Caron: College must recognize due process before disciplining professor

The Lamron published an article on Nov. 15 about allegations of an inappropriate relationship between a former Geneseo student and a current history professor. The article sparked multiple conversations about sexual harassment, student-professor relationships and the precedent The Lamron has set. 

While it’s important for students to have these conversations, it is equally important for Geneseo to uphold the rule of law and due process. 

The rule of law is a legal principle which is simple to understand. In brief, it means that no one is above what the law says, including government officials. In the context of Geneseo, it means everybody must follow the rules—even those we disagree with. In the more specific case of the claims surrounding the history professor, however, it means the college must follow their own rules and procedures if they want to act against her. 

If the college chooses to fire her, they couldn’t simply yield to the demands of their students. Instead, they must abide by laws, court decisions, Geneseo policy and her contract. Since she has tenure, she has a right to a hearing under the Fourteenth Amendment. 

The professor has a right to a hearing because of two Supreme Court cases. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in Perry v. Sindermann that a non-tenured professor has a right to a hearing before dismissal if they can show that they have a property interest in their professorship. 

If they can, then college officials must “grant a hearing at [the professor’s] request, where [they] could be informed of the grounds for [their] non-retention and challenge their sufficiency,” according to the Legal Information Institute. Since the accused professor has tenure and was allegedly granted full professor status in 2009, she has a property-interest in her job and cannot be fired with prejudice. 

The other court case that would protect the alleged professor if the college tried to remove her is Cleveland Board of Regents v. Loudermill. In that decision, the court ruled that a “tenured public employee is entitled to oral or written notice of the charges against him, an explanation of the employer’s evidence and an opportunity to present his side of the story,” according to FindLaw. This court case gave precedence so that a respondent has the chance to prove his innocence or disprove the allegations against him.

If Geneseo acts outside the parameters of these decisions, they could be rightfully sued because the accused professor could claim her Constitutionally guaranteed property-interest rights were violated. If that were the case, the payout could be thousands of dollars, depriving Geneseo of cash that they otherwise could have used to reinvest in their students. 

Aside from the legal technicalities, there is also a moral reason why Geneseo should follow through on its commitment to the rule of law and due process: because a failure to do so would set an awful precedent. That is, if they were to punish the accused professor without due process, the administration could use that as justification to punish another faculty or staff member or student in the future for reasons students wouldn’t approve of. In turn, that will negatively affect any student accused of misconduct. 

It is not difficult to understand that many people at the college are suffering greatly from the accusations toward a current history professor, but it would be unwise for the college to dismiss her without due process. It would undermine the rule of law, fairness and liberty. For these reasons, students should demand the college strictly stay within what the law says