Guest Editorial: Huxley Professor Paul Stangl causes student to change majors

Submitted by Kai Bjarke, Huxley College student. A response to Western’s handling of disciplinary actions against Huxley professor Paul Stangl.

I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to pursue a career in urban planning. As a high school student, I had heard nothing but good things about Western’s planning program, so I made the decision to only apply to Western.

When I registered as an Urban Planning and Sustainable Development pre-major at the beginning of fall quarter 2018, my advisor suggested I register for Intro to Urban Planning, which was being offered exclusively by Huxley College professor Paul Stangl.

On Nov. 7, I sent a Canvas message to the other 55 students in Paul Stangl’s Intro to Planning class, announcing that I had dropped the course after learning of the predatory conduct of our professor.

Over a year after the Equal Opportunity Office announced that they had found “a preponderance of evidence” proving that Stangl was guilty of sexually harassing two teaching assistants, yet the only repercussions he has faced as a result were a ban from teaching classes during summer session 2018 and a two-year break from leading field courses, a veritable slap on the wrist compared to the gravity of his actions.

A timeline

Infographic by Ben Olson
Originally published in “Professor disciplined for inappropriate conduct” by Zoe Deal

In July 2016, a student requested that the EOO investigate allegations of predatory behavior against Stangl. The student said Stangl coerced her and her fellow teaching assistant into arriving early for a field course in San Francisco, where he served them a copious supply of alcohol and made comments that grew more emotionally manipulative and inexcusably predatory as the night went on. She made very clear in her statement that she was concerned about the professor’s reaction or the retaliation he might pursue if he found out that she had reported him.

Stangl confirmed the student’s worst fears when he called the only other student present during the incident to find out which one of them had reported him and to ask “Why would you do this to me?”

This marked one of the earliest and most devastating instances of the mishandling of this case by the EOO and the university’s administration as a whole. Stangl should have been informed that he could not contact the complainant as it could be considered intimidation, according to EOO policy. When this was brought to his attention, Stangl claimed he wasn’t aware of the policy, which was perplexingly decided to be a valid defense.

In his written response to the investigation sent to the EOO, Stangl said, “The reason for my exaggerated response derives from my experiences at Western, where over the past several years, I have increasingly come to feel myself under attack.”

He said he feared punishment from the administration, and even assumed his job was on the line, but those repercussions never truly manifested.

On Jan. 29, 2018, as a direct result of the administration’s reluctance to make this information available, Stangl was approved to serve on the Senate Library Committee by a president and committee chair who claimed to be ignorant of Stangl’s conduct.

On Feb. 20, president Sabah Randhawa sent out a campus-wide email with the subject line “Nurturing a Safe Campus Community” in which he brazenly claimed that “Students at Western should be free to focus on their academic goals and their bright futures beyond graduation,” and that “Western is committed to your safety and success.”

Stangl is still the only professor teaching the required Intro to Planning course this fall quarter. He is awaiting summer 2020 when his sanctions will be lifted and he can resume the very same field course that he used as an opportunity to harass his victims.

What will it take for Western to understand the fear that students feel when they are forced to build a relationship with a predator in order to secure a place in their major?

It would be incredibly easy to go into detail about the disgust that students have felt toward both Stangl and the administration as a result of this issue. Students and faculty alike have come forward to express their anger through interviews with the Western Front and the AS Review, and the student response to SASHA’s (Students Against Sexual Harassment and Assault) accountability demonstrations has been one of disbelief that he is still a tenured professor.

However, none of that seems to matter to our university; one that prides itself on having a “zero tolerance policy” for this kind of conduct, while doing nothing to warn prospective students of the misconduct that faculty are allowed to get away with under Western’s narrow definition of harassment.

So what is there to do? All I know is that I won’t let this university treat my future career as subordinate to that of a predator’s. I have made the decision to abandon my goal of applying to the Urban Planning major this spring and will instead be transferring away from Western by the end of the school year. This university has proven itself to be inept when it comes to determining a professor is a danger to students. I can’t dedicate myself to a major where prerequisites require constant contact with a predatory person like Paul Stangl.

If Western doesn’t want other students to restructure their futures in order to avoid the people whose mentorship we pay tuition to receive, they should either commit wholeheartedly to their zero-tolerance policy or stop using it as a selling point for the university, because in my experience and that of so many others, it’s nothing but empty rhetoric.

 

Frontline: opinions of the editorial board

I couldn’t agree more that the entirety of this case was handled irresponsibly. Stangl should have faced far harsher disciplinary actions from the get go.

There is no excuse to have Stangl teaching on our campus. Western’s code of faculty ethics states, “the faculty avoid and condemn sexual harassment, intimidation, and the exploitation of students. The confidential nature of the relationship between professor and student is respected, and any exploitation of students for private advantage is avoided by the faculty member who acknowledges significant assistance from them.” Clearly this is not the code of ethics Stangl follows.

Students deserve to receive their educations without fear of harassment or discrimination. It is unethical and disreputable that the Equal Opportunity Office and the Huxley College have allowed Stangl to remain employed. This is an unforgivable failure on the parts of Western and those involved in the decision to keep Stangl.

This narrative is too widely accepted every day. Another perpetrator continues his life unscathed due to his privilege while those around him have no choice but to face him on a daily basis.

I hope one day Western will learn how to protect and support their students in the way they claim to. I hope that your next school offers you the safety, validation and understanding that Western hasn’t.

The Western Front Editorial Board is composed of Alyssa Bruce, Julia Furukawa and Ray Garcia

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