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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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University of Idaho professor fired months after school declares her safety threat, bans her from campus

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 18, 2019, 7:21 p.m.

Denise Bennett, a tenured journalism professor at the University of Idaho, criticizes school officials in a video posted to YouTube on Jan. 29, 2019, shortly before school administrators publicized allegations that she used methamphetamine and banned her from the Moscow campus.
Denise Bennett, a tenured journalism professor at the University of Idaho, criticizes school officials in a video posted to YouTube on Jan. 29, 2019, shortly before school administrators publicized allegations that she used methamphetamine and banned her from the Moscow campus.

A tenured University of Idaho journalism professor has been fired eight months after school administrators publicized allegations that she used methamphetamine and banned her from the Moscow campus.

Denise Bennett, who had taught broadcasting, digital media production and documentary filmmaking at UI since 2006, vowed to appeal the decision in an email to news outlets and UI officials on Tuesday.

She also circulated a Sept. 10 termination letter from UI President Scott Green, who wrote that her behavior around colleagues and profanity-laced criticism of UI’s journalism school were unacceptable.

“The berating of staff is not acceptable in the workplace and your failure to recognize this or participate in remediation leaves us no choice but to part ways,” Green wrote.

Bennett’s termination will take effect Saturday, according to Green’s letter. In response, she wrote that administrators have failed to address her concerns about grant funding for the university’s Radio-TV Center and other campus policies – concerns she raised in a lengthy, profanity-laced “manifesto” that prompted the school to place her on paid leave in January.

“To date not a single UI administrator has attempted to address my concerns or meet with me face-to-face,” Bennett wrote in her email Tuesday.

Bennett also was accused of raising her voice at the interim dean of the journalism school, Sean Quinlan, and one other university employee. After receiving her suspension letter, she was defiant and again criticized administrators and journalism school faculty in a live video on YouTube.

A day later, on Jan. 30, students staged an event to protest Bennett’s suspension. Meanwhile, the university, at the direction of then-President Chuck Staben, used its “Vandal Alert” emergency notification system to send a text message to students, faculty and staff.

“Denise Bennett has been barred from Moscow Campus,” the text said. “Recent admittance to police of meth use and access to firearms. If seen on campus, call 911.”

It was an unusual use of the Vandal Alert system, which was designed to notify the campus of ongoing threats to public safety, such as violent crimes, severe weather events and the occasional wild animal.

As students who supported Bennett pointed out, the alert also was misleading. The reference to guns and meth came from a months-old police report concerning a verbal dispute between Bennett and her husband that had resulted in no criminal charges. Bennett was in downtown Moscow when the alert was issued, and police have said she presented no threat.

“The cruel messages sent to over 13,000 people each day made headlines nationwide … and irreparably destroyed my career, reputation and way of life,” Bennett wrote Tuesday. “The calculated alerts were also obviously timed to shut down a student protest of UI administration on my behalf as well as unfairly characterized me as a drug-addled, gun-wielding school shooter, which couldn’t be farther from the truth as I have never fired a gun in my life.”

President Green’s decision to fire Bennett followed an Aug. 26 hearing and a recommendation from a five-member university committee. She said she intends to appeal the decision through a panel of faculty members.

A university spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday, saying she could not discuss personnel matters.

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