Faculty Review Board

In December 2014, Professor Varlo Davenport was suspended with pay by Dean Jeffery Jarvis and Vice President William Christensen…(The FRB was never made aware of the termination of Davenport by Williams on December 5, nor of the termination letter that Christensen sent Davenport on that date).The hearing was held on January 29. 3015, from 3:15-5:45. The administration was represented by Dean Jeffery Jarvis and Mr. Mark Houser…Davenport brought several witnesses to testify on his behalf, including Ken Peterson, Associate Professor of Music, Glenn Webb, Chair of the Music Department, and Professor Richard Bugg, Professor of Theatre Arts at Southern Utah University. Several students also testified for Professor Davenport. When we asked the administration to state their reasons for termination, they included the following:

Reason One-The administration claimed that on November 21, 2014, Professor Davenport physically and verbally assaulted [CS]during an Acting I class when she was rehearsing her scene with another student….we conclude that this particular concern is not valid…a minority of students‘ interpretations [the committee assumed the false report of what Houser claimed TB and WH said in the “complaint” were actually true] of what happened in class that day are not consistent with a majority of other students‘ interpretations of what happened…All agree that Professor Davenport tugged the student’s hair, in order to stimulate an emotional response reflective of the scene that the student was acting out. But even [CS]partner who was sitting right in front of her testified that Professor Davenport only tugged her hair fora “few seconds,” not “for a long period of time,” as the student reported. In fact,  each of the five students who spoke at the hearing said that that there was no hair-pulling, and that it was a mere tugging that lasted 3-5 seconds. These students did not testify as a group; rather, each one separately confirmed the hair tugging incident lasted only a few seconds. In fact, they seemed surprised that we were even asking them about a hair-pulling incident because they had hardly noticed it at the time. Furthermore, this kind of classroom interaction in an acting class is based on solid pedagogical theory. Professor Davenport gave the review board several documented excerpts from respected experts in the field as well as numerous syllabi from similar classes at other institutions describing these teaching methods. Professor Richard Bugg from Southern Utah University testified that such techniques are often used in acting classes and that he firmly supports Professor Davenport’s efforts to teach his students using these methods. From all the evidence presented, we believe Professor Davenport was fulfilling the requirements of the class by working with this student. [W]e must ask: Was there a pattern of inappropriate behavior from Professor Davenport? During the hearing Dean Jarvis explained that when he heard of [CS] complaint, he began an investigation to see if there had been other complaints. He reported that the Dean of Students, Del Beatty, said many students had complained about Professor Davenport. Yet, when our review board asked to see the documentation, Will Craver forwarded an email from Del Beatty who said that he had no supporting documentation of any student complaints. Dean Jarvis said that he then went to the Human Resources Department to see if there was a pattern of documented student complaints about Professor Davenport. Once again, no documentation was provided. Yet Dean Jarvis told us that he decided to go ahead with the termination of Professor Davenport despite the lack of supporting documentation… Because the administration did not provide evidence of any pattern of concerns, we find this first reason an invalid reason for termination.

Reason Two-The administration claimed that Professor Davenport engaged in acting exercises without setting pre-determined safe zones for students.. [W]e conclude that this particular concern is not valid. We believe this because Professor Davenport said he orally explained the concept of “safe zones” many times in this Acting I class. Several students confirmed that he repeated this concept of “safe zones” on several occasions throughout the semester. The student admitted that [CS] was often absent and might not have been present when he discussed the concept of “safe zones.” In fact, the hearing revealed that [CS] may have missed “four or five weeks” of classes at a time. It would be unjust for DSU to terminate a long-standing professional bases primarily on the testimony of one student who was not invested in the class…Because the administration did not provide evidence that Professor Davenport failed to set safe zones, we find this second reason an invalid reason for termination.

Reason Three-The administration claimed that the Dean of Students, Del Beatty, has had many student complaints about Professor Davenport…[W]e conclude that this particular concern is not valid. We believe this because there is no documentation of any student complaints…Because the administration did not provide evidence of numerous student complaints, we find this third reason an invalid reason for termination.

Reason Four -The administration claimed that Professor Davenport threatened colleagues in a theatre faculty production meeting. After reading all documentation provided by all parties -and after hearing both sides explain themselves during the hearing -we conclude that this particular concern is not valid. We believe this because two of Professor Davenport’s peers testified that he does not threaten colleagues and instead works with his production team in a professional, respectful manner. One commented on the many accolades our theatre department has received over the last 15 years —many of them directly attributed to Professor Davenport and his production teams. Dean Jarvis made it very clear at the start of the hearing that there is a history of profound political tension between the chair, Mr. Houser, and Professor Davenport. It seems that this history of political tension within the department may have caused the chair (and perhaps the dean) to assume guilt, and then act hastily upon that assumption. Indeed, neither the chair nor the dean ever found more than a minority of two students who were willing to confirm the student-accuser’s story. A politically-motivated termination is in direct contrast to our DSU policy on termination of a faculty member. Because the administration did not provide evidence of any pattern of “threatening” behavior, we find this fourth reason an invalid reason for termination. Recommendations from the faculty review board…We believe that the administration did not provide “the burden of proof . . . by a preponderance of information” and, therefore, we recommend that Professor Davenport be reinstated.