‘Morale is at an all-time low’; protesters at Dixie State University ask for answers in wake of professor firings

Demonstrators protest the firing of Dixie State University professors in front of the university in St. George, Utah, May 3, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — On the eve of commencement at Dixie State University, a group of protesters gathered in front of the college in St. George to ask the university to reinstate two terminated music professors who have helped countless students over the years reach graduation day.

Students, community members and university faculty and staff lined the sidewalks of the intersection of University Avenue and 100 South to make their thoughts known to passersby Thursday afternoon.

Fired Dixie State University professor Ken Peterson demonstrates across the street from the university in St. George, Utah, May 3, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

“This is to raise awareness about what this university has been systematically doing to faculty members for the last 3 ½ years,” Ken Peterson said as he waved a placard asking “Is DSU administration corrupt?” to passing motorists.

Peterson and Glenn Webb, both music professors of over 10 years at DSU, were fired in March for violating university policy, according to a statement issued by DSU.

The university has declined to go into detail about the policy violations of either professor. However, in his termination letter that Peterson made public shortly after his firing, he is accused of disclosing confidential information about another professor’s employment, slandering university President Richard B. Williams and “failing to demonstrate professional standards of behavior,” among other alleged violations of policy.

The details of Webb’s termination have not been released, and Webb said he does not dispute the university’s account of his actions. But neither he nor Peterson and their lawyer – not to mention a plethora of colleagues and students – agree that either professor’s actions constitute termination.

“I don’t think it’s a fireable offense, especially someone who’s put 16 years into the music program and has turned out some amazing talent,” Christie Nielson said at the protest. “I think it’s a huge loss to this university.”

L-R: Gwyn Gable and Christie Nielson protest the firing of Dixie State University professors in front of the university in St. George, Utah, May 3, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

Nielson was employed by the university as Webb’s secretary; she said she has quit her job at the college because of the firings.

“I love my job,” she said. “I would have stayed for 25 more years, but I couldn’t be with an administration that I couldn’t respect or trust.”

Another faculty member who wished to remain anonymous said students and teachers deserve transparency from the university administration.

“The question you have to ask is why would they fire both of us in the middle of the semester on the same day,” Peterson said. “Especially considering that myself, my wife and Dr. Webb are all key witnesses in defense of Varlo Davenport as he continues to pursue his federal case against this university for violation of his civil rights.”

Davenport, a theater professor, was terminated in 2015 despite a faculty review board clearing him of wrongdoing after a student accused him pulling her hair. He was also acquitted of a single charge of assault in July 2016.

Read more: Jury finds Varlo Davenport ‘not guilty’

Davenport was among the first of “dozens” of other faculty members who have “not left on their own terms,” Peterson said.

Faculty morale is at an all-time low and student morale is at an all-time low,” he said.

“We were thriving four and five years ago. The last couple of years of President Nadauld’s tenure, this was the fastest growing university in the state,” Peterson said. “I was assigning 100 voice students a semester. Last semester, I believe because of the aftermath of this political nightmare, I only assigned 36 students.”

Several students in support of Webb and Peterson were present at the protest.

Ken was my mentor before they ripped him away from me,” Gwyn Gable said.

Gable, who will graduate Friday, said her final semester was thrown into disarray because of the abrupt dismissal of the music professors. She said the university did provide a replacement but there is still no permanent replacement in their place.

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

Demonstrators protest the firing of Dixie State University professors in front of the university in St. George, Utah, May 3, 2018 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

Webb and Peterson still have a faculty review board hearing to appeal their termination, but Peterson said the university has been slow to respond to their appeal request.

“Dr. Webb and I requested a hearing that we are due a month ago,” Peterson said, “and the university had 20 business days to respond or convene the hearing, and that was a week ago. But we haven’t heard one word.

“So, we’re waiting for our chance to defend ourselves.”

When asked by St. George News to comment on the protest and the terminations, the university referenced a previously issued statement.

“The University understands that when professors are terminated, it can be a difficult time for those who were taught, mentored, and influenced by these individuals,” the DSU statement reads. “Policy violations do not erase professors’ legacies and all of the good that has been achieved over the years.”

“We don’t have a new statement specifically about the protest,” DSU spokeswoman Jyl Hall said Thursday.

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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8 Comments

  • Lastdays May 4, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    The whole purpose of changing name to “Trailblazers” was to “unite us, heal past wounds and make us proud to support it”
    And the new name and mascot will help ” give us a new identity ” Really Biff ? What group came together and spun that ridiculous rhetoric ?

    Well, I liked the old Rebel identity better, and always will, where there was never this hidden agenda to fire professors as a result of clandestine meetings and decisions made by whoever is behind all this. I hope they find out the real story so we can be re-united, heal wounds inflicted by dishonesty and be proud of a Newer identity sprinkled with a little Integrity here and there.

  • RadRabbit May 4, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    Not sure on all the issues with this case however tenure in general is a joke no matter what job your you should be able to be let go if your not performing.

    • No Filter May 5, 2018 at 8:49 am

      Tenure is not the issue here, the problem is that the university president is firing people who supported Mr Varlo, who btw was found innocent. The fact that this president is breaking the law by not conducting the review board in the time frame that is required shows he has something to hide. This story is growing everyday as more and more teachers and students are leaving because of policy violations. Students who are standing up for the fired professors are getting threats from faculty and even the student body president. I want to see proof of what these professors did, not heresay. I support these students protesting 100%. This college and town has become so corrupt we might as well change our name to Washington D.C.

  • comments May 4, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    corruption is not an uncommon thing in college administrations. Whatcha gonna do?

  • No Filter May 5, 2018 at 9:08 am

    We need to fight back against this corruption, today it is a college professor, but who will be next? The city mayor and presidents Williams are all buddy buddy and need to be put in check. A city mayor should not be on the school board of trustees, to me that’s a conflict of interest. The other power house behind the school is Intermountain Healthcare, who is outsourcing jobs to save money that effected hundreds of local jobs. It seems very clear to me that this is all about money and ego, like how president Williams made students and family sit out in the sun during graduation just to show off his new stadium instead of using the indoor hall that they have always used, you should have seen all the poor parents sweating in the crowd. Well “Biff” I have news for you, your football stadium is not that great, I have seen high school stadiums with better quality amenities than your POS. I am sure you will take the cowards way out and quit soon, just take your money and run before you get thrown in jail.

    • Icomments2 May 5, 2018 at 8:23 pm

      Amen!!!

      • Icomments2 May 5, 2018 at 8:25 pm

        Another great eyesore this town didnt need!!!

  • Icomments2 May 5, 2018 at 8:19 pm

    I stand by my child in this fight! Glenn is a great person and so is Perterson! Those two men didnt deserve this and the new so called president should be fired immediately! Anyone that did what this man did is a disgrace to teachers all over the world and he should be jailed for it! Just wait and watch whats happens karma is a B!!! He is pulling this university down with him!!! Biff you are drowning fast ol boy!!!

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