Firing of 2 Dixie State University professors will have ‘drastic’ effect on education, students say

ST. GEORGE — Two long-time Dixie State University music professors were fired Friday to the dismay of many students.

Glenn Webb and Ken Peterson, both tenured professors of 10-plus years, were terminated on the grounds of violating university policy, according to a statement issued by DSU.

The exact policy violations were not specified by the university, which said they fell under “DSU Policy 371.” The policy includes a wide scope of reasons for corrective action, such as incompetence, insubordination, disorderly conduct, discourteous or abusive treatment of others and unsuitability to job requirements.

Music professor Glenn Webb addresses supporters after he was fired from his tenured position at Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

“Dixie State has made a decision regarding some of my actions, which I do not dispute,” Webb said before an audience of students and faculty gathered in support of the professors. “They are my actions, I did what I did.

“My attorney, Mr. James Elegante, and I don’t believe it is an egregious or even serious violation of policy,” Webb said, noting that he could not go into detail about the case while an appeal is pending.

Peterson said the reason for his termination was based on hearsay witness statements saying he said derogatory things about certain university employees.

“There were about eight paragraphs basically detailing hearsay of derogatory things I have said about people,” Peterson said. “We have opinions about things and this happened.”

Both professors said they will appeal their termination. They are currently suspended with pay while the appeals process goes to a faculty review hearing, at which point the president of the university, Richard B. Williams, will make a final decision.

However, Peterson said he was not especially hopeful about the appeal process, referencing the 2015 firing of 15-year tenured professor Varlo Davenport, who was terminated despite a faculty review board and the faculty senate clearing him of wrongdoing.

Davenport was acquitted of a single charge of assault in July 2016 after a student accused him of pulling her hair in an acting class.

Read more: Jury finds Varlo Davenport ‘not guilty’

Music professor Ken Peterson addresses supporters after he was fired from his tenured position at Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

“As in the case with Varlo, he (Williams) ignored the faculty review board conclusion and fired him, anyway,” Peterson said, “That’s what I anticipate.

“The administration has made its intentions clear and nothing short of higher power is going to be able to deter that.”

In its statement, DSU said it any misconduct claims are met with a thorough investigation conducted with multiple checks and balances in place.

“The university president is not involved in the initial investigation or decision-making process, so he/she can stay impartial for the appeal process,” the statement reads.

Following the terminations, dozens of students and faculty surrounded the entrance to the university’s M. Anthony Burns Office in support of the professors.

“We’re here to support our professors and make sure that they know we have their back and we’re supporting them,” DSU music student David Leavitt said. “They’ve been helping us in so many different ways – through open door policies, through advice, through mentorship, through resources.”

L-R: Dixie State University students David Leavitt, Danelle Sullivan and James B. Hetrick attend a gathering in support of music professors Glenn Webb and Ken Peterson. The professors were fired from their tenured positions at the university, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

Leavitt and many other students in attendance at the gathering said the professors’ dismissal will be a major detriment to their education.

“Both of them have shown without exception how much they care for their students, and I have seen them work so hard to support us,” Suzanna Collet, a senior music student, said.

Webb had been on administrative leave for more than six weeks before he was terminated Friday. DSU senior Gwyn Gable said his absence has been acutely felt since that time with adjunct faculty stepping in to teach in his place.

“I have a senior recital in three weeks and I haven’t been able to get the mentoring from Glenn that I’m supposed to,” Gable said, adding that she’s found it difficult in Webb’s absence to accomplish what’s necessary to graduate.

Webb’s absence, and now Peterson’s, has put an extra load on existing faculty, DSU professor of music Bryant Smith said.

“I hope this wasn’t a precedent that was set but I do not know,” Smith said. “I think when it comes down to it, we all love the people here, we all love the university and I think we all want to support the administration here – but we disagree with them in many ways.”

Webb had also been instrumental in developing a bachelor of music program at the university. With his dismissal, music student Danelle Sullivan said her plans to stay at the university for an additional year to complete the new program are in jeopardy.

Dixie State University students and faculty gather in support of music professors Glenn Webb and Ken Peterson. The professors were fired from their tenured positions, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

“This is simply not a stable enough educational environment to stay unless something happens that is drastic and that changes the environment,” Sullivan said.

She said an atmosphere of fear has been created due to a lack of transparency on the part of the administration when it comes to disciplinary measures like the one enacted Friday.

“There’s a lot of conjecture, there’s a lot of rumors and assumptions and a lot of pieces of the puzzle that aren’t factual evidence,” Sullivan said. “Part of the complaints of students is we don’t have an explanation for this, and it’s affecting our education so drastically that we deserve an explanation.”

She and many other students with whom St. George News spoke said they do not believe Webb and Peterson deserved to be fired.

“I’m 100 percent confident that there’s no legitimate reason for this,” Sullivan said.

“We’re very confident in the integrity of these faculty members,” Collet said, “and that they have been mistreated in some way.”

In an attempt to get more clear communication on the part of the administration, a coalition of DSU students recently launched a website seeking to “discover and confront any corruption that threatens the prosperity of our beloved school.”

Dixie State University student David Leavitt displays his T-shirt, with signatures of students and faculty in support of music professors Glenn Webb and Ken Peterson. The professors were fired from their tenured positions at the university, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

“The website is about protecting our education,” Sullivan said. “We are attempting to protect our reputation, protect the reputation of our degrees for those who are about to get degrees and really fight for our education – fight for the rights to the best St. George has to offer as far as teachers, and the best, in my opinion, is Glenn and Ken.”

Webb told the gathered students to keep working toward their education at DSU.

“You’ve worked to achieve your educational goals. You don’t need to be side-tracked by disappointment and poor judgment on anyone’s part.”

DSU’s statement said the university understands the difficulty students face when professors are terminated.

“Dixie State will continue to support students, faculty and staff and abide by DSU, state and federal policies and procedures,” the statement reads.

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