There is a growing controversy involving a community college professor who claims to have been placed under investigation after he publicly questioned his school’s decision to begin a gay studies program. Professor Jay Rubin wrote a letter to the editor at Alameda Journal that challenged the fiscal basis for the creation of a new program. While he did not sign the letter with his academic title, Rubin was reportedly subjected to a charge of sexual harassment based on that letter by a colleague. I have been pursuing this story for days because of the lack of details and documents in the media. I was able to secure some of this information from Matthew McReynolds, his counsel, with the Pacific Justice Institute.
While the Peralta Community College District has apparently decided that it cannot punish the professor for the letter, I fail to see how this letter would prompt a long investigation. In the letter signed without reference to his academic position, Rubin raises primarily financial questions about the program. The letter is linked below. After questioning the wisdom of creating a new program at this time, Rubin adds an allegation of nepotism:
Even more troubling is the fact that — with all the talented gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender academics in the Bay Area who are currently unemployed — the new LGBT course at College of Alameda will be taught by, his merits aside, Randy Connor, the domestic partner of College of Alameda’s head librarian who helped develop the new program.
Perhaps the next program to be developed at College of Alameda could be “Introduction to Nepotism Studies.” There’s clearly a need for that, too.
I can certainly see why such an attack would be viewed as non-collegial and inimical to faculty relations. However, Rubin has a free speech right to make such public objections, particularly with regard to a public institution. Very few universities have recognized an LGBT degree, including San Diego State, Hobart, and William Smith colleges.
On September 11th, McReynolds wrote the letter below challenging the basis for the sexual harassment charge and the response of the school.
If it is true that the sexual harassment charge is based solely on the letter, it would seem likely it is due to the naming of the head of the course and his relationship with the librarian. Of course, his name would be public anyway, so that leaves the question of the association. Is it sexual harassment to publicly state the association — and thereby the sexual orientation — of these men? In making a nepotism charge, a relationship must be stated. Moreover, a gay relationship is neither illegal nor condemned in the letter. It is treated like any other personal relationship such as a conventional marriage to question whether the course was selected in part due to the association with the librarian. I am not saying that the underlying charge is valid or that this was the best way to pursue such a concern. Indeed, I value civility on faculties very highly and I would not have published such an attack in the newspaper. However, there is no question in my view that this constitutes protected speech and I am concerned with the long investigation. The college clearly must investigate all such charges, but the reported length of the investigation is problematic. This would seem a rather straightforward matter for college officials.
The college rules defines sexual harassment as:
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment or educational environment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or learning, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment.
I am particularly concerned with the allegation that the college barred Rubin from discussing his case in public. This type of gag order is becoming too common in such cases. Rubin should have every right to discuss his case and his treatment. I believe it is not wise to do so in most cases, but I have serious reservations about a college ordering an academic to remain silent if this account is accurate.
What do you think?
Here is the original letter to the editor: My Letter in Alameda Journal
Here is his counsel’s letter: PJI ltr PCCD redacted