Patti Adler
Patti Adler (Courtesy photo)

University of Colorado officials told faculty members in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that there have been long-term concerns about tenured sociology professor Patti Adler's course "Deviance in U.S. Society."

"What we know based on our discussion with sociology is that there have been concerns expressed over the years, and unfortunately these concerns have not been dealt with in an effective manner," said Steven Leigh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, according to an audio recording of the meeting provided to the Daily Camera.

During the 70-minute meeting, which was closed to the media and the public, many faculty members angrily expressed their concerns and frustrations with the situation surrounding Adler.

Adler, who teaches the 500-person deviance course, asks undergraduate teaching assistants to portray prostitutes in a skit as part of one lecture. Adler told the Camera earlier this week that the skit was investigated by the Office of Discrimination and Harassment, which found it to be a "risk" to the university, she said.

From there, administrators gave her an ultimatum, she said. Adler said she was told she could take a buyout and retire immediately, or have the course reviewed by the sociology department.

Students filmed without consent?

After the faculty meeting Wednesday, administrators said in a news conference that the "main concern" with Adler's course was that students were being photographed or filmed without their consent during the skit.

"With any course involving something unusual, like photographing students, we ask for consent forms to be signed," Leigh said. "For example, when we photograph someone in a theater rehearsal, they have to sign consent forms for this. We were concerned in this course that maybe there are cell phone videos being taken or other kinds of videos that would put students in a position where we didn't have consent on these issues."

Adler said all students know they are being videotaped and often ask for copies as keepsakes. She said she's never heard the administration's claim that the concern is about consent for photos and videos.

Leigh's concern about student consent has not been mentioned by administrators before.

In an email to the campus community Monday, Moore raised concerns about student teaching assistants who "felt there would be negative consequences for anyone who refused to participate in the skit," and suggested the lecture may have violated CU's sexual harassment policy.

Adler said she was told by administrators earlier this month that if she stayed at the school rather than retire, she would not be allowed to teach the deviance course in the spring.

On Tuesday, however, administrators reversed their decision not to allow Adler to teach the course in the spring. Instead, they said she could teach the deviance course in the spring if a review of the course by the sociology department finds the class to be appropriate.

Leigh acknowledged that the administration "reversed course," saying that officials wanted to abide by the rules of self-governance and allow the sociology department to handle the issue internally.

"They're scrambling for cover," Adler said Wednesday. "The messages are so conflicting and so contradictory."

Adler said she's never heard any complaints about her deviance course in the 26 years she's been at CU. She wondered why, if administrators were aware of complaints in the past, they didn't discuss them with her to resolve the issues.

Adler said she hasn't made a decision yet whether to sign her retirement contract, which she said is due to administrators by Jan. 6, or allow the sociology department to review her course.

"The atmosphere feels chilly in there," Adler said of her department.

Adler confirmed that she received an email from sociology chairwoman Joanne Belknap this week informing her of the option to have the course reviewed before the start of the spring semester. Adler said that was the first she'd heard of the option to have the course reviewed before the spring.

Belknap has not returned multiple voicemail messages over the last few days. She took over as chairwoman of sociology at the start of this semester.

During the CU football recruiting scandal in 2004, Belknap criticized the university's handling of sexual assault cases. In the aftermath of that scandal, she was asked by the athletic department to help change the campus climate and reportedly put on an awareness class for the football team.

'That's a threat'

Also during the meeting of faculty members Wednesday, associate sociology professor Leslie Irvine called for the resignation of Moore, the provost, because of the email blast he sent out Monday.

"In the statement Russell Moore issued to the campus community on Monday, Dec. 16, he insinuated that professor Adler is under investigation for sexual harassment, and he did not come out and say this, but this was the implication," Irvine said after the meeting in an interview with the Camera. "That is not true, and it was irresponsible for him to even imply that. In my view, because his statement can and, in fact, has been understood that way, I have no confidence that he can effectively oversee the faculty, which is the main part of his job."

Adler said she felt threatened by parts of Moore's emailed statement, which said "any employee" who violates CU's sexual harassment policy "is subject to discipline up to and including termination."

Adler has claimed that in meetings, CU administrators told her she'd be fired without benefits if they heard one complaint against her.

In the meeting with the faculty, Moore said he had concrete evidence of complaints from more than one student. He would not elaborate on the number of complaints when pushed by faculty members.

"That's a threat," she said. "They're smearing me, and they're threatening me. It's demeaning and scary. I'm sure that's what they're really trying to do."

Contact Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106, kutas@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/sarahkuta.