Former University of Colorado philosophy chairman Graeme Forbes warned faculty last November not to say a word about an outside report detailing pervasive sexual harassment within the department, saying he feared campus administrators would dissolve the department should the findings be made public.
Forbes issued those instructions in a Nov. 20 email to members of the philosophy department that was provided to the Daily Camera this week by a faculty member.
"Be aware that if this report leaks beyond the department and becomes a local, or worse, national, scandal, the continued existence of this department is improbable," Forbes wrote in the email, which was copied to College of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Leigh and Associate Dean Mary Kraus.
He added: "In some parts of the administration, this report has made the idea of dissolving the department appealing."
Forbes wrote that he had received the report from the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women Site Visit Program on Nov. 18, and that he would be distributing a "hard copy" to faculty by way of their university mailboxes.
Forbes instructed the email recipients not to show the report to anyone. He added that if he caught anyone discussing the report over the department's internal email list, he would shut the list down.
The independent report, released publicly Friday, detailed a climate unfriendly to women within the department going back to at least 2007, and described an environment of unprofessional sexualized behavior and bullying.
In reaction to the findings, CU administrators removed Forbes as chairman, replacing him with former linguistics chairman Andy Cowell, and suspended all graduate student admissions into the department until at least fall 2015.
CU spokeswoman Frances Draper said Forbes' emailed instructions were "to allow time for (the report) to be absorbed and next steps formulated." She said the department was informed at a Dec. 2 meeting that the report "would likely become public at some point."
When asked about whether he had threatened to dissolve the philosophy department, Provost Russ Moore — the campus' chief academic officer — said he and Leigh met last spring with Forbes, and conveyed the message that, "absent concrete actions to change the overall climate and culture of the department, all options were on the table."
Forbes and some of his philosophy faculty then "brought forward the idea of the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women Site Review, and (Leigh) and I agreed to support it as a first step," Moore said.
Forbes could not be reached Tuesday.
Faculty kept report quiet
Contacted by the Camera on Tuesday, several faculty members said they had been under the impression that the department's existence could be in jeopardy because of the report and its findings.
Bradley Monton, associate philosophy professor, said Forbes' email and a subsequent meeting on Dec. 2 with Moore and Leigh made it apparent that the administration was unhappy with the department.
Monton said the instructions sent by email and discussed at the meeting were clear: don't talk about the report, and don't share it with anyone outside the members of the department who also received it.
"My impression of the Nov. 20 email was that the university was clearly trying to keep the report internal," he said. "We, as a department, were clearly in hot water with the administration and our releasing the report unilaterally would have exacerbated that.
"So I followed the instructions in the email and didn't talk about the site visit report to anyone other than the faculty in our department."
Monton said he was frustrated that after all the required secrecy, CU's administration released the report Friday with very little warning.
Philosophy professor Michael Tooley said the administration did not invite faculty members to the discussion about how and when to make the report publicly.
"If we'd known the report was going to be released, we would've prepared a document that could've been released at the same time," he said. "The administration had no concern about us at all in this matter."
If faculty members were asked why CU suspended graduate student admissions into the philosophy department, they were told not to mention the report, philosophy professor Michael Zimmerman said.
He said faculty were instructed by administrators to say there were some issues within the department being dealt with internally.
"They were firm about that," Zimmerman said. "The threat of dissolution of the department was hanging in the background... . After the administrators left, we talked among each other and said, 'My gosh, we have to toe the line,' because it looked like any transgression was going to invite them to follow through on that threat to dissolve the department.
"It was a really scary time and we felt pretty much defenseless. We couldn't go public with this. We couldn't negotiate with the administration. We were in limbo there."
External chair decision
After receiving the external report, the department conducted an informal online survey to gather faculty opinions, said Monton, an associate professor.
Many of the survey questions centered around Forbes and whether bringing in an external chair — as suggested in the independent report — was a good idea.
According to survey data provided by faculty, 17 of 23 people voted that an external chair from another campus department was the best way to move forward.
In addition, 20 of 21 respondents said they agreed with the statement, "We do not find Graeme Forbes to be at fault here," and 19 of 21 people said they felt the external report contained "good, constructive" recommendations.
Monton said the dean's office conducted its own online survey of the department to see who faculty members would like to become the new chair and what types of traits they looked for in a chair.
CU declined to provide the Camera with data from that survey, saying it was protected by the deliberative process privilege.
Campus administrators have said they removed Forbes as chair, but Monton said it wasn't that simple. He said given the faculty's survey responses, it was a decision made by the department, which was then backed by Forbes and the administration.
"It wasn't an issue of (Forbes) stepping down or being forced out, it was just obvious to most everyone, including him, that bringing in an external chair was a step we needed to take," Monton said.