SCC determines instructors accused of sexism didn’t violate federal law
Wed., May 4, 2016
Two Spokane Community Colleges instructors accused of sexism, racism and retaliation against a student did not violate education laws governing gender equality, according to investigators.
The instructors, however, did violate college policies and have been told to take sensitivity training and submit their course materials for academic review.
Jaida Burgess, a criminal justice student, filed a Title IX complaint against instructors Mike Prim and Gary Johns in January. The complaint detailed a number of incidents which she claimed were sexist or racist – including a PowerPoint presentation used in a human relations class that described what men seek in women: “1. Show up naked 2. Bring beer.”
Burgess said she’s disappointed her complaint did not result in tougher discipline of Prim and Johns.
“They don’t see their wrong in this and that’s very scary,” she said. “The kids in the program are the future of law enforcement, and if we can’t stop the corruption at that level there will always be corruption in law enforcement.”
SCC President Ryan Carstens said he believes the instructors intended the slides to be a teaching tool, although he does believe the content of the slides was inappropriate and poorly conceived.
“It wasn’t appropriate material to use,” he said. “It was a bad strategy.”
Prim and Johns have been responsive and receptive to changing how and what they teach and the PowerPoint in question already has been revised, Carstens said.
“They have been cooperative, they have been in agreement,” he said. “I’ve been very happy in the way they’ve responded.”
A letter to Burgess signed by Prim and Johns : “We regret any misunderstanding that has occurred as a result of our comments or actions. It has not been our intention to offend you or any other student.”
While Carstens apologized to Burgess , she said neither Prim, nor Johns apologized.
In a meeting on April 25, Burgess said Prim handed her the letter and said, “here is my expression,” and appeared to avoid calling it an apology.
“The instructors weren’t apologetic and if you can’t even say sorry, you don’t feel that you did anything wrong,” Burgess said.
Carstens said while the instructors didn’t violate Title IX, they did fail to follow a number of college procedures. Additionally, Carstens said the complaint highlighted problems and confusion around the handling and reporting of student complaints.
“The student did the right thing to come forward with concerns,” Carstens said. “I’m now seeing something I did not see before. It helped.”
Greg Stevens, chief administration officer and Title IX coordinator for Community Colleges of Spokane, said the instructors alleged behavior didn’t fit Title IX criteria. Title IX protects students against educational exclusion based on gender and sexual harassment in education, neither of which happened at SCC, he said.
Carstens said SCC will start reviewing guidelines around the handling and reporting of student complaints. Additionally, SCC will create a guidebook for faculty, staff and students.
Carstens said Johns and Prim will have to review policy around handling student complaints and conduct issues, and attend a sensitivity and communication training.
The entire Criminal Justice program will be reviewed starting this summer and all course material taught by Prim will be reviewed by an outside expert in the field of communication, Carstens said. The Criminal Justice program was last reviewed during the 2011 and 2012 school year. Since then the review process has become more robust, Carstens said.
“Our college as a group, as a family, is very interested in inclusivity,” he said.
Burgess will be able to complete her coursework and can graduate from SCC, and the criminal justice program, if she chooses to, Carstens said.
Burgess isn’t sure if she will continue at SCC although she is considering legal action.
“A training course, which is something they’ve probably seen before, isn’t going to change someone’s ways, or change their beliefs on minority groups,” Burgess said. “The only thing that it may change is the way they go about it.”
Prim completed a Title IX compliance training around sexual harassment and sexual violence in December of 2015, according to college records. Title IX protects against discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal money.
There are about 100 students enrolled in the criminal justice program at SCC. Johns has taught at SCC for 25 years and made $83,101 in 2014. Prim has taught there 35 years and made $98,586 that year.
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