Terminated for Defending Students?

May 1, 2013

Two former instructors last year attempted to rally the faculty at Young Harris College to stamp out hazing. Three weeks after they spoke up, they say, their contracts were terminated.

Theresa Crapanzano and Joseph Terry, a visiting instructor and tenure-track instructor, respectively, in the communication studies department, said they lost their jobs because they spoke out about hazing at the private liberal arts college in the North Georgia mountains. They filed a lawsuit in March claiming the college violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and state negligence laws. The case gained attention Tuesday after Jezebel published an interview with the plaintiffs.

The college released a statement Tuesday that said hazing “goes against the values on which Young Harris College was founded.”

“This lawsuit contains false, sensational allegations on multiple fronts, all of which are far removed from the everyday reality we live on our campus. We look forward to addressing all these matters in the proper forum, which is the courts,” the statement reads.

In March 2012, according to the suit, Crapanzano met with Jo Hannah Burch, a freshman who had recently decided to drop out of the pledging process from Gamma Psi sorority (and who is also suing the college). Over the course of five or six nights, Burch said she and the other pledges had been transported into the wilderness to participate in a “pledge education period” that involved “sexually exploitative and discriminatory” hazing rituals, the complaint reads.

In part because Young Harris only recently became a four-year institution, some of its Greek houses are locally controlled, unaffiliated with any sort of national organization.

Burch said that she had previously met with the vice president of student affairs, Susan Rogers, which led to a one-year suspension for Gamma Psi, the complaint says. But Burch said Rogers dissuaded her from filing a police report, “[t]hreatening that, if she did, the sorority members involved would sue her.”

“More than a year ago, we suspended the sorority mentioned in this lawsuit for violating the school’s no-hazing policy, and the student now complaining and her family told us then that they were satisfied with our actions,” the college's statement reads.

Crapanzano and Terry investigated the pervasiveness of hazing on campus and presented their findings to a faculty forum on April 17. They said their findings included “[f]orcing both female and male pledges to stand in a pool of water in which the older pledges have urinated or defecated” and “[f]orcing female pledges to sit unclothed on running washing machines while members of the sorority use a permanent marker to mark areas of their bodies that jiggle,” among others.

On April 25, President Cathy Cox met with the faculty to discuss the college’s anti-hazing policy and the accusation that a Gamma Psi alumnus and current staff member had participated in hazing Burch.

In a recording of the meeting, Cox is heard saying that the charge could not be substantiated, which Crapanzano then describes as “absolutely preposterous.”

“We can step outside and fight about it all day,” Cox said.

Crapanzano said she was shocked to hear what she perceived as a threat. “I was taken aback completely by it,” she said.

Crapanzano later that week began working on an article about hazing that would run in Enotah Echoes, the student-run newspaper at Young Harris, for which she served as faculty adviser. Progress on the article was halted as Crapanzano said she was notified by Jennifer S. Hallett, associate professor and chair of the communication studies department, that the article would have to receive preclearance by the college’s lawyer. On April 28, Crapanzano said she received word that Cox had killed the article. Both Crapanzano and Terry said they complained by e-mail to Cox and other members of the administration.

The next week, Crapanzano’s contract was terminated -- three months before its expiration date, Aug. 1. “She was barred from attending graduation activities, denied access to her school email, and escorted to her office to retrieve her personal belongings by campus police,” the complaint reads.

Crapanzano said she has yet to be told why her contract was terminated during finals weeks.

“You don’t cut off access to the system before grades are due,” she said.

After Terry’s annual performance review was canceled, he attended a meeting with Hallett and Ruth Looper, dean of the division of humanities, during which he said he received a “corrective action.” Days later, he received a similar letter of termination, “warning him that he had no contractual rights as a non-tenured employee.”

The stated reason for Terry’s termination was said to be his failure to complete his doctoral degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder by May 2012. Terry said he was never given a firm deadline, and that the college was aware of his intended completion date in August 2012. Terry defended his dissertation over the winter break and will graduate this spring.

During the meeting with Hallett and Looper, Hallett told Terry to prepare to address the issue in the future, noting the “very unfortunate cosmic timing” of the disagreements.

The college has until May 28 to respond to the complaint.

(Note: Family members of the reporter attended Young Harris College in the mid-2000s.)

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