Belknap
Belknap

The fallout from the controversy surrounding University of Colorado tenured sociology professor Patti Adler continued this week, as the chairwoman of the department — who reported Adler to the Office of Discrimination and Harassment — decided to step down.

"I had no idea that following a very reasonable university policy would result in this national controversy," said Joanne Belknap, who will stay on as a professor and researcher. "But even how it's unfolded, I wouldn't have handled it any differently. I acted out of protection for students, ensuring that they have a safe educational environment at the University of Colorado Boulder."

Belknap had not spoken publicly about the situation surrounding Adler or her role in it until now.

Adler told students in December that she had been asked to retire because of a lecture on prostitution in her "Deviance in U.S. Society" course.

The lecture is taught as a skit using undergraduate teaching assistants, who portray various types of prostitutes and pimps in front of the 500-person class.

Concern over the skit began when CU officials, including Belknap, heard from students who felt there would be "negative consequences" for anyone who refused to participate in the demonstration, according to a campuswide message from Provost Russ Moore.

Moore suggested that Adler may have violated the university's sexual harassment policy by creating a hostile environment for teaching assistants and students.

Adler maintained that her students participated in the skit willingly and always had the option not to participate

Belknap, along with Steven Leigh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, decided last fall to pull Adler from teaching the deviance class this spring. The administration eventually reversed course and allowed Adler to return to teach the class after it passed a review.

Adler has since announced her retirement at the end of May, and she has canceled the skit in her spring semester class.

CU officials said Belknap showed "strong leadership" during "difficult circumstances."

"She followed the university's (Office of Discrimination and Harassment) procedures as prescribed by policy," said CU spokesman Ryan Huff. "As chair, she did what she felt best to ensure that a positive learning environment for students would be supported."

Welfare of students

Faculty members may have influenced Belknap's decision to resign by calling for a discussion on her future as chairwoman ahead of a Tuesday faculty meeting.

In an email addressed to Belknap and sent to the faculty, professor Michael Radelet said he and many senior faculty members wanted to go over Belknap's employment evaluation and discuss the chairmanship for next academic year.

Many faculty members, including Radelet, did not respond to Daily Camera emails or phone messages.

Adler declined to comment for this story.

Huff said Belknap's decision to resign from her position as chair was "her own."

"Dean Leigh supports professor Belknap and appreciates her service in leading the sociology department," Huff said. "He respects her decision to resign as chair and assume regular faculty duties."

Associate professor Hillary Potter said all professors have an obligation to report harassment if they hear about it.

Potter said Belknap also tried to promote equality in teaching assignments and pay.

"I'm concerned because it feels like when she got into the position, there was a lot of pushback on a lot of the things she was trying to do, all for the sake of bettering the department and assuring equality and assuring that we were attending to our student population," Potter said.

"Joanne was very brave in what she was trying to do, and bold. Everyone needs to recognize it was about the welfare of the students."

Department's future

Belknap said she has informed the administration that she wants to step down, but she is flexible on the timing.

Associate Dean Ann Carlos wrote in an email Wednesday to faculty members that administrators wanted to work through "a number of issues" before finding a replacement.

Carlos also sent out an online survey about leadership and the "sociology future vision."

The survey asks faculty members to describe their long-term vision for the department and who they think might be a good fit as chair.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or kutas@dailycamera.com.