Letter to the Editor: DSU Last Chance Agreement is ‘punitive, vindictive, disenfranchising and dehumanizing’

In this May 2018 file photo, fired Dixie State University professor Ken Peterson demonstrates across the street from the university in St. George, Utah, May 3, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

OPINION — I am Dixie State University (DSU) alumni. I am aware that Dr. Ken Peterson’s termination process was started back in early 2018 from DSU. Although the University claimed that he had been terminated (this was untrue as the process had been just started) it misled the community at large to believe that he had been terminated from his music department position at DSU.

I have grave concerns regarding the circumstances surrounding the termination, the concurrent due process, the Faculty Review Board’s (FRB) recommendation to reinstate, the USHE representative choosing to abide by the FRB’s recommendation, the current administration at DSU offering statements that they were supportive of the reinstatement and then the egregious “Last Chance Agreement” (which is available on public domain and is punitive, vindictive, disenfranchising, and dehumanizing.)

Read more: Fired DSU professor says signing reinstatement document would be akin to having ‘gun pointed at my head’

I am also very disheartened at paying taxes to support the costly and burdensome task of keeping DSU’s counsel busy trying to maintain face when DSU is clearly in the wrong. I am honestly and respectfully looking for answers and solutions.

Dr. Ken Peterson, a tenured professor, was the director of vocal activities. He has been a professor at Dixie State University for 16 years, and has taught higher education for a total of 28 years. He also conducts the Heritage Choir, a group of 180 singers that performs regularly in Saint George and also tours the world. He has conducted the school’s choirs and taught thousands of private lessons for many years, and many of his students have gone on to be highly renowned singers and educators.

He has his Doctorate degree, is tenured, and widely loved by his students. He is a pillar in the music community of Saint George. I believe Dr. Peterson to be of the highest character and a shining example to his colleagues, peers, students, and community members.

It would be in the school’s best interest to reinstate Dr. Peterson with full tenure, no terms, no conditions and no “Last Chance Agreement”. It would also be in the school’s best interest to simply admit they were wrong in how they approached this and follow the FRB and USHE’s reinstatement, again, with no terms, no conditions, etc.

Thankfully, President Williams recused himself from any decision making up to the reinstatement. However, I call upon President Williams to resign immediately. Multiple lawsuits have come against DSU and him, personally since he has been President. The retention rate of DSU is the worst it has ever been.

As a school for higher learning, I would assume the administration would want to handle policy violations in a way that doesn’t disrupt the student’s educations. The current actions of the administration and the “Last Chance Agreement” has been devastating to students, faculty of DSU and the community.

I would respectfully and sincerely ask the following questions:

  • Why are there terms to Dr. Ken Peterson’s reinstatement since he was never actually terminated? According to DSU’s termination process, he was never actually “terminated.”
  • What is DSU’s definition of “reinstatement?”
  • Why is Dr. Peterson not allowed to teach his subject of expertise under the “Last Chance Agreement?”
  • Why is the “Last Chance Agreement” permanent? There are no terms outlined that allow Peterson to return to his subject of expertise.
  • Why is Dr. Peterson being treated like a criminal when he has been recommended for reinstatement by the FRB and USHE? His original actions were minor policy violations.
  • Does DSU care about their tenured employees, their students education and aspirations?
  • How much money has been used to pay for legal counsel to try and drag Dr. Peterson and I would add Dr. Glenn Webb through the mud over minor policy violations?
  • When teachers break policy, they are investigated and punished by the administration. When administrators break policy, who keeps them in line? And why haven’t they done so?

If you truly believe that the “Last Chance Agreement” is a valid and constitutional document meant to protect Dr. Peterson and the other parties involved I would ask you to please justify these beliefs in detail.

Dixie State University cannot consider itself to be a great University if they fire tenured professors without an extremely good reason. While I understand that policy violations are serious and that discipline is necessary in such cases, I believe that the punishment should fit the crime.

Without a sufficient explanation given by the administration, the community of St. George, the faculty of DSU, the students of DSU have no reason to believe that the institution’s actions are in any way justified or lawful.

Submitted by JOEL THOMAS, Washington, Utah, jct179@gmail.com.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting..

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25 Comments

  • Shorm August 8, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Wasn’t the USHE rep the one who recommended the last chance agreement based on the testimonies during the review board?

  • Kilroywashere August 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    “Here within the alchemistic light this soul is shining its golden lining, to give this knowledge to you, the freedom to see what you know is true” Sometimes poetry is required, when words are not enough to awaken the human spirit. Enough said.

  • Chris August 8, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    I may have missed something, but I have yet to see any specifics about what Dr. Peterson did to run afoul of the DSU administration, only vague accusations about “violating policy.” I understand the college’s unwillingness to comment on a personnel matter, but what has Dr. Peterson himself said about the incidents that created this controversy? Can anyone fill me in on what really happened?

  • Pigtut August 8, 2018 at 7:42 pm

    This letter is funny. Mr. Thomas says that he wants an honest answer, but has already judged the University to be guilty and has asked for President Williams resignation. But I will respond anyway.

    Let’s get the facts on the table first. Mr. Peterson was guilty of the following:
    • He was engaged in the harassment of another faculty member with the intent to get that faculty member fired, or get him to resign. He was successful in this effort and has seriously hurt another faculty member and his young family. This is a violation of title 7 and 9 of the federal discrimination act. This is a terminable offense and if the administration does not act to rectify the situation, they can also be terminated.
    • He acted unprofessionally by refusing to do his job in working with the theater department. At least at the business I have worked at, this is an offense that gets you terminate quickly.
    • He accused the President and his administration of egregious acts that he could not support or prove. I challenge anyone to call their boss corrupt and see how long they last in the job.

    While there were other offenses, three terminable offenses are enough. If fact, he probably should have been fired a year ago.

    Now to answer the questions:
    • Why are there terms to Dr. Ken Peterson’s reinstatement since he was never actually terminated?
    o He was terminated from his classwork and faculty duties on the date listed by the University. However, due to Academic Freedom, a committee of his peers is give the opportunity to review the reasons for his termination and determine if another course of action should be taken and then recommend that course to the President who has to make the final decision. This is probable the only business model that allows employees a sayso in the termination of an employee.
    • What is DSU’s definition of “reinstatement?”.
    o Its not DSU’s definition of reinstatement, but general business practices. Reinstatements often include terms and conditions.
    • Why is Dr. Peterson not allowed to teach his subject of expertise under the “Last Chance Agreement?”
    o Dr. Peterson was hires to teach Music Classes. Music education is his expertise. If he feels that he is not able to teach General Education Music Classes then he should not be teaching at a University. Since he is not taking a cut in salary, then he is being paid a lot more for doing the same work as others. Other reason were clearly state in the “Last Chance Agreement”. Read it.
    • Why is the “Last Chance Agreement” permanent?
    o Easy, Mr. Peterson was given the chance to start over. No incoming faculty are given agreements guaranteeing advancement in the future.
    • Why is Dr. Peterson being treated like a criminal when he has been recommended for reinstatement by the FRB and USHE? His original actions were minor policy violations.
    o At least three of the things he did deserved termination. These were not minor offenses.
    • Does DSU care about their tenured employees?
    o I can’t believe you would even ask this question considering all the time that the University has spent with Mr Peterson. For review, the Faculty Review Committee heard all the evidence again for many hours. The department chair would have tried to stop Peterson from doing wrong things. When he failed, the Division Dean would have tried, and then the Academic Vice President. When all of these sources failed, then legal counsel from the University, the Board of Regents, and the Utah Attorney Generals offices would have been involved. Members of the DSU Board of trustees and the Board of Regents would have also been involved. Only when all resources had been exhausted would action be taken to terminate Mr Peterson. And he apparently went through 30 plus people. I would say they care a great deal about their faculty.
    • How much money has been used to pay for legal counsel
    o This is irrelevant since Mr. Peterson forced the action to be taken.
    • When administrators break policy, who keeps them in line?
    o Administrators are subject to the same procedures as are used in common business. They do not get the same privileges as faculty. And for the President, the Regent reviews are not something that any of you would like to go through. They are tough.
    Now Mr. Thomas, a question for you. When you exhibit so little knowledge of how Universities work, how can you judge the University or the President. I think you owe both an apology.

    • Icomments2 August 8, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      ONLY YOU THINK SO!!! Some of us actually know the truth!!! Don’t try and spread your unwanted liberal hate on people!!! You may be able to get some students to believe you, but as a parent of a student at DSU I know better!!! DSU has fallen ever since Biffy came on board!!! Pos!!! He doesn’t need to resign, he needs to be FIRED!!! The moral of the students at DSU has dropped tremendously since Biffy tried to fire Ken and Glenn, and tons of others that he did successfully get rid of!!! He is a FRAUD!!!

    • comments August 8, 2018 at 9:42 pm

      Boy oh boy! I’m not sure who to believe with all this stuff. Makes me glad that this isn’t my problem. It’s like a ‘he said, she said’ thing now or what? Every bit of these dsu termination stories seem to be biased in some way. Either dsu admins are the villains or these old tenured professors are the villains. How do we tell?

      • Pigtut August 9, 2018 at 6:10 am

        Oh please! Icomments2 and comments are the same people just trying to make it appear that more people are involved. You spread unfounded hate and then accuse others of that act. Your position is not supported in fact and the Faculty Review Committee, the legal counsels for three state agencies and the Higher Ed Commissioner all disagree with your position. Of course, we should believe you other than all of these other groups who have actually seen the facts. Funny!!!!

        • comments August 9, 2018 at 10:30 am

          No sir. Icomments2 is a woman. I’m not. hahaha. You’re an idiot. hahaha 😉

          • Pigtut August 9, 2018 at 10:46 am

            Of course, we have only your word for that, but you have admitted that you know the other person and therefore the two of you are working in concert on your statements. Your demeaning language says more about you than it does about me and you are the one being laughed at.

          • comments August 9, 2018 at 11:34 am

            Biff, is that you?! hahahaha. I don’t know her at all, actually. hahahaha. You just dig the hole deeper, so keep digging. haha too funny 😉

          • Pigtut August 9, 2018 at 12:57 pm

            Ok, Ken, you caught me! lol

    • Shorm August 9, 2018 at 8:17 am

      Thank you for this insight. It’s easy to judge the University when you don’t understand how the process works and when you’re only hearing one side. I never saw an official statement saying Dr. Peterson was found “innocent”, only Dr. Peterson has claimed that.

      I also don’t understand why President Williams is being blamed when it appears he had nothing to do with this entire process and has only acted professionally by requesting a third party make the final decision. Do we have any proof that he’s this evil, corrupt man that Dr. Peterson and his followers make him out to be?

      • Pigtut August 9, 2018 at 10:38 am

        Every President has to make decisions that are unpopular with someone on a campus. It DSU, it is my understanding, that there are over 1300 employees. You will never please them all, but Biff Williams seems to be actively involved on the campus, both with students and employees in a pleasing way. He is respected by the Board of Trustees that include the Mayor of St. George, the Superintendent of Washington County Schools and Julie Beck, the former General Relief Society President for the LDS church. I have heard that the legislature is also impressed with the steps he has taken to get a strategic plan in place for DSU and are requesting that all other schools do the same. When you have the respect of all these groups, composed of the caliber of people that are included in them, I don’t think that you can be evil or corrupt and still have their respect.

    • mesaman August 9, 2018 at 10:57 pm

      What role did you play in the termination of Dr Peterson? Was he summarily suspended from teaching duties before the investigations (faculty investigative committee, higher board investigation, and all others not specifically identified at present) took place? You seem to be privy to much of the inner workings of Herr Doctor President Williams and the administrative overburden at DSU. Would you care to present your credentials and your concern for that same administration? I wait with baited breath.

  • youcandoit August 8, 2018 at 11:48 pm

    Utah is an at will state They don’t need a reason to fire you. Does that pertain to this matter?

    • Pigtut August 9, 2018 at 6:15 am

      Where is this “at will” garbage coming from? Employees are “at will” depending on there positions, salaries and terms of a contract. Mr. Peterson was not “at will” and that is why there was so much review of his termination. If he was “at will”, he would have been fired and have not been given a reason for the termination and would not have had a recourse in law.

  • instantkarma August 9, 2018 at 2:49 am

    If I as an employee had engaged in harassing a coworker, slandering them, and creating a hostile work environment, I would be terminated.

    Not only did he create a hostile work environment, he then proceeded to vent his opinions publicly where students and other university employees could hear him.

    Neither he nor Glenn denied the violations of policy, only that they as faculty members shouldn’t have been subject to termination because of the incidents.

    No one should be beyond reproach if they are jeopardizing a company or institution’s reputation, violating policies, or breaking laws.

  • Gary August 9, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Dr. Peterson would be crazy to go back to work for these buffoons. Talk about a hostile work environment, the last chance agreement creates that on paper. The people creating this stuff a DSU need to replace ASAP

    • Pigtut August 9, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Gary is both ill-informed and wrong in his conclusions. I hope that his employers do not judge him the same way he has judged DSU here.

      • Anon August 9, 2018 at 11:13 am

        Wow. Pigtut, you are so uninformed of what is happening at DSU that you must have your head in the stuck in the sand. If you knew all of the other staff, instructors, and professors that have been forced out or asked to “retire” while those who are TERRIBLE at their job are lauded and promoted, you would be (or at least I hope you would be) sick. Faculty are literally afraid to stand up for themselves or others for fear of not only losing their jobs, but being black-balled in the education community. They are harassed, belittled, and trod upon, keeping their heads down and hoping to make it to retirement. I can’t even tell you how I know that for fear that my contact will be victimized next. You have no idea what the atmosphere of the college is right now. I applaud Ken and Glenn and Varlo for standing up to the corruption and hope beyond all hope that eventually the pressure will be enough to change out this abominable administration.

        • comments August 9, 2018 at 12:47 pm

          Now I’m just speculating here, but could it be that these people that are coddled and promoted happen to “upstanding members” of THE LORD’S ONE TRUE CHURCH, while those that are being forced out are “gentiles” or “apostates”? Just have seen things like that far too often around these parts. Does this Biff happen to be a member as well?

          • Pigtut August 10, 2018 at 7:32 am

            I believe that all are LDS. Ken, I believe is a member of a bishopric.

        • Pigtut August 9, 2018 at 12:56 pm

          Anon, you did really well until you tried to frame this issue as Ken, Glenn, and Varlo deciding to stand up to a corrupt administration. That is not the case at all. All of these men did things that deserved termination and it was their actions and not those of the University Administration that created the problem.

          I am very aware of all the staff, instructors and professors that have been terminated and it is not anything like you would like to have us believe. In fact, it is very few. A normal University will turn over 20% of its employees each year. That would be around 260 people. Virtually all of these people leave to pursue other interests and not as a result of any pressure from the institution. I have heard of other faculty members who are in trouble simply because they are not doing their jobs and have not done them for some time.

          Since you are clearly an employee of DSU and have a fear complex, you are probably from one of the departments that does not understand the difference between Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech. Your department thought they were the same thing and as a result, many members acted badly. You are now beginning to understand that they are different. If the school is ever going to be an outstanding University, employees need to understand where Academic Freedom ends and Freedom of Speech begins. They also need to understand that when Freedom of Speech is abused, there are consequences. When that understanding is clear, great things can happen.

          Most employees are not even following the issue of Ken Peterson, Glen Webb, and Varlo Davenport, and are not interested in it. They are focused on their assignments, getting ready for students to come back and following President William’s lead in making the University great. Of the many employees that I know, only a small number feel as you do. Most do not feel black-balled, harassed, belittled or trod upon. I applaud them and hope you can overcome your fear and join the rest of the campus in moving DSU forward. I love DSU as I was a student there long ago and have watched it with interest since then. No one can watch the institution closely and not be aware of the problems and successes.

          • Anon August 13, 2018 at 6:05 pm

            Pigtut, I am not an employee of DSU (thank heaven for that). I also am a former student, second generation, in fact. I am not confused in the difference between Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech. I also am a great proponent of cleaning out the “garbage” when it comes to things like education, you know like professors who don’t do their jobs.

            The department that I have referenced in my comment above is not related to any of the fine arts departments at all, however the way these professors have been treated has tainted the way other instructors and professors feel any criticism they have of the administration will be be treated.

            Varlo was fired against the recommendation of his peers. He was using a common teaching practice of his field. The county wouldn’t even prosecute it. The city did because the city attorney who took the case is a media junkie. And he was exonerated. But because of that incident, he now is having issues finding work in his field of expertise. THAT is not right. The college administration did that.

            Ken was called as a witness, not only in the peer review, but in the criminal proceeding as well as a character witness for Varlo. Ken’s wife was in the class and was called as a witness. Mind you, the college is now in a multi million dollar lawsuit with Varlo because he has lost his ability to gain employment in his field of expertise.

            Both Ken and Glenn were terminated on grounds that did not warrant termination. There are very, VERY few regulations that must be violated in order to fire a tenured professor. Neither Glenn nor Ken came close. The college claims that they slandered the administration and a fellow colleague, but here’s the thing about slander – it is very hard to prove. And just because you don’t like what someone says about you doesn’t make is slander. If it is true, then it isn’t slander.

            The fact of the matter is, there is fear among the faculty at DSU, whether your “friends” acknowledge it or not. It may not be widely spoken of, but it is there. They are scared to lose their jobs and any ability to seek educational employment thereafter. The administration is corrupt. Or, at the very least, has an agenda that is not in the best interest of the college, its employees and students, or this community and is making this learning institution a laughing stock among the rest of the higher education community in the country. DSU is not moving forward. If anything, Biff is a good, ol’ boy and trying to force his good, ol’ boy politics on DSU.

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