By Zainab Iqbal
With Additional Reporting by Adam Zaki
Published: October 26th, 2016
In a bizarre unfolding of events, Brooklyn College’s bureaucratic systems created a massive misunderstanding between a professor and administration.
Professor David Seidemann of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences issued the same syllabus he has given for the past few years. But this year’s reaction to certain claims within the syllabus was a first for the EESC 1010 class.
Specifically, controversy arose over the grading-related phrase, which stated that, “class deportment, effort, etc.” would be worth 10 percent “applied only to select students when appropriate.” The word “effort” could in some fashion, in the eyes of the department, be related to sexual harassment.
Another controversial point was a phrase which stated, “This classroom is an ‘unsafe space’ for those uncomfortable with viewpoints with which they may disagree: all constitutionally protected speech is welcome.” Around the words “safe space” were two triangles with exclamation points, which were examined for their possible anti-gay bias.
After learning his syllabus was being question for content regarding discrimination and homosexual bias, Seidemann immediately questioned the school’s handling of the matter. “These are serious allegations,” he said.
After being told by Jennifer Cherrier, the department chair for the Earth and Environmental Sciences department, that certain parts of his syllabus were being brought into question, Seidemann wanted all communications of the matter documented.
Cherrier went on to contact Seidemann to discuss his syllabus. According to Seidemann, Cherrier informed him that his syllabus was accused of containing sexual harassment and anti-gay bias.
Cherrier was not available for comment.
Seidemann recounted that Cherrier had notified him that his syllabus included two phrases dealing with “grading” and “permitted speech,” which could be potential problems.
According to an article from the Trouble and Strife Journal archive, “The downturned triangle served as a distinctive emblem of Nazi heterosexism which signified and even hastened the destruction of gay men.”
Pat Jimenez is the Director of Diversity Investigations and Title IX Coordinator at Brooklyn College. While the diversity part of his position refers to situations involving diversity and discrimination, such as hiring practices, the Title IX part of the office refers to situations involving Title IX offenses, such as sexual harassment and assault, according to CUNY.
The Diversity and Title IX office also plays an advisory role involving situations around campus. They protect the students and make sure that whatever the college is looking for is fair and legal.
“A student had looked at the syllabus and felt that it was discriminative,” said Jason Carey, the Assistant Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations. “There was no investigation, since nothing was violated… There was just a lot of miscommunication between emails about who’s talking to who and why.”
“The question is, why did the Title IX director contact my chair if there was no investigation?” said Seidemann, who refused to meet with Jimenez.
Regardless of whether or not an investigation happened, the college follows a specific protocol when such complaints are filed against faculty members. “The college must go through certain steps, and follow a process, so that we can take the appropriate action and come to a conclusion,” said Carey.
Student complaints go through Brooklyn College’s Student Affairs. At Student Affairs, Ron Jackson, the ombudsman of the department, reviews the complaint to figure out which department would be most appropriate to address the issue. In this particular situation, the student’s complaint was sent off to Jimenez’s Title IX office and a lawyer at Brooklyn College who checks if anything illegal is taking place.
According to his role of clarifying information, Jimenez reviewed the complaint and sent it off to Academic Affairs since “the complaint was of academic nature,” according to Carey. Academic Affairs included Cherrier in communication as well.
“It’s crazy he’s been accused of this,” said Kim Muller, a Brooklyn College junior. “I feel like it’s a lot of overthinking. It’s taken out of context and once you realize what he’s talking about [evolution], it’s silly to even think like that.”
Carey reiterated that since there was no violation as deemed by the council, Seidemann’s job was never in jeopardy.
Without a transparent process for all parties regarding such consequential matters, Brooklyn College’s administration’s ability to handle matters on this scale comes into question. In cases of more serious matters, one can wonder if the “process” allows for legitimate and transparent investigations to take place.