Claimant comes forward in misconduct case against John Rubadeau, LEO files grievance against 'U'

Wednesday, August 8, 2018 - 2:06pm

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File Photo/Daily

John Rubadeau, an award-winning senior English lecturer at the University of Michigan, was flooded with student support after his former typist Parker Procida sent a mass email to more than 4,000 alumni informing them their former professor was terminated by the University without benefits.

While alumni continue to voice support for Rubadeau, one former graduate student who asked to remain anonymous explains undergraduate students don’t understand the entire story behind Rubadeau’s termination.

“The reasons that seem to be circulating around the undergrads are not true,” he said.

The former graduate student expanded on this point by explaining allegations that Rubadeau was fired due to “unprofessional behavior” are inaccurate.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that it has anything to do with pronouns, or dyed hair or beard,” he said. “From my perspective as someone who has been in that department and knows how people feel about him and how people worried about him, it is far more than that. This story is about harassment, maybe of a sexual nature, maybe just of a repeatedly strange and inappropriate nature toward colleagues.”

The former graduate student had heard stories about Rubadeau from female colleagues even before he began working in Angell Hall.

“My female peers warned me about him and told me stories about him making them feel sexually vulnerable,” he said. “They didn’t want to be alone in a hallway with him.”

While his colleagues had warned him to avoid Rubadeau, the former graduate student emphasized it wasn’t until he began working on the same floor as the lecturer that he began to feel uncomfortable himself.

“Later on, when I began working in closer proximity to him, it became very clear he always wanted to be the center of attention,” the former graduate student said. “It was this weird behavior where if you didn’t pay attention to him, he would make you pay attention to him. I couldn’t shake him and it started to feel a little creepy. He would always be stopping me in the hall to talk to me and it got to the point where I felt I needed to wear headphones.”

The former graduate student sought outside advice regarding Rubadeau’s unusual behavior in the Fall 2017 term. He explained he wouldn’t have reported Rubadeau to the Office for Institutional Equity and spoken to English Department Chair David Porter if he hadn’t heard stories of Rubadeau making his female peers feel uncomfortable and openly objectifying women in the department.

The former graduate student explained Rubadeau stopped one of his close friends in the hall and told an inappropriate joke about a woman in his cohort.

“My friend felt ashamed and gross to have had that interaction,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gone on to talk to the department chair if I hadn’t known there were others. I felt I needed to add my voice to help others like my friend who felt less comfortable coming forward.”

The former graduate student explained Rubadeau’s behavior was atypical: He often stood too close to women and would reportedly burst randomly into colleague’s offices. He explained the incidences that were reported are hard to pinpoint as sexual harassment or could even be dismissed as social awkwardness.

“His misconduct is somewhere between sounding like an overreaction on my part or nothing at all and being something that I feel legally obligated to report,” he said about Rubadeau. “It’s not a situation where it was nothing, but it’s also not super clear in the University rules how he violated them.”

The former graduate student pointed out several of Rubadeau’s more well-known behaviors and explained how they came across as inappropriate, even within an academic context where professors are encouraged to reach out and build personal relationships with their students.

The graduate student explained the overwhelming number of pictures of former students on Rubadeau’s office walls could be construed as disturbing.

“Personally, I would find it strange to do that,” he said. “I ask permission before I take photos of my students and just the large quantity of photos makes it strange, but again depending on your perspective it can either be endearing or creepy.”

The former graduate student also pointed out Rubadeau — according to Rubadeau’s faculty page, which has since been deleted — hosts office hours at his home on the weekends.

Ultimately, the former graduate student said he felt morally obligated to talk to Porter because he wanted to look out for his female colleagues, especially after he talked to another English faculty member who reminded him he was not alone in his concerns regarding Rubadeau’s conduct and told him there was “a list a mile long” of complaints against Rubadeau.

The former graduate student said Porter was not taken aback when the two spoke about Rubadeau’s behavior.

“Porter said he was sorry for my experience and he wasn’t surprised,” he said. “He didn’t seem to question the nature of my complaints at all. As a grown man I was telling him another grown man was making me uncomfortable.”

The former graduate student stated Rubadeau began to avoid him after the meeting with Porter.

“He stopped approaching me, but it didn’t change that my female colleagues still found him creepy,” the former student said.

Several other complainants against Rubadeau have yet to respond to The Daily’s requests for comment.

After turning in his office keys Aug. 3 — the same day his name disappeared from the faculty website — Rubadeau is currently in the process of filing a grievance against the University through the Lecturers’ Employee Organization.

LEO Vice President Kirsten Herold, the union’s bargaining coordinator, said LEO is filing the grievance because leadership believes the accusations against Rubadeau do not warrant termination and the University followed improper protocol.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University followed standard protocol when terminating Rubadeau’s employment. Fitzgerald outlined the process, which includes administrators providing a written notice of intent to terminate and a written explanation regarding the reason for termination, informing both the employee and union of the review conference, scheduling a review conference where the union can speak on the lecturer’s behalf and finally providing a written notice of the results from the review conference.

Fitzgerald explained the employee can file a grievance after the review conference results.

Herold emphasized the gravity of the University’s decision to terminate Rubadeau’s contract before it expired.

“I can remember people not having their contracts renewed but to terminate a contract before it expires is pretty rare,” Herold said. “Something like this happens at the University probably less than once a year. It’s a serious thing.”

While LEO is working to represent the lecturer, many of Rubadeau’s former students continue to speak out in support of their former teacher.

A Facebook support group titled “Friends of John” currently features 339 members and a petition signed by 553 people. The group was created shortly after alumni and undergraduate students received news of Rubadeau’s termination.

Rubadeau’s current typist said the online petition she signed is one way people are attempting to sway the University, with a goal set at 1,000 signatures.

“We’re using it (the petition) mostly just as evidence of support for John,” the typist said. “Once we reach 1,000 signatures, which I believe we will, I will email it to Porter, Dean Martin and the regents.”

The typist explained despite numerous emails to University President Mark Schlissel, LSA Dean Andrew Martin and Porter, she, as well as numerous other concerned alumni, have been directed solely to Fitzgerald who shared the same message with everyone, explaining the University cannot comment on “personnel matters.”

The typist said she even tried to call Fitzgerald.

“They said they’d call me back but they never did,” she said. “Alumni and students are concerned by the lack of recognition our voices are getting from the administration and we’re just getting passed along by a PR department that doesn’t seem to care at all.”

In contrast, the former graduate student said he and many of his former University colleagues were relieved to hear of the termination of Rubadeau’s employment.

“The department seemed to handle the situation in a way that was appropriate,” he said. “This is not a big bad department chair firing an innocent man; this is a department chair who is looking out for the faculty members. I know enough things happened to make us feel thankful he’s gone. Most of the text messages I’ve gotten have been ‘Thank God. We never thought the University would actually listen to us and take our concerns seriously.’”

Whether Rubadeau will ever return to the University depends on the results of his grievance filing.

Herold explained the process of filing a grievance against the University is a lengthy process. After a lecturer is terminated they have 40 days to respond with a grievance. Herold is currently in the process of drafting Rubadeau’s grievance against the University.

“It’s a fair amount of work,” Herold said. “I have to walk through the evidence and make the argument that the contract was violated. I’m hoping to have a draft ready in the next couple of days for John to review.”

After LEO submits the grievance, there will be a hearing within the University with academic human resources and the college where Herold will make a case for the University’s violation of Rubadeau’s contract. The University will then have two weeks to issue a written response.

“In this case they will almost certainly deny the grievance and at that point we will take our argument to the union’s lawyer who will decide whether the case is strong enough to take to an outside arbitrator,” Herold said.

Both parties must agree on an arbitrator. The outside arbitrator must have no connection with either LEO or the University. Herold explained after an arbitrator is chosen it can take six to 12 months to even get on the arbitrator’s calendar. Then the two parties will have a semi-formal hearing where each party can bring forward witnesses to support their case and send briefs to the arbitrator. The arbitrator will have a month to issue an official ruling.

Herold said the arbitrator’s ruling will be the final decision.

“Either way the arbitrator decides is final,” Herold said. “If he sides with the University, John will be forced to drop his case. If he sides against the University, the University will have to make Rubadeau whole, which is something we will have to negotiate.”

If the arbitrator sides with Rubadeau, negotiations could lead to anything from Rubadeau receiving his benefits to the lecturer returning to the classroom; however, Herold emphasized it will be a lengthy process.

“We’re looking about 12 months down the road if the union decides to go to an arbitrator,” Herold said.

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