Award-winning senior lecturer, John Rubadeau fired amid allegations of misconduct

Monday, July 30, 2018 - 8:54am

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File Photo/Daily

This story has been updated to include new information  from LEO Vice President Kirsten Herold.

On Tuesday, July 24, John Rubadeau, a University of Michigan senior lecturer, sent out an email to his colleagues within the English department informing them the University was terminating his employment before the remaining four years of his contract had expired.

According to his email, the University removed the 78-year-old lecturer from his position without benefits, effective Aug. 3. Motives behind the University’s action against Rubadeau, an instructor in the English department for 33 years, remain unclear. Some of Rubadeau’s former students point to potential allegations of misconduct.

English department chair David Porter, as well as department undergraduate director Andrea Zemgulys declined to comment, and directed all questions to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald wrote the University cannot comment on personnel matters.

“Our approach is designed to respect the privacy of our employees,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email interview with The Daily. “I can tell you that the university takes the termination of any employee very seriously and in each case these matters are carefully considered.”

Rubadeau also declined to comment due to legal concerns.

“Sadly, on the advice of my lawyer, I can not respond to any direct questions,” Rubadeau wrote in an email to The Daily. “I have much to say, and I should certainly like to say it to you, but my tongue is legally tied.”

University protocol directs complaints against faculty and staff through the Office for Institutional Equity, which operates under the authority of Title IX to investigate claims of misconduct. OIE is headed by Pamela Heatlie, who came under fire recently by students for mishandling bias cases.

Less than 48 hours after Rubadeau received news of the University’s final decision, University alum Parker Procida, who works as Rubadeau’s typist, sent out a mass email to more than 4,000 former students informing them of the University’s decision and calling on them to contact University president Mark Schlissel on Rubadeau’s behalf.

“Most of you know and love John,” Procida wrote. “Three of John's favorite words are ‘Quid pro quo.’ The man that has taught us all and given so much of his life to educating young people deserves a little quid pro quo-ing from those that he has impacted.”

According to Procida, Rubadeau was fired due to allegations of misconduct.

“Because I'm his typist, I have read all of the allegations against John, and I can promise you they are 100% wrong,” Procida wrote in her mass email.

One of Rubadeau’s current typists, a recent University graduate alleged the misconduct findings were the result of six University faculty members speaking out against Rubadeau regarding a single incident. The Daily was unable to confirm such an incident with University officials.

Rubadeau is a member of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, a union representing more than 1,700 lecturers at the University. LEO Vice President Kirsten Herold, the union’s bargaining coordinator, said she had not heard about a single incident, but argued instead the accusations against Rubadeau are a compilation of minor incidents that made other faculty members uncomfortable. LEO is in the process of filing a grievance with the University on behalf of Rubadeau.  

“It should be clear that it wasn’t a student complaining but faculty,” Herold said. “Nobody is saying he’s not a good teacher. He’s clearly a good teacher; the issue is with his relationships with people in the department.”

Herold said she has represented several LEO members in collective bargaining with the University, several of which she thought were rightfully terminated. She does not believe, however, Rubadeau was given a fair chance.

“You would think the evidence would be significant but you would be wrong,” Herold said. “He is not being found guilty of sexual harassment. It’s a series of much smaller things that they used to make this decision.  There are no allegations of sexual harassment. He’s not been found guilty of things normally used to fire people.”

Herold explained in order to terminate the employment of a lecturer with several years still remaining on their contract, the University is required to provide a notice of termination followed by a review conference.

Rubadeau’s review conference was in the winter semester of 2018, but Herold claims the University already had their mind made up.

“It really seemed like there was nothing we could do,” Herold said. “It seemed like they already had it all decided at that point.”

According to Herold, Rubadeau was told several times he had to make changes to his everyday conduct, but University officials never informed him his conduct could end in termination.

“We’re filing a grievance because we believe the grievances against him are not significant enough and the proper steps were not taken before they terminated his contract,” Herold said.

Herold went on to explain Rubadeau was not accused of sexual harassment. She also claimed the University could have taken other steps before terminating Rubadeau’s employment.

We feel that there were a lot of things they could have done before skipping to terminating,” Herold said. “They didn’t discipline him. Instead they took the most drastic step and fired him.”

Herold alleged the University did offer Rubadeau the opportunity to voluntarily retire, but he was not interested in leaving the University on his own.

“He didn’t want to retire,” Herold said. “He’s angry and he feels he’s being unjustly accused.”

Ultimately, Herold explains Rubadeau was fired due to the University’s belief he had violated the University’s Standard Practice Guide. When asked how he had violated the guide, Herold pointed towards behavior that could be considered unprofessional.

“Dying your beard green is not professional you could argue that,” Herold said. “Obviously, students get a kick out of it, but where do you cross the line?”

Rubadeau is a well-known lecturer in the English department. He was the recipient of the Golden Apple Award in 2005, boasts a perfect 5.0 score on RateMyProfessor.com and was featured among a list of the “10 Best UMich Professors that Keep You on Your Toes” by College Magazine.

According to the typist’s account, Rubadeau met with Porter in the spring of 2017 to discuss his conduct. She claimed Rubadeau made changes requested and everything seemed to go back to normal until the winter semester of 2018, when Porter brought up a report with claims of harassment.

The typist pointed to the the front of Rubadeau’s course pack, in which he warns students his class is untraditional.

“(I)f you were offended by my use of the word ‘fucked’ in the first paragraph, don’t take this class,” the course pack reads.

The typist claimed Rubadeau tried to change his behavior in response to the meetings with Porter.

“(H)e stopped doing the ‘Fuck you’s’ and whatever, but it ended up not even mattering because they fired him anyway,” she said.

While Rubadeau is currently listed as a lecturer on MCommunity and on the English Department’s faculty website, he is no longer listed as the instructor in the LSA Course Guide for his classes, English 425 Advanced Essay Writing or English 325 The Art of the Essay. Both classes still have significant waitlists, with his 325 class currently showing a waitlist of 20 students.

 

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Courtesy of LSA Course Guide, University of Michigan

 

Jamie Bahoura, a University alum and another one of Rubadeau’s typists, said she took Rubadeau’s class, Advanced Essay Writing, purely for the experience. Bahoura said Rubadeau encouraged his students to meet outside of class: go to bars together, make a GroupMe. She also said the nature of their personal essays bonded the class together.

“It devastates me personally no one else will have that experience,” Bahoura said.

The typist said Rubadeau has been offered legal help from several former students and is currently trying to determine the best course of action going forward with his case to seek reinstatement at the University. She says the hope is if enough students come forward, Rubadeau will not have to pursue legal action.

Procida and Bahoura are both members of the newly created Facebook group “Friends of John,” designed to organize a network of students working together in support of Rubadeau.

The typist claimed Rubadeau did not reveal he was under investigation and meeting with Porter until after the termination of his contract. The typist claimed Rubadeau’s email to his colleagues was the first anyone else knew of the allegations.

However, Rubadeau’s silence and the lack of information regarding the nature of the misconduct has not stopped several students from voicing their support for him. In response to Procida’s mass email, Rubadeau’s former students have begun to contact Schlissel and even circulated hashtags like #BringBackJohn and #TeamRubadeau.

The typist said several alumni have contacted Schlissel.

Whether Rubadeau will continue to pursue legal action against the University remains unclear, and the exact reason behind the University’s decision to terminate Rubadeau’s contract is still unknown.

This is a developing story. Please check back at michigandaily.com for more information.