Student says teacher violated his rights by dismissing him
Former Butte College student Paul Davis admits he crossed the line when he cursed at his teacher. He’s sorry about that, but he also thinks she went too far by summarily booting him from the class—for good, thereby pushing back his ability to transfer to a university by at least a semester.
Davis says that during the third meeting of this semester’s Sociology of Inequality class, on Monday, Feb. 1, instructor Julie Withers, who teaches at the college part-time, told him to leave and that he wasn’t welcome back. The scenario revolves around a disagreement over the concepts of ethnicity and nationality. Davis had argued that Americans could be considered an ethnic group, an opinion Withers told him was impossible, by definition. The term “American” refers to a nationality, she insisted.
Spirited debate is often a good thing in an academic environment, but in this instance the learning session appears to have become personal. Davis says Withers belittled him in front of his classmates when he disagreed with her premise, and he rebelled by arguing to the point of disrupting the class.
“I like to argue, but it gets me in trouble,” admitted the 19-year-old in a recent interview. “I probably pressed it too far when she didn’t have anything to answer on the other side. I should know better.”
Davis says Withers asked him to leave and to bring back a drop slip. On his way out the door he cursed at her, calling her a cunt. He regretted his actions and apologized via e-mail the same day, asking to work things out. About two hours later, Withers replied that she had dropped him from the class and directed him to talk to Al Renville, Butte College’s vice president of student services, who deals with student disciplinary issues.
But it turns out Withers doesn’t have the authority to make such a decision on her own and, according to e-mail correspondences obtained by the CN&R through a Public Records Act request, she was called out on her failure to follow well-known protocol.
Faculty can dole out a one-class suspension, but they cannot drop a student for disciplinary reasons without due process, Renville stated.
He said a faculty member who has a disciplinary issue with a student is supposed to file an incident report with his office. He then speaks to the faculty member and student involved, and also with other students from the class, to get multiple perspectives of the situation. After conducting an investigation, Renville then decides if further action is needed to fix the problem.
“If students cause issues in the classroom, it is my responsibility to do an investigation,” Renville said. “I can suggest anything from a warning not to do it again to probation, suspension or expulsion.”
In this particular case, Renville denies that Withers summarily dropped Davis from her class. He claims that all protocols related to the incident were followed correctly.
That’s news to Davis, though, who within hours was told by Withers that he was not welcome back to class.
Moreover, Davis says he was blocked from his class’s online discussion board.
According to records obtained by the CN&R, Withers filed a complaint against Davis on Wednesday, Feb. 3, two days after their disagreement. After talking to Withers, Davis and two other students from the class, Renville concluded an investigation two days later, on Friday.
A letter from Renville to Davis states that he violated the Butte College Code of Student Conduct by exhibiting “disruptive behavior, willful disobedience, habitual profanity or vulgarity, or the open and persistent defiance of the authority of, or persistent abuse of, college personnel.” As a result, Renville ordered that Davis be officially dropped from the class and placed on permanent probation.
While Renville defended Withers’ action as a mix-up in terminology, Withers’ e-mail to Davis Monday evening made clear her intention to boot him permanently from the class.
“Please do not return to Sociology 30. I have dropped you,” the e-mail reads.
What’s more, e-mail correspondence between Withers and Linda Johnson, co-chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, suggests that Withers actually knew better than to drop a student in such a situation.
“As you now know, protocol does not include the faculty member dropping the student from the class before he/she meets with Al [Renville],” Johnson wrote to Withers on Feb. 5.
In one message, Johnson reminds Withers that all faculty members were informed of the protocol for student complaints both in paperwork and via a presentation during Butte College’s Institute Night meetings.
Her message implies that Davis’ right to due process was abridged, which corroborates his account of being dropped from the class before an incident report was even filed.
Withers did not respond to multiple phone and e-mail messages from the CN&R, but the incident report she filed with Renville’s office gives some insight into her perception of the fallout with Davis. Withers wrote that Davis “continued to argue and was growing more agitated, face flushed and twisting in his seat” as she described to the class the distinctions between the concepts of nationality, ethnicity and culture. At a certain point, after Davis made multiple lengthy comments, Withers says he mouthed the word “bitch” at her. When she told him they needed to speak after class, he got up to leave. Withers admits in the document that she told Davis she was considering dropping him, at which point he glared at her, headed out of the classroom, only turning back to curse loudly at her.
Davis had only three general-education classes to complete before transferring to a university, but the investigation wasn’t finished until the last day that he could add another course. So, instead of taking his remaining two courses and then enrolling for only one class next semester, he dropped out of school for the semester. Instead, he’s spent time looking for work. As for his future, he is interested in finishing his classes at a community college—likely elsewhere—and transferring to a university. He admitted, however, that he is somewhat hesitant about returning to school.
“The experience was pretty derailing,” Davis said.