A letter to our readers on “confrontation” article

Mark Feuerborn

Over the past few days, the Washburn Review and I have both received our respective shares of criticism over my most recent article, “Details emerge on classroom confrontation,” including accusations of bias in favor of John Paul, professor of sociology, and bias against Sharla Blank, professor of anthropology. It is within this personal statement that I hope to address these criticisms.

To begin, I will inform our readers that I have never met Paul or Blank, and that I have no ill will towards either. I also understand that the two are seen quite positively by much of the student body, as they are academically sound teachers that ordinarily carry themselves professionally. With a strong following for both, it is understandable that reactions to the article on their confrontation were intense.

The most important thing to understand when discussing this “classroom confrontation” is that it is not the whole story–that is, there is a larger situation underneath that triggered it. I will inform our readers that the Review is documenting the underlying situation so that this news organization may fulfill its commitment to truth. However, the Review also takes the safety of its interviewees and the privacy of those involved very seriously, and that is why we chose unanimously to wait to disclose further information on it. In the meantime, what happens in a public classroom must be covered.

The confrontation that occurred Nov. 30, 2016 was a singular incident. Neither Paul nor Blank have any kind of history of similar confrontations, and I know that something quite shocking sparked the reaction Blank had. Taking this into account, I will not justify her choosing to confront Paul in the presence of students, but I also will not condone Paul’s actions that led her to do so. As this is my personal statement, it is my opinion Blank should not be fired for what happened in the classroom. In light of Paul’s admittance to the existence of allegations of sexual misconduct to one of our witnesses, it is also my opinion that his disappearance from everything publicly associated with the university is highly suspicious.

On addressing further criticisms of the article, some have claimed it has inaccuracies and is damaging to Blank’s reputation. To this I say that the Review depends on the accounts of witnesses for its information, and in this case two brave students in that classroom fulfilled this requirement. Unfortunately, Blank and Paul were either told not to or declined themselves to comment, which prevented their perspectives from being shared, and Washburn University could not comment in detail on the incident. While it is not the desire of the Review to detriment a professor’s career, much of the article’s content was quotes from the students present for the incident. Claims the article is inaccurate are claims the students are inaccurate. These students were afraid and confused, and their perspectives are valid even if they were unaware of the underlying situation. With this in mind, the Review had the oppportunity to interview an additional witness to the confrontation on Jan. 16. This additional student was able to recall specifics that shed further light on how Paul reacted to Blank approaching him in the classroom, but there is no testimony that yet directly conflicts with the accounts the original two students gave.

Some have also criticized the article by saying that we should have waited for a statement or solution from the university. As information on the confrontation was gathered, the Review waited over a month to publish an article on it, and in that time nothing was released by the university to address it. Recall the 2015 Carole Chapel incident that happened on campus, when Washburn University faced criticism for failing to alert students to what happened, even though they felt students were safe. The Review feels obligated to report on incidents that occur in public spaces on campus, even when the university’s answer is no comment. I am sure Washburn is taking steps to prevent this from happening again, but transparency with their students is still something I request.

To those who have made personal attacks against me for this article: There is no instance where this convinces someone to empathize with your point of view. I welcome criticism of my work, but I can’t classify some of the comments I have received as anything other than harassment.

Additionally, to those who claim I wrote this article for personal gain: News media is commonly referred to as the Fourth Estate, a societal force crucial to democracy. It is the people’s watchdog, serving to disclose the truth. Most importantly, it holds institutions accountable and transparent, even beyond those institutions’ wishes. It is within this framework that I derived my purpose in writing the article.

The Review stands behind me in saying “Details emerge on classroom confrontation” will not be taken down at this time, but we do welcome any who disagree with it to help us find witnesses willing to give additional accounts of what happened. I apologize to any who had a negative reaction to this article, but news coverage sometimes has that effect. I hope that additional articles on the overall situation will better explain why we are covering this.