A Statement of Solidarity with the English Department
The Graduate Employees Organizing Committee (GEOC) stands with employees against all forms of harassment, intimidation, and threats to their safety and security. With permission of the graduate employees affected by the behavior of Dr. Barrett Watten as described in this recent Chronicle of Higher Education article (non-paywalled version), I want to make our stance perfectly clear. GEOC will stand with, represent, and advocate for any and all employees who do not feel safe in their work environment. We stand with members who are made to defend themselves against vengeful actions taken in response to their speaking out. In line with our support of our members, GEOC has the following criticisms regarding the handling of the ongoing investigation into Dr. Watten:
Timeliness: The length of time Dr. Watten has been silently allowed to perpetrate intimidation and harassment in the English Department and in his larger field is grossly unacceptable. GEOC has been informed of nearly two decades of reports and complaints against Dr. Watten that appear to have never been acted upon. To combat University silence, a collection of witness statements, corroborations, and examples of Dr. Watten’s behavior has been documented on this website. WSU’s inaction on this issue demonstrates a serious lack of concern for employee safety, and a disregard for the wellbeing of any person connected to Dr. Watten. WSU should now act as quickly as reasonable processes allow to prevent any further harm.
Publicity: Wayne State University has seemed primarily concerned with public image, choosing to communicate about the investigation in a letter that included no names and no details. This letter fails to provide information about the actions under investigation, frustrating efforts for a transparent and efficient investigation, and may be confusing for people who have had encounters with Dr. Watten that they do not know, or do not think are germane to the investigation. This letter does nothing to assist in student security. It appears to be nothing more than an attempt to mollify affected employees with a lukewarm rhetorical gesture.
Inaction: WSU has further failed to provide meaningful safety and security against Dr. Watten’s threats of retaliation. They have failed to put a stop to retaliatory DOSO hearings against primary employee complainants. One employee is still appealing a blatantly vindictive complaint made to DOSO against them. The University has failed to adequately limit the access Dr. Watten has to complainants. They have failed to remove his authority to grade students during the course of this investigation. This level of inaction tacitly supports Dr. Watten’s retaliation threats, and warns students not to speak up, lest they put themselves in danger of retaliation.
The investigation shall not keep GEOC from voicing its unwavering support of our members. Whatever the result of the investigation, GEOC believes the academy is no place for violence of any kind, and we will continue to act as a collective to protect the interests of our members. GEOC calls for Dr. Watten to be suspended for the course of the investigation. Dr. Watten’s office should be relocated or closed while the investigation is underway to ensure that other employees in the English department are not intimidated by his continued presence. Dr. Watten’s temper is well known and well documented. That temper has the effect of intimidating witnesses into silence and hampering the investigation. Finally, WSU should communicate to all English Department staff, faculty, and students, as well as Dr. Watten’s former students both graduate and undergraduate, that Dr. Watten is under investigation for threats, harassment, and intimidation. That communication should make clear who affected witnesses should contact to report any information they might have.
Graduate Employee Organizing Committee #AFT6123