Student comes forward about fired professor
Published: Monday, November 15, 2010
Updated: Monday, November 15, 2010 21:11
Students who were enrolled in former Roosevelt professor Robert Engler's City and Citizenship class last fall are now speaking out about his firing.
As the Torch previously reported, Engler was fired after the spring 2010 semester as a result of his refusal to cooperate in a university investigation, stemming from a student complaint which was never resolved. Engler was officially terminated not because of his remarks in the class, but due to his refusal to cooperate with the university's investigation.
Cristina Solis, a student in the class, filed a written complaint with department chair Michael Maly after Engler told a joke in class that she found to be highly offensive. The joke pertained to non-English speakers in Arizona. Solis thinks that the professor's termination was fair, and says if she had known that the professor would be fired as a result of her complaint, it would not have affected her decision.
"If that is what it took to give him a reality check, and to make sure that no other student has to go through that, maybe it's for the best," Solis said. "It's just something you don't say in a classroom, not coming from a professor, and especially not at a school like Roosevelt University, which is based on social justice."
"I come from parents who didn't speak English, who learned to speak English on their own, and it was a constant struggle," Solis added.
Roosevelt's current student handbook states that harassment can include offensive jokes and acts of communication causing emotional distress, including comments pertaining to one's ancestry, citizenship or national origin. According to the handbook, this behavior becomes unlawful when "the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create an environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive."
The handbook also states that students who have concerns other than final grades "should first discuss the concern directly with the faculty member." Engler maintains that no students ever confronted him privately regarding comments he made. Solis confirmed that she did not speak to Engler before filing the complaint because of her emotional distress.
Solis contends that other students had similar objections to this and other comments by Engler in the class, as well as his teaching style, which Solis said was "not what you'd expect at an institution with our tuition."
Rachel Beiersdorf, another student in the class, disagrees with the way Solis handled the complaint, adding that she learned a lot from the class and that Engler was "one of my favorite professors."
"If she didn't go to the professor first, I think that's a huge mistake," Beiersdorf said. "If I had a complaint with a professor, I would talk to them first before I did anything. His lectures followed with the reading, and in actuality the course's curriculum did deal with controversial issues."
As previously reported, Engler refused to cooperate with the investigation, as Roosevelt would not divulge the nature of the complaint to him before he attended meetings regarding the issue.
Engler had filed a grievance with the university, which was rejected, but an appeal is forthcoming. Joseph Fedorko, grievance chair of the Roosevelt Adjunct Faculty Organization, said that "the RAFO is continuing with the grievance process."
Doug Ibendahl, Engler's attorney, remains hopeful that the university "will do the right thing" and work toward a different resolution to this issue.
"Students have a right to complain about whatever they want. The issue here is how the university handled it," Ibendahl said.