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December 1, 2022

Suspended professor contests OIE inquiry

By JACOB TOOK | April 13, 2017

The Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) interviewed Trent Bertrand, an adjunct professor in the economics department who was suspended in December, as part of an ongoing investigation into claims that he created a “hostile environment” in his classroom. The interview took place on Friday, April 7.

According to Bertrand, the OIE addressed complaints from students about his inappropriate behavior in class during the interview. The students who voiced  their concerns alleged that he made comments and jokes that they found racist or sexist. Bertrand denies these allegations.

Bertrand said he was concerned the University’s policies on diversity violated his academic freedom.

“If I don’t think those policies are correct and they’re affecting me in a negative way, I certainly have a right to speak out against those policies,” he said. “And I will continue to do so.”

Bertrand has been critical of the investigation overall, citing a lack of transparency in the University’s process. He explained that his request to have the proceedings taped or to have a lawyer present were denied at the interview on Friday.

“If I was to suggest how [the OIE] could correct the procedures to make these fairer to the person being investigated, it would be to have the OIE allow interviews to be taped, allow legal representation or observers to be present and give forewarning about the complaints they wish to discuss,” Bertrand wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

According to Bertrand, the OIE gave him no reason for their policy against recording the interviews.

However, in an email to The News-Letter, OIE Vice Provost Kimberly Hewitt explained that the interviews are not recorded and do not include the presence of lawyers because they are not part of a formal legal process.

“OIE’s process is designed to encourage information gathering and an open exchange of information through interviews and fact-gathering; this is a key part of OIE’s investigations,” Hewitt wrote.

Bertrand said he hopes the OIE will find the complaints alleged against him baseless. He argued that the “vast majority” of his students enjoyed his course. However, he said that if the OIE decides otherwise, he plans to take other steps.

Should the OIE conclude that the claims against Bertrand are legitimate, Bertrand intends to take the case to the Homewood Academic Council (HAC).

According to their website, this group of faculty is charged with reviewing faculty appointments, periodically reviewing departments and considering cases of faculty discipline, among other things.

Bertrand also said he had reached out to the national headquarters of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). According to Bertrand, AAUP Senior Program Officer Anita Levy sent a letter to University President Ronald J. Daniels at the end of January supporting Bertrand’s request for a faculty review of the University’s decision to suspend him.

Bertrand explained that Provost Sunil Kumar responded by stating that the University would not comment until the OIE investigation was complete.

The AAUP Hopkins chapter was unaware of this letter. They stated that they had not exchanged any correspondences with Bertrand.

Bertrand said that, were he to consider filing a lawsuit against the University, he would also contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.

“I might try and get some of this material to the Trump administration,” he said. “To Betsy DeVos who’s in the Department of Education and to Jeff Sessions who’s in the Department of Justice. We’re getting to a place where the ability of students to hear different perspectives and to make up their own minds is being squashed.”

Hewitt wrote that the OIE will not consider Bertrand’s possible plans for future action while making their decision.

“OIE makes a determination about whether or not University policy was violated based upon the facts and information gathered during the course of the investigation, without regard for any other process that might follow or action that any party might take after the OIE process has concluded,” she wrote.

Bertrand said that he was proud of the students and parents who have sent him emails of support.

“I’ve been extremely pleased at all of these unsolicited emails that came in that support the course,” he said. “I’d put those things on my gravestone; They were great recommendations for me. I’d like to tell those students that supported it that I really appreciate that. I was very proud of them.”

It is currently unknown when the OIE will conclude their investigation.

Sam Fossum contributed reporting.

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