ST. GEORGE — On the eve of commencement at Dixie State University, a group of protesters gathered in front of the college in St. George to ask the university to reinstate two terminated music professors who have helped countless students over the years reach graduation day.
Students, community members and university faculty and staff lined the sidewalks of the intersection of University Avenue and 100 South to make their thoughts known to passersby Thursday afternoon.
“This is to raise awareness about what this university has been systematically doing to faculty members for the last 3 ½ years,” Ken Peterson said as he waved a placard asking “Is DSU administration corrupt?” to passing motorists.
Peterson and Glenn Webb, both music professors of over 10 years at DSU, were fired in March for violating university policy, according to a statement issued by DSU.
The university has declined to go into detail about the policy violations of either professor. However, in his termination letter that Peterson made public shortly after his firing, he is accused of disclosing confidential information about another professor’s employment, slandering university President Richard B. Williams and “failing to demonstrate professional standards of behavior,” among other alleged violations of policy.
The details of Webb’s termination have not been released, and Webb said he does not dispute the university’s account of his actions. But neither he nor Peterson and their lawyer – not to mention a plethora of colleagues and students – agree that either professor’s actions constitute termination.
“I don’t think it’s a fireable offense, especially someone who’s put 16 years into the music program and has turned out some amazing talent,” Christie Nielson said at the protest. “I think it’s a huge loss to this university.”
Nielson was employed by the university as Webb’s secretary; she said she has quit her job at the college because of the firings.
“I love my job,” she said. “I would have stayed for 25 more years, but I couldn’t be with an administration that I couldn’t respect or trust.”
Another faculty member who wished to remain anonymous said students and teachers deserve transparency from the university administration.
“The question you have to ask is why would they fire both of us in the middle of the semester on the same day,” Peterson said. “Especially considering that myself, my wife and Dr. Webb are all key witnesses in defense of Varlo Davenport as he continues to pursue his federal case against this university for violation of his civil rights.”
Davenport, a theater professor, was terminated in 2015 despite a faculty review board clearing him of wrongdoing after a student accused him pulling her hair. He was also acquitted of a single charge of assault in July 2016.
Read more: Jury finds Varlo Davenport ‘not guilty’
Davenport was among the first of “dozens” of other faculty members who have “not left on their own terms,” Peterson said.
“Faculty morale is at an all-time low and student morale is at an all-time low,” he said.
“We were thriving four and five years ago. The last couple of years of President Nadauld’s tenure, this was the fastest growing university in the state,” Peterson said. “I was assigning 100 voice students a semester. Last semester, I believe because of the aftermath of this political nightmare, I only assigned 36 students.”
Several students in support of Webb and Peterson were present at the protest.
“Ken was my mentor before they ripped him away from me,” Gwyn Gable said.
Gable, who will graduate Friday, said her final semester was thrown into disarray because of the abrupt dismissal of the music professors. She said the university did provide a replacement but there is still no permanent replacement in their place.
Webb and Peterson still have a faculty review board hearing to appeal their termination, but Peterson said the university has been slow to respond to their appeal request.
“Dr. Webb and I requested a hearing that we are due a month ago,” Peterson said, “and the university had 20 business days to respond or convene the hearing, and that was a week ago. But we haven’t heard one word.
“So, we’re waiting for our chance to defend ourselves.”
When asked by St. George News to comment on the protest and the terminations, the university referenced a previously issued statement.
“The University understands that when professors are terminated, it can be a difficult time for those who were taught, mentored, and influenced by these individuals,” the DSU statement reads. “Policy violations do not erase professors’ legacies and all of the good that has been achieved over the years.”
“We don’t have a new statement specifically about the protest,” DSU spokeswoman Jyl Hall said Thursday.
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