UI's Campus Faculty Association defends Rosenstein's actions

 

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URBANA — Chancellor Robert Jones is defending the move to put a professor arrested at State Farm Center last week on paid leave, saying it is not a disciplinary action.

Two faculty members questioned Jones on Monday about the decision involving Jay Rosenstein, professor of media and cinema studies, who was put on leave after being accused of following members of a pro-Chief Illiniwek group into a State Farm Center restroom and videotaping them. He was arrested on Jan. 22 but later released without charge.

Jones said he knows some people view that as a disciplinary move, "but it's not. It's a vehicle that allows the university to examine the allegations while ensuring that our students are protected and the faculty member is not sanctioned, unless there's a finding to justify such sanctions," he told members of the Senate Executive Committee on Monday.

Jones said he hopes the review can be wrapped up in "several weeks," but said it will depend on the availability of witnesses. He said the review will be led by campus human resources staff in collaboration with members of his leadership team.

Professor Mark Steinberg, who chairs the senate's Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, questioned the administration's rationale. He said his committee has heard cases where taking a faculty member out of his teaching responsibilities "is by definition disciplinary action, and therefore there are procedures that have to be followed."

The Campus Faculty Association, a group pushing for a faculty union, raised similar arguments over the weekend, saying administrators failed to follow procedures outlined in the UI Statutes for sanctioning a faculty member, which would involve senate committees and hearings.

Administrators argue that those procedures involve sanctions that could be sought after someone undergoes a review, which is allowed under state personnel rules.

Steinberg urged the chancellor to be "very careful that you're on solid ground." He noted that Rosenstein said he was pursuing the Honor the Chief group — which sponsors a student who dresses up like the Chief at Illini games — for a film project that relates to his work as a faculty member.

Steinberg said he wasn't trying to judge Rosenstein's actions but reiterated that procedures have to be followed "when one takes action against a faculty member. This may come up," he told Jones.

"I'm sure it will," Jones replied. "We had those discussions, and I feel comfortable with the course of action as being the best for the institution and for Professor Rosenstein."

Jones said it has to be taken in the context of "the fundamental issue of privacy in a public restroom." He noted that the police report said Rosenstein admitted to videotaping inside the restroom.

"I don't know any circumstance under which that would be permissible. That is one of those spaces that you just don't videotape," he said.

"I understand what he was trying to achieve," Jones said, but added, "the means don't justify the end result you're trying to get."

"I'm not making a judgment call here. This is an allegation. The purpose of the review process is to understand exactly what actually happened," he said. "It's about how do you protect students, how do you protect staff, how do you be very clear and transparent? ... In many ways, it's for Professor Rosenstein's benefit."

'Crossed a line'

Professor Bruce Rosenstock cited the relevant section of the Department of Central Management Services' Administrative Code, which states that the "circumstances warranting this leave must be of an extraordinary nature and are limited to those situations when no alternative means, such as suspension or temporary reassignment of an employee, will adequately protect the best interests of the agency."

Rosenstock said the provision has been used to discipline prison guards who brought drugs into prison or mental health workers who molested patients. He asked whether Jones felt Rosenstein posed such a threat that he not be allowed to interact with his students or co-workers.

"We firmly believe that the action that was taken was within our legal and administrative responsibility to take," Jones replied. "We have a responsibility, when an allegation like this comes forward, to respond in a thoughtful and even-handed way. I am very comfortable with what we have done in this case."

Professor Kim Graber said she has respect for Rosenstein and his passion on the Chief issue, adding, "People like Jay. He's a nice guy. He's got great intentions."

But she said the discussion overlooked the fact that "there could have been innocent bystanders in that restroom."

"I think that he crossed a line. I don't think he should lose his job or anything like that. But I think to say that putting him on paid (leave) is somehow a bad thing, I just don't see that," Graber said. "It's a good thing right now until this gets investigated. We have to keep in mind other people who could have been hurt. "

SFC workers' role

Meanwhile, in response to another question, Jones acknowledged the campus is looking into an issue raised by Rosenstein — whether State Farm Center employees are assisting those who dress up like the Chief for UI games. That would potentially violate the UI's agreement with the NCAA to stop using American Indian culture and symbols in its athletic program, critics say.

"I wouldn't be pleased at all if, in fact, the folks who are supposed to be employees of this university are perpetuating something that is antithetical to the values and actually the rules we have," Jones said.

Chief Illiniwek was retired in 2007 after years of complaints that it was a racist mascot and culturally insensitive.

State Farm Center will be adopting a new security policy that will affect what can be brought inside the arena, a process that began months ago, officials said. But it won't preclude fans from bringing in a costume if they want to dress up like the Chief, though items have to be in a clear plastic bag, said spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

The policy is designed to address broader security issues, she said.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).