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Faculty cancel classes following federal scandal

Sam Stephenson, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Allegheny faculty and administrators have canceled classes on Friday, Oct. 3, following the arrest of Kirk Nesset. Nesset, professor of English, was arrested on federal charges of obtaining and distributing child pornography. There will be a community gathering in Shafer Auditorium Friday at 1 p.m. where students, faculty and staff will be able to express their feelings in a safe environment, according to Joe DiChristina, dean of students.

“It was a very emotional faculty meeting, very good faculty meeting,” said DiChristina about the meeting held on Oct. 2. “We just felt that the campus needed time to reflect and to try to come to an understanding to the best of our ability.”

After reports concerning the arrest surfaced Wednesday, Oct. 1, at approximately 4 p.m. from the Erie Times-News, the Allegheny community awaited official notice from the school. The following morning, President James Mullen sent a campus-wide email 15 hours after the initial report was released.

One of the things that I think is really important that’s come out from the students as well is the importance of recognizing both the importance of outrage and the importance of compassion in the moment.”

— Matthew Ferrence

A faculty meeting was originally scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 2, however, after the community learned of the news the meeting had a different tone. Several students planned to organize a protest, or student gathering, to share their disdain with the college.

“It’s really concerning that they took so long to let everyone know about something so prevalent,” said Melanie Perez, ’15.

Matthew Ferrence, assistant professor of English, is taking over one of Nesset’s classes and actively discussed the situation in his own classes on Thursday.

“I’m supportive of the students voicing their opinions, particularly sharing their frustrations with communication and what’s going on,” Ferrence said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with students today, a lot of conversations with faculty today about things that are happening. One of the things that I think is really important that’s come out from the students as well is the importance of recognizing both the importance of outrage and the importance of compassion in the moment.”

Many students and faculty believe that the time it took for the college to make an official statement is unacceptable.

“A lot of time passed between when people learned through social media and through the good work of journalism,” Ferrence said. “We all learned about this independently and it wasn’t until mid-morning today that we learned about it officially. I think that’s where a lot of the frustration lies. There is a desire for some communication to have happened before that. I, too, share that desire. There may be very legitimate reasons why things couldn’t be communicated, but news travels very quickly now.”

Students and faculty have already begun to discuss the situation in their classes, although they are still waiting for an official statement from the administration as to why so much time had passed for a detailed communication.

“It was wonderful to actually talk about it and not have people skirt around the issue and have people be very frank with one another emotionally and objectively,” said Perez talking about student reactions. “I wish that we had an open talk about this where it was mediated. I think this is something that Allegheny should confront head on.”

According to the faculty handbook, a formal complaint must be submitted to the provost in order to terminate a tenured or nontenured professor. In Nesset’s case, his cause for potential termination is a violation of moral turpitude. If a written letter had been submitted to the provost, the provost would then decide if the case is prima facie. By definition the provost deemed the facts of the case viable, the case would continue. If the charges warrant further investigation, the next step is to seek advice from the tenured members of the faculty council. If a prima facie case is found, then an official and thorough procedure will begin that involves conversation with the professor, administration and potentially an appellate process.

Though Nesset has already formally resigned and his resignation has been accepted by the provost, much debate has occurred over whether or not he should have been fired first.

For expediency purposes, resigning his position cuts all ties from the college immediately instead of a longer, more thought out process if Nesset had been formally terminated.

In the wake of such an event, Ferrence believes that the issue remains in the lack of communication.

“I think people are feeling anxiety in that gap not knowing what to do or what to think. You don’t know how to react, it’s such a difficult situation.”

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4 Responses to “Faculty cancel classes following federal scandal”

  1. Robert on October 2nd, 2014 10:36 pm

    What is concerning about this situation is that it sounds as though this is being treated as some type of academic exercise by exploring the moral or philosophical implications of the incident at hand. In reality there is no need for reflection, as the situation is incredibly clear and simple:

    A professor is alleged to have committed a felony while in the employment of the college which, if it is not already, should be grounds for immediate termination. The college’s indecision and inability to take immediate an unequivocal action upon learning of the charges is the only thing that deserves reflection and correction.

    The college needs to indicate that it has taken the appropriate steps to ensue the safety of the students and community, adjust the class schedule as needed and get back to normal as quickly as possible. The more attention that is drawn to this situation, the more negative it will become for both students and the college.

  2. Susan on October 3rd, 2014 9:57 am

    What is there to do at the current point in time bur for students but reflect? If the college provides the appropriate outlets for students to express and process their feelings that is the best course of action.

    You are entirely wrong, albeit appropriately emotional, to suggest the only thing that needs reflection is the 15 hours it took the college to organize and send a campus wide email.

    The resignation of this faculty member is the best outcome in terms of expedience of his disassociation. If bad press, as opposed to student well being is one of your concerns, then this is far and away the most immediate solution as opposed to a headline months from now once the proper paper work has been asking why it took so long to “officially” to terminate this professor. Situations like this one are rare. Let’s work towards a solution and prioritize the issues. First students outreach and the image control.

    Let’s keep the focus on the issue at hand; facilitating the appropriate avenues for students to understand and overcoming the situation.

  3. Respected Creative Writing Prof Charged With Downloading Child Porn on October 3rd, 2014 4:03 pm

    […] Gawker reached out to Allegheny College for comment, but none arrived by press time. Apparently the college has cancelled classes to reflect on the news. […]

  4. rlee64 on October 4th, 2014 12:58 pm

    I saw in the paper that counseling and massages were offered to students as a result of the scandal. Massages?! I’m nonplussed . . . .

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Faculty cancel classes following federal scandal