“I was not asleep as is implied at any point during the meeting,” she said, adding, “the photo used was taken without permission when I was looking down or briefly resting my Zoom weary eyes with my head tilted back which I must do in order to see my computer screen through my trifocal progressive lenses. I listened with my ears and heart the entire meeting.”
It is certainly true to have such false light images. We previously discussed how President Barack Obama was unfairly accused of inappropriate conduct through such false light publications. Obama was accused of checking out a female staffer with the use of a single photo. However, the full record showed that Obama was moving his head to speak with another world leader at a photo op and that frame just caught him at a misleading angle as the staffer walked by.
However, even if true, why is a professor dozing off in a meeting now a matter for termination? Faculty meetings are a well-known cure for insomnia even when you care deeply about the subject. I have seen colleagues virtually cause self-concussions by sleep-induced head bobbing. Even Vice Presidents and United States senators have been accused of falling asleep in the middle of a meeting in the Oval Office. A senator appeared to fall asleep during the presidential impeachment. Indeed, during a judicial impeachment, I was the lead counsel arguing on the Senate floor. My family came to the floor to watch my closing argument and my youngest, Madie, fell asleep in my wife’s arms. A Capitol Police officer came over to say that “there is no sleeping on the Senate floor,” even an infant. My wife looked over at a Senator who had his feet up on a desk, head back with his mouth open, and snoring so loud you could barely hear my closing. The officer contemplated the scene for a second and responded “YOU can’t sleep on the Senate floor.”
The point is that Professor Simon denies the allegation but, even if true, the first response of these students is to seek yet another termination of a professor. It is an example of why many academics feel that they are living in an increasingly intolerant and hostile environment. Some faculty are afraid to speak on contemporary issues or even defend colleagues (or free speech) due to the ubiquitous petitions to fire faculty deemed insufficiently supported of Black Lives Matter or the protests. Simon is not being accused of racist statements but a failure to be sufficiently active in fighting racism. As is often the case, the petition lacks specific incidents that are now deemed unnecessary in this environment:
“This action has only capitalized on a pattern of negligence and disrespect that Patricia Simon has exhibited over and over again in her time as an Associate Professor, and Coordinator of the BFA Musical Theater Program. Professor Simon has a history of ignoring instances of racism in the form of racial profiling within the program, and enabling the racist and sizeist actions and words of the vocal coaches under her jurisdiction.”
She is accused of being “known to use her power to intimidate and bully the students in her program who have made efforts to advocate for themselves or for their fellow peers.” That is unrelated to the alleged dozing depravity caught on Zoom and virtually impossible to refute even the absence of any specific incident. Students later added that she is “fatphobic”and rejected her claim that “I listened with my ears and heart the entire meeting.”
I obviously come to this with the bias of a faculty member who is disturbed by what I see has the loss of tolerance and free speech on our campus. We have been discussing these stories of petitions for the terminations of faculty throughout the country. I can understand why students are upset at the image of what they view as a professor falling asleep at meeting dealing with racism. However, this comes off like a rule that you cannot be woke unless you are literally awake. It belittles rather than reenforces the importance of the underlying movement to bring attention to the problems of racism and reforms.
Academics cannot function in an environment where even dozing off in a meeting is evidence of racism. We should all engage in this national debate while retaining a modicum of fairness and toleration. This includes not assuming that a statement is motivated by racism or an image (like this one) reflects some deep-seated hostility to reforms. This could be a case of sleep deprivation or a case of sleep depravation (or not, as claimed, sleep at all). It seems like the only response for many is compliance or termination to demands. I recently reported good news that one such controversy at Creighton did not result in a demand for termination after a professor called supporting police evidence of white supremacy. Conservative students did not start with a petition for his termination. Yet, it is not clear if the university and other students would have taken such an approach if the content of his criticism was directed at protesters rather than police.
There is an alternative for these students then a petition for termination. You can ask for an apology or explanation. On these other issues, you can raise specific complaints against the professor with the Administration. These avenues allow for due process for all parties.