“A group of sociologists did a poll in Arizona about the new immigration law. Sixty percent said they were in favor, and 40 percent said, ‘No hablo English.'”
That joke in class has Robert Engler, a 12-year sociology professor at Roosevelt University, fighting for his career.
It elicited two written complaints in the spring of 2010 as ethnically offensive, and what followed was a protracted argument that eventually included the termination of his employment from the fall semester.
Administrators have also discontinued his course “City and Citizenship,” previously a requirement for graduation.
Now his attorney, Doug Ibendahl, is about to file suit. Ibendahl believes university administrators are dragging their feet over a “harmless joke that would not be considered offensive by any reasonable standard.”
Officially, Engler’s termination was for noncooperation with the harassment investigation, since he repeatedly chose not to attend meetings that would address the allegation.
Engler said he was willing to cooperate but the department refused to put the allegation in writing. When he brought legal counsel to an appeal meeting, university administrators immediately canceled it.
It wasn’t until the student newspaper wrote about the case months after his dismissal that he learned of the origin of the allegations, he said.
“I didn’t want to come to a meeting and be charged and not even know what it was,” he said.
Now he worries that the unresolved harassment dispute will dissuade alternative employers.
One student that filed a complaint, Cristina Solis, has spoken out, describing the outcome as fair and saying that she does not regret her decision to complain.
“If that is what it took to give him a reality check, and to make sure that no other student has to go through that, maybe it’s for the best,” she said.
She believes the remarks were inappropriate for “a school like Roosevelt University, which is based on social justice.”