they have already proposed,” and accused them of “surveillance, intimidation, marginalization, and harassment of Oberlin students.”

The student statement was designed to push back against alumni at a time when there is increasing alumni mobilization against BDS. A recent example of this was the call from retired Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz for alumni and donors to boycott and divest from universities that embrace BDS. Historically, alumni efforts have had limited success at individual universities against BDS but the Oberlin statement demonstrates how threatening alumni pressure is to extremists and their cultural dominance, at least at small and financially vulnerable institutions.

The unacknowledged domination of anti-Israel bias and BDS at academic institutions was also in evidence at Syracuse University. There an invitation to show an Israeli film was withdrawn after the sponsoring Syracuse faculty member was warned (as she put it in an email to the filmmaker) that “that the BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant for you and for me if you come.”

Public exposure of the incident in The Atlantic led to a cover-up from the university, including a statement from the Provost effectively blaming the sponsoring faculty member for impugning the university’s reputation, a  mea culpa from the faculty member, and a petition from pro-BDS faculty members denying that any pressure to disinvite the filmmaker had existed.

Another Syracuse faculty member pointed out in an interview that there was no corresponding pressure to disinvite pro-BDS speakers and noted that various units within the university were already carrying out “stealth boycotts” of Israel in contravention of institutional policy. Such covert and personal boycotts are difficult to measure but are likely to be more widespread than generally realized.

At the same time, the impact of “anti-normalization” was demonstrated during an incident at Georgetown University, where protestors disrupted an academic event discussing the career of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One of the protestors was quoted as saying “We want to bring visibility to the normalization of Netanyahu’s war crimes to campus and the oppression faced by the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli state. We’re concerned that a conversation about the Israeli state took place without talking about it as an occupation and apartheid… Georgetown as a Jesuit institution needs to be held accountable for its complicity in this and all state violence.” The protestors, who were removed form the room, also chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Rejection of any mention of Israel that is not condemnatory, even in an academic discussion, exemplifies the BDS movement’s efforts to shift Israel into a uniquely demonic moral category beyond politics or intellect. It does so by creating a secular religious drama wherein conventional liberal ideals such as free speech, human rights, and intellectual inquiry are necessarily transcended by the absolute evil of Israel and the absolute good of Palestinians.

The Georgetown incident, and more violent ones that occurred in the previous academic year, demonstrate how the BDS movement is becoming more disruptive on American campuses. This pattern follows the lead of the anti-Israel movement in Britain and across Europe, where the existence of Israel rather than the ‘settlements’ is the primary objection.

More HERE 

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