Documents: EMU professor denied tenure after 2007 sexual harassment complaints to remain on staff next year
Eastern Michigan University denied tenure to a business professor earlier this year because of sexual harassment claims lodged in 2007, according to a March 15 letter from the university provost.
Eastern Michigan University
In 2007, three students lodged formal sexual harassment complaints against accounting professor Edwin Etter, complaints that were found valid by the school's diversity office and that led to a year-long suspension ending in 2008, according to a review of his personnel file, obtained by AnnArbor.com through a Freedom of Information Act Request.
During the suspension, Etter attended weekly counseling sessions, according to his 2011 tenure application.
Etter returned to EMU in summer 2008 and has taught classes each year since completing his suspension, although in May 2012 he was relieved of his teaching duties and will be on desk duty until his employment agreement expires in August 2013.
It is common for universities to grant faculty a terminal year of employment after denying tenure. A terminal year is required by the current EMU faculty union contract.
Etter has been employed with EMU since 2002, served on numerous Michigan boards and has received or been nominated for several teaching awards, according to his personnel file. In 2009, he was promoted to associate professor and he makes more than $119,000 a year, according to his personnel file.
In March, however, EMU provost Kim Schatzel denied his request for tenure, citing the sexual harassment misconduct from 2007. Schatzel denied the tenure request despite approvals from College of Business Dean David Mielke and an EMU personnel committee, documents from Etter's personnel file show.
In a March 12 letter denying Etter tenure, Schatzel criticized him for "egregious and repeated" incidents of sexual harassment. She wrote that his "repeated acts of serious misconduct directed against students and a staff member" preclude him from being granted tenure.
Documents from Etter's personnel filed indicate that a sexual harassment complaint was lodged against him and he was advised to change his behavior. Soon afterward, another complaint was lodged against him and he was placed on suspension. Based on a review of documents, timing on the third complaint is not clear.
Etter first applied for tenure several years ago but was initially denied in 2009 by the Board of Regents. The EMU faculty union filed a grievance on his behalf, claiming that the school did not follow appropriate methods in its denial. An arbitrator agreed with the union but allowed EMU to restart the tenure consideration process. In the arbitrator's ruling, EMU President Susan Martin was quoted as telling regents "she had serious reservations" about granting Etter tenure.
"In compliance with the arbitration ruling, the professor was eligible to re-apply for tenure, which was subsequently denied," EMU Vice President of Communications Walter Kraft said in a statement.
Etter applied again in October 2011.
That reconsideration ended in the March 2012 denial letter from Schatzel, which the regents upheld in June.
EMU faculty union president Susan Moeller said the union defended Etter in his original tenure application because the "administration did not follow the evaluation process agreed to in the union contract, and we wanted to ensure that the correct process would be followed in the future."
Moeller said the union did not represent Etter in his second attempt for tenure, filed in 2011.
Schatzel's tenure denial and criticism came four and a half years after the original harassment complaints against Etter. According to his personnel file, he has not had an infraction since 2007.
A June 2008 memo to Etter set forth restrictions on how he could interact with female students.
"You are to have your door completely open when meeting with any female student or staff member," Mielke wrote in a June 2, 2008, memo. "You are not to have any contact with students or secretaries on a social basis, such as going to lunch or having coffee."
"If there are any violations of the university's sexual harassment policy, including... inappropriate physical contact or touching of students, clerical or other staff or inappropriate comments, jokes or innuendos in class, in your office or at [university functions] we will pursue termination."
Etter's misconduct did not include sexual touching, according to sources. Detailed complaints were not included in Etter's personnel file.
When reached by phone, Etter politely declined to comment for this article.
Prior to teaching at EMU, Etter was a professor at the University of South Florida for four years. He was not accused of sexual harassment during his time there, according to his USF personnel file.
In his 2011 application for tenure, Etter said he has changed the way he acts around students since his suspension.
"I never meant to insult or cause anyone any mental discomfort or uneasiness, I fully understand and realize what I said to certain students was insensitive, inappropriate, irresponsible, and unprofessional in a student-teacher relationship," he wrote.
"The most important lesson I took away from counseling was that boundaries need to exist between faculty and students and that I am responsible for setting and maintaining these boundaries," he continued. "Even though it may appear that you have a good relationship with your students, an off-handed comment or comments you made in the past, even though in jest, can be harmful or cause anxiety to your students, especially female students."
Etter's current employment agreement runs through August 31, 2013. According to a May memo, administrators have removed Etter from his scheduled teaching load for the coming year and instead placed him on desk duty, during which he will help the business school prepare for an upcoming Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business review.
Etter's tenure denial, and subsequent removal from teaching, comes in spite of positive performance reviews he has received since his return to EMU in 2008
In January 2012 Mielke rated him "distinctly above average." Since his suspension, a female student nominated Etter for a 'faculty in a supporting role' merit awarded by the Holman Learning Center. Twenty-one female students sent letters of support for 2011 teaching awards Etter was in the running for, according to his 2011 tenure application.
In fact, EMU allowed Etter to teach overload courses starting in 2009, allowing him to be in contact with more students than the average professor.
"I do not believe I would be allowed the additional contact with students if I was still considered a risk," Etter wrote in his 2011 tenure application.
In the January 2012 evaluation, the business school dean praised Etter.
"It appears he has regained the respect of his colleagues. Many of these are also female colleagues," Mielke wrote, adding later: "He has provided evidence to show that he has successfully learned and utilized strategies and techniques to prevent his previous misconduct."
But despite growing responsibility and three years of working with students since his reinstatement, the provost wrote on March 12 that Etter's "record of egregious and repeated behavior in the form of sexual harassment cannot be ignored."
According to EMU's sexual harassment policy, staff violators "are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including discharge."
When asked why the school did not dismiss Etter upon finding the harassment complaints valid, Kraft issued the following statement:
"This is a personnel issue, and as a longstanding policy the university will not discuss personnel matters with the media."
Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.
Sat, Jul 21, 2012 : 1:28 a.m.
I've seen plenty of sexual harrassers who were just ignored and left to do damage to their students. In my experience, it has to be pretty serious to reach the level reported in this article. The reported evidence is just the tip of the iceberg usually, IOW. I hope he has reformed, but take it with a grain of salt, too.
Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 8:39 a.m.
First, I appreciate this article because it can be extremely difficult to get honest and direct answers around here. It would be refreshing for Ann Arbor and EMU to have upfront and direct communication. It might work, it hasn't been tried in a very long time. All this bureaucratic and cubicle-styled whitewashing fails to serve anyone.
Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 2:47 a.m.
A drunken Pres and a harassing profs. Sounds like a great place. Go Eagles!
Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 1:20 a.m.
What did this guy do to the students? Any solid evidence? or just he says, she says. BTW, If he was a faculty at UM, the situation would be completely diffident.
Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 1:32 a.m.
At UM, it is more likely that the woman who reported the misconducts is fired for her "unprofessional"
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 8:16 p.m.
I have often wondered exactly what it is a university Provost does, but thanks to this situation I know now it to meekly acquiesce to the howling mob
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 6:39 p.m.
In my opinion, the demand we have for error free and mistake free performance from people is one of the chief reasons we have the terrible government we do. We have been led like sheep to accept than a person cannot learn from bad behavior or reform, when evidence tells us otherwise. Most all of us have behaved badly at some time in our lives and learned from it to become a wiser and better person. Look at our politicians, of whom we demand perfection found only in fiction. We end up with a bunch of lying, hypocritical, self serving narcissistic actors who look like they fit the bill. Then we are surprised when they turn out to be hiding a great deal and lacking in character and wisdom. We should all be a lot more realistic in how we view people. Some of the responses to this article, for me, really illustrate the ludicrous way we judge others and refuse to allow them to change themselves. It's a serious flaw in our culture.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 7:05 p.m.
great post welcome to the nanny state of america and this will only get worse as the trophy generation takes more power in this country. Raised with too much self esteem and thin skin, they will find fault with anything and everything that hurts their feelings or slights them in the smallest way. Then they will post on Facebook how terrible people are and all their self-indulgent friends will post sympathetic comments (when not posting pics of themselves 24/7.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.
Commenters here should be aware that tenure only prevents a faculty member from being fired without cause. A tenured faculty member can certainly be fired for sexual harassment. In fact, I personally know a professor at a different university who was fired for exactly that reason.
Ghost of Tom Joad
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.
all these comments supporting this professor here are astounding. I sure hope you all expressed the same sympathy for his victims. I'm sure they're not too fond of the idea of him becoming tenured, and thus, mostly untouchable to the university.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 6:32 p.m.
There is no evidence to support that presumption one way or the other. Were there more concrete information about the harassment, perhaps people would be less supportive, but since there is not, and no victim statement, we can only judge by what we know. The man submitted to counseling, appears to have learned from it, has reformed his behavior and is a good teacher. What more is required? Blood? He did not commit a crime. He was not subject to any legal proceedings. People can change.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 5:08 p.m.
On the one hand, he seems to have learned and changed his ways, which make sit hard to see the denial of tenure meaningful in the context of the demanded punishment. Why not just fire him when it occurred if were rehabilitation not meant seriously? On the other hand, in this litigious society, I can see why the U would demure and take a pass. That said, Sue Martin may wish to be a little more generous given the things she has been written up for, which are equally egregious.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.
Say what you like, but read for meaning too. The harassment apparently did not rise to the level of a safety concern or an attack, evidenced by the lack of criminal charges. There was not apparently even any touching. The University definition of harassment is not a criminal one. You are over reaching in the extreme.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 5:34 p.m.
Laura, mercy is a noble virtue unless of course it isn't your money, safety, or reputation you're gambling with, eh? Just sayin'.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 4:45 p.m.
I have never been a fan of tenure programs at universities. In college I had a professor who was so old he was in WW11 and he had been teaching the same high level Business MGT courses for the past 50+ years. Nothing against the elderly or veterans, but by the time I had his course he had been teaching for so long that he was simply ineffective/half way senile. So while students he had in the 60's 70's and 80's probably received a good lesson plan from him, by the time I had him he was a rambling mess trying to explain complex quantitative analysis and mgmt. forecasting to students who had never been exposed to it. These were required courses and I had to pay for them in order to graduate. Because he was tenured, the university would not, could not replace him and we all suffered as a result. I felt robbed and cheated out of this portion of my education.
Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.
Sounds like that ONE class traumatized you both. OMG.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.
Heh. I had that guy too.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.
Giving a life-time job contract to this guy would be an terrible mistake on the U's part. If he were to re-offend, what would Eastern's defense be? They knew he had previous "issues" and hired him any how? Sad for the prof but people like him are a dime a dozen. (Go look at the classified at the Chronicle of Higher Education website). He's damaged goods and ain't worth the risk.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.
He could certainly still be fired for cause. Tenure doesn't prevent that. It only prevents firing without just cause.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.
Without the details of the sexual harassment, it is hard to understand the tenure decision. Sexual harassment is not something to take lightly. It can break your spirit terribly especially if you are young, immature and unsure of yourself. Honestly, I'm having a very hard time even expressing how difficult it is to live in that kind of environment.
Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 5:22 a.m.
You call him a liability without even knowing the nature of the alleged harassment, or if the alleged harassment ever actually occurred? Must be nice to sit in such a lofty place to be able to judge others without knowledge or evidence.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.
Agree. TrappedinMi. Students are paying for an education , not harassment. Would commentors feel the same way if it was their child? This guy is a liability.
Cheryl Overmyer Gulasey
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.
I am sick of all of these tenors in the universities, they should get approval on a reward basis not for a lifetime. See what happens when they try and pass one thru who is a censored pervert!!!!
Billy Bob Schwartz
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.
I think this whole thing is bass. I do know that many choirs would love to have some award-winning tenors, but balance is everything.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.
@ Ron: My LOL for the morning!
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.
Ah yes, written without the benefit of a "tenored" english professor.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.
Hear, hear! We need more sopranos and altos to balance things out.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.
It is, of course, impossible to draw an informed conclusion without any information, and in this case the details are beyond murky; they are opaque. The chilling nature of academic bureaucracy shines through clearly, however, and the story begs for the impossible: To be written by George Orwell or Arthur Koestler, illustrated by Goya or Durer.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1 p.m.
When it comes to renew Susan Martin's contract I wonder if the regents will maintain the same attitude.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1 p.m.
According to Paula Gardner " The intention was to present a neutral report ". My question is, why does the AA news not do this more often, instead of the normal opionion piece passed off as news?
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.
When does his punishment end? He met the stipulations of his punishment - a year's suspension and attendance at counseling sessions - and hasn't had an incident since 2007. He is a respected and award winning teacher and a valued member of the campus community. Denying tenure ignores all that he has done to atone for his misconduct in the past. What a shame.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.
It sounds as though some have a vendetta against Edwin.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.
perhaps if we knew what the definition of "sexual harassment" was (EMUs version or otherwise) we would have a better understanding some people read "sexual harassment" and connect it to sexual assault or other criminal acts -- NOT THE SAME - NOT EVEN CLOSE not making light of the seriousness of "sexual harassment" but it seems it is not criminal behavior, however inappropriate it may have been the article seems to take the tone that the professor should have been fired and that keeping him on was a danger to students - i dont see danger and safety as issues here folks --- seems a professor was out of line with students and female staff as bad as it sounds, this is still commonplace and totally inappropriate but lets have some context and not pretend students were in danger
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 11:42 a.m.
I have zero trust in any "diversity office" passing judgement on anyone.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 11:39 a.m.
For a country that prides itself on redemption, seems like these days people are "guilty as charged" and tainted forever - despite the fact that no criminal allegations were made, despite the fact that he is a superb teacher, despite the fact that there were no reported incidents before or since. I'm also curious as to what the allegations were, exactly. Did he say a woman was pretty? Did he make a pass at someone? He's a non-tenured professor that is still teaching at a famously liberal institution (I thought I was in a communist re-education camp much of the time I was there). I question the "egregiousness" of the allegations. No matter what was said, it's terribly inappropriate, but should this guy be raked over the coals for the rest of his life? Don't think so. Good article BTW. I thought it was pretty fair to both sides.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 11:18 a.m.
I had him as a professor. He taught a tough course and was fair and nothing but professional. Sometimes mountains are made out of molehills, and this appears to be the situation here. EMU is shooting itself in the foot with this decision.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 11:10 a.m.
The intention was to present a neutral report on a series of circumstances that have stretched out since 2007. They've included a suspension, counseling, two attempts at tenure - and then a provost making a decision contrary to recommendations, followed by an instructor remaining on EMU's payroll through 2013 after that. We believe this story outlines that, and welcome readers' reactions to it.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 11:02 a.m.
So this man is guilty as charged. In 2009, the union, definitely not interested in the safety of female students, took up his cause but was not successful. Even with his tenure denied in 2009, he figured he could get around it. He was denied tenure again four months ago. He has been given one year paid notice that he won't be retained. And this guy is complaining. According to David Mielke, the business school dean: "It appears he has regained the respect of his colleagues. Many of these are also female colleagues," Mielke wrote, adding later: "He has provided evidence to show that he has successfully learned and utilized strategies and techniques to prevent his previous misconduct." The real question is why Kellie Woodhouse and annarbor.com are covering this guy sympathetically. They are taking small moments in time along with snippet quotes and attempting to project a total image of this man. Etter, Woodhouse, and annarbor.com are certainly taking advantage of the University's policy to not discuss personnel matters with the media.
Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 5:16 a.m.
Right, Goober. And of course the employer would never accuse anyone of wrong doing unless that person had actually done exactly what they are accused of, right? The union is there to act as defense council and to make sure the disciplinary process is carried out in a fair and equitable manner. As Ms. Woodhouse rather plainly pointed out "an arbitrator agreed with the union...". Here's a clue...an arbitrator agreeing with the union means that the arbitrator also agrees that the employer has committed some wrongdoing that needs to be rectified, which is to say Mr. Etter and the union won their case against the university by proving that the university didn't do things in accordance with the contract. Without union representation the universioty would have done whatever they wanted to and gotten away with it, regardless of if their actions were right or wrong or in any way justifiable. Why this seems to be perfectly okay to you I do not understand. Finally, it is not the unions job to decide guilt. That is what the grievance process, the courts and the arbitration process are for, just as it is not a defense attorney's job to assign guilt to their client. Perhaps a high school level civic class might better help you to understand that workers do have civil rights and deserve to have those rights preserved via union representation, and that basic fairness is not an evil thing.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 10:57 p.m.
Unions don't care about guilt. They support those that pay - guilty or not, good or bad, wrong or right. I guess this is what you get when you join a union plus they take your money and support Democratic issues. Go figure!
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 7:03 p.m.
While in school it made me uncomfortable to get home work, now that I think about the whole school thing made me uncomfortable. Work isn't much better either. Maybe I just need a particpation award.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.
I agree with lumberg48108. The article clearly stated that the charges did NOT include touching. I infer from what was written that he repeatedly made off-color or sexist remarks. Such remarks may certainly make students uncomfortable, but they are unlikely to threaten anyone's safety.
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.
what did you read in this story that had to do with "safety of female students"? being in question?
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 : 11:42 a.m.
Between the picture and the fact that the article is about this guy sexually harassing students and staff-- this is a sympathetic article?! Are not journalists required to present balance within an article? Seems like just the facts to me. Quotes from tenure applications and from his superiors. Maybe you would have preferred a public lynching? I don't see an agenda in the reporting, other than an attempt to present the facts fairly