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Regional Interests

Suspended Pacific University professor fired following faculty committee recommendation

A faculty committee at Pacific University has sent suspended professor Richard Paxton a “notification of dismissal.”

The three-page memo from Pacific’s University Personnel Committee sent to Paxton on Wednesday is presented as a recommendation and lays out appeal options, but it essentially constitutes the professor’s termination.

Paxton was placed on administrative leave last year following complaints from students about alleged comments he made about gender and ethnicity while teaching. Specific alleged comments Paxton made in a class include saying that “every person has a gender,” ignoring the gender identity of agender and nonbinary students. Students in a separate class alleged Paxton described Native Americans as “warlike” and “aggressive,” among other comments.

Paxton sued the university for his suspension earlier this year, stating that the university did not award him due process. That lawsuit is ongoing. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the private university’s treatment of Paxton, which is also still underway.

The initial student complaints led to Pacific launching an external Title IX investigation of Paxton, which was dismissed last month.

But, Pacific launched its own internal investigation, in which the school’s Provost found that Paxton violated some university policies. That led to formal dismissal proceedings including a hearing from Pacific’s University Personnel Committee — a committee of the university’s Faculty Senate - after Paxton refused to enter a settlement agreement with the school.

“Your comments were not accidental or isolated — the facts demonstrate a pattern of misconduct, and you had been warned that such statements and sentiments are inappropriate and you were instructed to refrain from such conduct,” wrote Krishnan Ramaya, chair of the University Personnel Committee and faculty chair of Pacific’s Management department.

Ramaya wrote in the UPC’s letter on Wednesday that Paxton’s alleged comments and behavior affected both students and faculty members. He noted that faculty members had also made complaints about Paxton regarding inappropriate comments in 2018.

“The UPC findings demonstrate grave personal or professional misconduct that would invoke the condemnation of the academic community generally and grave violations of the rights and freedoms of fellow faculty members and students,” Ramaya wrote. “Therefore, the UPC recommends your dismissal as a tenured faculty member of Pacific University.”

Paxton’s attorney, Robin DesCamp, said in an email to OPB that she and Paxton are “saddened, but not surprised” by Pacific’s actions.

“There is a reason Pacific University is the subject of a comprehensive federal investigation by the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education concerning its actions in this case. We look forward to that agency, as well as a jury, rendering decisions on Pacific’s conduct.”

DesCamp continued: “Clearly, both tenure and academic freedom are dead at Pacific, and anyone, whether a student or employee, can be expelled for speech another person either does not understand or that they dislike. These are frightening times at Pacific University.”

Wednesday’s dismissal letter also accused Paxton, through his attorney DesCamp, of retaliating against students who had come forward, by releasing student information, “violating the university’s no-contact order” and “misleading another student” about the Title IX complaint process.

In a statement, Pacific University said it cannot fully discuss Paxton’s situation due to ongoing litigation and personnel matters.

“Pacific University has always followed well-established and prescribed processes for both the Title IX and the clear and established procedures regarding personnel issues under the university’s requirements,” the university said.

The university said it invited Paxton to participate in the University Personnel Committee hearing, but he did not.

DesCamp said that Paxton wanted to participate in the UPC hearing, but he was only given 10 days notice and could not be there on the day it was scheduled.

“Several times we requested a minor postponement,” she said. “They refused.”

Paxton has 10 business days from the receipt of the UPC’s letter to make an appeal. DesCamp said that he will.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting