Faculty member under college investigation

By Timothy Bearden

An allegation of derogatory words spoken by a adjunct  faculty member in class prompted an investigation by the Dean of Students.

A member in the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department allegedly used slurs during the first day of his Introduction to Management course on Sept. 9.

Keisha Geter, sophomore marketing communication major  who was in the class, said professor Robert Kolodziej, also a senior accountant in the Controllers Office, went over his syllabus and added his own remarks at the end of his explanation on what was expected in the classroom.

“He said, ‘If you can’t handle me saying the words n—-r, f—-t or nappy-headed h–s, this is not the class for you and you can leave right now,'” Geter said.

Geter said she was “in shock” after Kolodziej allegedly made the statement.

“I could not believe it,” she said. “I looked around the class, and everybody had blank stares on their faces, like they didn’t know what was going on.”

Geter’s classmate Ryan Chambers, a senior arts, entertainment and media management major, said Kolodziej used the statement to shake up the class.

“One [reason] is definitely for shock value,” Chambers said. “Another one would be to show that anything goes in his classroom.”

Chambers said Kolodziej is one of the “best teachers [he’s] had here,” though it is only his first class with the teacher. He said the words the instructor used were in context with what is going to be taught during the course of semester and were not directed at any one group in particular.

Kolodziej declined to comment.

Annice Kelly, Columbia’s General Counsel, said all parties involved are asked to keep information about the investigation confidential. However, she said any comments made by parties involved wouldn’t compromise the investigation.

Geter said she left the class at break and went home to drop the course, which she said is required for her major. No other students have dropped the course, Chambers said.

On Sept. 12, Geter said she contacted president Warrick L.  Carter by e-mail about the incident. Carter then responded by e-mail: “I assure you that we are taking this matter very seriously. I have spoken with members of my senior administrative staff about the situation and appropriate steps will be taken to review and address this matter,” he wrote.

Geter said she spoke with Stephanie Downs, assistant director of Student Relations in the Student Affairs Office, about the incident as well.  Downs said she would take care of the matter on her end but was unable to give her any details of the investigation until it is complete, Geter said.

Kelly said the complaint would most likely fall under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,  and Student Affairs would not be able discuss the complaint filed by the student.

Mark Lloyd, the now-former chief marketing officer who spoke with The Chronicle before leaving his post at the college Sept. 25., said the administration is looking into the incident but has referred the matter to the Dean of Students.

“Until the investigation is complete there’s not much that we can tell,” Lloyd said. “We do have policies in place that are intended to create an environment where students can learn effectively and efficiently and we will abide by those policies.”

The Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policy states all individuals should treated with respect and that “Columbia will not tolerate harassment or discrimination based on religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability or ethnicity by or of its students, faculty or staff.”

However, the college also adheres to the Acadmic Freedom Policy in the faculty handbook that protects academic and artistic freedom. Academic Freedom protects a teacher’s freedom of speech in his or her classroom as it pertains to his or her course material.

Louise Love, vice president for Academic Affairs, said th policy is not a blanket policy and is regarded on a contextual basis.

“It really depends on the specifics,” Love said. “Sometimes an offensive word might be used in a context of talking about it as an offensive word. In other words, not using [it] to characterize anyone but to talk about language. It depends on the class and what the subject of the class is.”

Love said an instructor could use academic freedom in his or her defense, but said she was unsure whether he or she would be able to use the policy successfully, as the teacher would have to prove to the investigator that the words used were appropriate for the class.

Love said the investigation could take a few weeks to conclude.

Dennis Rich, chair of the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department, said this is the first time a student has complained about Kolodziej’s teaching methods to either Rich or the Dean of Students in the four years he’s taught at Columbia.