UM Professor Accused of Harassing Student Says it Never Happened
STATEMENT BY UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA PROF. G.G. WEIX:
In recent days I have been accused in news-media of harassing a student, Taylor Powell, in the University Center on the University of Montana campus, and sending my students continue the harassment. Emphatically, nothing could be further from the truth. I have a strong and abiding commitment to freedom of expression on campus and everywhere in public life. I reserve my right to disagree with others speaking in the public square, and to voice my disagreement in a civil and respectful way, but I would never interfere with the same rights exercised by others no matter how vehemently I might disagree with their points of view.
I did approach Taylor Powell on the morning of January 24, 2019, to speak to her about a poster she displayed reading “Big Government Sucks.” Ms. Powell and I had an exchange over the importance of government in light of the recent partial shut-down, which required Transportation Safety Administration employees to work without pay, and of the effort on UM’s campus to raise money for the workers. I departed on what I thought was reasonably amicable terms, given our policy disagreements. I did not introduce myself at the time, either by name or as a professor.
Meanwhile, I am teaching a 400-level anthropology course, entitled Fieldworking, as I have several times over the last few years. The course has 33 specific exercises as assignments for undergraduates learning ethnographic research methods. The emphasis of the course is observation and conversation in different sites, typically those on a college campus. Since 2005, I have taught approximately 40 students who have completed field exercises at UM with between 10-15 exercises done in class by each student through the semester. Some examples of field exercises for Spring 2019 include: The Forester's Ball (Feb.2), Irish Studies Program, (group interview of the Director), the Mountain Bus Line, The Kyi Yo Club, the International Programs and Global Engagement Office, the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, and the University Center, including groups tabling for various causes in the Atrium.
On January 24, 2019, during my 12:30 PM class time, I assigned students in groups of three to go to the University Center and to observe and gather information for 10-15 minutes, to take notes, ask questions if they wish, and to return to class to
compare their field notes. I orally instructed students to be polite and respectful, and to gather information in the public venue of the Atrium. They could simply observe and take notes, or they could engage in conversation. They were to remain together in a group, and return to class promptly, which all of them did. The course is designed for students to acquire skills over the course of the semester, and to keep a detailed portfolio as they complete each exercise. My understanding is that some of my students observed other students tabling for different causes in the University Center, and some of my students may have spoken to those tabling. I am unaware of any evidence to support any claim that my students did not comply with their clear instructions to conduct themselves according to the student conduct code (as stated in the course syllabus) at all times, as well as my verbal instructions to be polite and respectful while observing and conversing with individuals at the UC. I am unaware of any evidence that they did not follow these verbal and written instructions in class when they completed the exercise.
On January 29 or 30, 2019, at about 12:30 PM, I again saw Ms. Powell in the University Center atrium tabling for the same political cause as on January 24. I approached and greeted her again, and introduced myself this time. We shook hands and I thanked her for talking to my students and making herself available to them. Again, we parted on what I thought was mutually respectful terms.
I have no basis to dispute that someone with differing views may have accosted Ms. Powell in inappropriate ways based on their disagreements with her strongly stated and controversial political beliefs. Some may even have harassed her. Unfortunately, in the culture we currently find ourselves, this sometimes happens. If so, however, I condemn the behavior. A university is the one place, of all places, where the free exchange of candidly-held ideas is and should be diligently protected. But I do not believe that any of my students engaged in any such behavior with Ms. Powell. I know I did not and would not. Ms. Powell’s accusations appear to arise from an erroneous inference on her part that the persons who made her feel unwelcome or uncomfortable were my students. I do not believe they were and know of no evidence to support Ms. Powell’s allegations.
~ Prof. G.G. Weix, University of Montana
Before KGVO published its story last week, we reached out to Professor Weix three times, twice by phone and once by email, to comment on Ms. Powell’s claims, but she did not respond. The story on KGVO did not identify her, because it would not have been fair to do so without her comment. KGVO is glad to publish Professor Weix’s statement now.