December 12, 2006 in City

Report criticizes, clears prof

By The Spokesman-Review
 

An investigation by Washington State University has concluded that a professor was “immature, intellectually unsophisticated and thoughtless” when he cursed at a student demonstrating in favor of a fence along the Mexican border – but that he did not discriminate against or intimidate the student.

The report, dated Dec. 1 and obtained Monday by The Spokesman-Review, also directs some blame for the incident toward WSU’s College Republicans, who erected a 24-foot chain-link fence Nov. 2 on the Glenn Terrell Mall.

The group was warned that such a demonstration “would provoke controversy and debate, as well as divisiveness and accusations of racism,” the report said

The report by the university’s Center for Human Rights was not embraced by either side in the debate over race relations at WSU that has arisen in the wake of the fence demonstration.

Members of the College Republicans have demanded that Professor John Streamas be fired for using a vulgar epithet and have said the incident was an example of bias against conservative views on campus. Dan Ryder, the student who filed the complaint, said the report was a “slap on the wrist” and included a demeaning comment from Streamas that he didn’t care about the “hurt feelings of one white person.”

“I just feel even more demeaned by this man,” Ryder said Monday night. “He knows nothing about me, nothing about where I’m from or how hard I’ve had to work to keep myself in school.”

Attempts to reach top university officials Monday afternoon were unsuccessful. But WSU President V. Lane Rawlins told KREM-2 television last week that Streamas would be reprimanded, but not fired.

“One utterance of a faculty member in the heat of discussion is not the kind of thing for which you terminate someone,” he said.

Streamas and other professors in the comparative ethnic studies department say the fence demonstration was a slap in the face for many ethnic students and any university support of that action is an example of institutional racism.

“The only thing I wish I’d done differently is I wish I hadn’t gotten angry,” Streamas said last week.

The report quoted an unsolicited voice-mail message Streamas left for investigators: “This is a racist university. Many of our students say that WSU stands for White Supremacist University. …

“I don’t care about the hurt feelings of one white person. … The feelings of one little hurt white boy who’s got all his white-skinned privilege are nothing compared to the hundreds of people he offended with his racist fence.”

The incident occurred after the GOP club decided to demonstrate in support of congressional approval of a fence between the U.S. and Mexico as a way of preventing illegal immigration.

Demonstrators and student counterdemonstrators – while engaging in vigorous debate – remained within the legal boundaries of free speech, the report concludes. But Streamas used a racial expletive when talking to Ryder.

The report notes that Ryder objected to the term and Streamas apologized, and then the two continued to debate.

“Neither person appeared intimidated or frightened during the debate,” the report said.

Ryder later filed a complaint. The report said it was unwise for Streamas to have cursed at Ryder, but that a single such utterance during a robust debate did not, by itself, constitute harassment, discrimination or intimidation.

Much of the back-and-forth over the incident was captured on video, and the controversy became a cause celebre on conservative radio and television.


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