U.S. Department of Education investigators are investigating allegations that the University of the Pacific discriminated against and retaliated against a professor.
The Department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating the private university’s treatment of Professor Richard Paxton for potential violations of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in any education program. receiving federal funding.
Paxton sued the Forest Grove-based university earlier this year after being suspended last year over complaints from students over his alleged comments about gender and ethnicity.
According to the “Notice of Allegations” sent to Paxton from Pacific, among the comments in question was a statement Paxton allegedly made in class that “every person has a gender,” ignoring the gender identity of the agent and not binary. Students in a separate class claimed that Paxton described Native Americans as “warriors” and “aggressive,” among other comments.
These alleged student complaints led Pacific to launch an external investigation into Paxton’s Title IX.
That external investigation was dismissed last week, but in a letter to Paxton, Pacific Provost and vice president of academic affairs Ann Barr-Gillespie said Pacific would now conduct its own review under university policies. . As a result, Paxton will remain on administrative leave from school.
The university said it could not comment on personnel matters or issues related to pending litigation, but confirmed that Paxton’s case is now in the provost’s office.
“We are very pleased that, now that the Title IX process is complete, we can proceed expeditiously in accordance with established university policies and procedures,” Pacific said.
Paxton’s attorney, Robin DesCamp, says it is not Paxton but in fact Pacific who is at fault under Title IX.
“It is an extraordinary step for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to launch a formal investigation into a university,” DesCamp said. “The agency clearly believes there is enough smoke in this case to research what we believe to be a conflagration.”
DesCamp said she filed a complaint with the federal office on behalf of Paxton last winter.
“I am encouraged that the federal government has agreed to investigate this matter and help us find answers,” DesCamp said.
The Civil Rights Office will investigate two specific allegations:
- That the university did not follow federal regulations in implementing Title IX after sex discrimination complaints were filed against Paxton.
- And, Pacific retaliated against Paxton on the basis of gender by sending a letter to all employees who leaked details of his Title IX investigation that were not even disclosed to him.
In a letter to DesCamp, the Civil Rights Office said its investigation could be resolved in several ways:
One possibility is that Pacific may submit a voluntary written agreement agreeing to take action to resolve the Paxton-related allegations.
If Pacific does not do so before the Civil Rights Office completes its investigation, the office has said it will determine whether Pacific is acting in compliance or in violation of Title IX.
“[I]In the event that a non-compliance is found, the OCR will pursue a written agreement between the OCR and the university in which the university undertakes to take specific measures to comply with the applicable laws and regulations ”, a writes the civil rights office.
In its statement, the University of the Pacific noted that the decision to open an investigation into Paxton’s complaints does not reflect any opinion from the Department of Education.
“It is the responsibility of the OCR to deal with the allegation fairly and impartially, in accordance with regulatory requirements,” Pacific said, citing the Civil Rights Office.
It is not known how long the federal investigation will take.
Paxton’s attorney, DesCamp, said if the OCR finds out that Pacific has violated Title IX requirements and the university takes no action to address it, it could affect Pacific’s federal funding.
Even though Pacific is a private institution, many of its students still rely on student loans and financial aid from the federal government, she noted.
DesCamp said she would file a further complaint with the OCR as well as a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission regarding the secondary investigation conducted by the Provost Marshal to determine whether Paxton violated university policies.