Open letter from faculty, staff, students, and alumni to the Board of Regents

sewanee pic
Photo courtesy of the University of the South Flickr.

February 20, 2018

Joseph DeLozier, Chairman

The Rt. Rev. John Howard, Chancellor

Margaret McLarty, Secretary

John M. McCardell, Jr., Vice-Chancellor

Dear Officers of the Board of Regents,

We are writing this open letter to respectfully request that you reconsider the retention of Charlie Rose’s honorary degree.  We would like to add our voices to those of the student trustees, in their original petition to the university Regents, and the voices of the tenured faculty of the School of Theology.  We fully endorse the points made in their letters (See Theology letter here).  We would also like to thank the Honorary Degree Committee for creating a forum for faculty comments and also for recognizing that some faculty may wish to contribute to this process anonymously.

Although we acknowledge, as these parties have, that there are many difficulties presented by such a decision, we would like to present to you the case based on current thinking in the fields of criminal justice and victim advocacy.

Much of the impetus behind the #metoo and #timesup movements has emerged from victims and allies willing to go on the record and speak the truth about sexual harassment and violence.  Many have risked a great deal to come forward with their stories, and the impact of the current moment is almost entirely based on victims’ willingness to go on the record.  We would like to particularly acknowledge the student trustees, Claire Brickson (C’18) and Mary Margaret Murdock (C’19), for their courage in pursuing the honorable course of action. Thus, we would also like to go on the record with our concerns regarding this decision.

The Theology faculty have spoken eloquently on church text and tradition and the guidance it provides, certainly far more eloquently than we might.  We would like to add that the position taken in the letter of response to the student trustees is not consistent with current best practices in criminal justice or advocacy.

There is a place for forgiveness in the secular systems of justice.  The restorative justice movement focuses on helping to return all members of a community to a state of well-being after a crime, instead of primarily focusing on punishment.  This week, Bishop Tutu’s daughter, Thandeka Tutu-Gxashe, is visiting campus, and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a well-known example of a justice process that includes a prominent role for the possibility of forgiveness in the aftermath of violence.

However, this is a process that starts with, as the name of the South African commission suggests, truth.  Although Charlie Rose released a statement with a brief apology, he also minimized and denied the incidents and tried to re-frame them as pursuit of mutual romantic interests.  These sorts of minimizations are further harms in and of themselves, not any true form of restorative justice or restitution.  It is worth quoting briefly from the account provided by Kyle Godfrey-Ryan.  She worked for Rose in the mid-2000s, and she “recalled at least a dozen instances where Rose walked nude in front of her while she worked in one of his New York City homes. He also repeatedly called the then-21-year-old late at night or early in the morning to describe his fantasies of her swimming naked in the Bellport pool as he watched from his bedroom, she said.” (note Rose would have been in his 60s at the time) (–with-nudity-groping-and-lewd-calls/2017/11/20/9b168de8-caec-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html?utm_term=.554144a17c93).  These and other incidents are not accidental overtures in circumstances that might be reasonably expected to be received positively.  This is systematic victimization of people over whom he had considerable authority, and whose responses could have a profound negative impact on their livelihoods.

Minimization, denial, and blame are the key tools that perpetrators use to get away with abuse and to avoid any punishment for abuse.  Yes, Charlie Rose might some day be forgiven, but it is inappropriate to forgive him while he continues to invalidate the accounts of these women and deny the full truth of what he has done.

We would also like to address the issue of “due process” that has been brought up in many recent discussions regarding this emerging reckoning.  Due process is one of our most important legal rights, but it refers to the death penalty, imprisonment, the confiscation of property, and other government-imposed penalties.  Due process does not necessarily require a standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” even in courts, which often use a “preponderance of evidence” standard for civil cases.  Certainly, Sewanee should not attempt to imprison Charlie Rose.  However, it is perfectly appropriate for Sewanee to rely on the preponderance of evidence in determining who Sewanee honors.  This push back against disclosures, by calling for a higher and higher bar to be met before even the most minor social (not legal) consequences can be imposed, is an instrument of oppression meant to silence victims.

Our first obligation is to protect our community and our students.  It is imperative that we create a safe, accessible space for all students, which is a Title IX obligation as well as the core value on which our institution is founded.  By refusing to revoke this honorary degree, then we communicate that the harassment of women is less important than having a TV show.  We communicate that the harassment of women is less important than celebrity.  We communicate that the harassment of women is less important than avoiding acknowledging that our institution made an innocent mistake, based on the imperfect information that was available at the time.

Charlie Rose is not a role model for our students.  He does not deserve the esteem of faculty, staff, or alumni.  He is a serial predator who used his position of power to harm others, thinking only of himself and the indulgence of his desires.  We know from decades of research that these harms have lasting physical and psychological consequences that often extend over decades.

We end with the same request made by the student trustees and by the theology faculty, that Sewanee demonstrates that our institution and our community respects the dignity of every human being and that all members of this community, including the honored ones among us, meet this same standard of behavior.

In community,

Faculty and Staff

Sherry Hamby

Research Professor of Psychology

C. Albert Bardi

Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology

Karen Yu

Professor of Psychology

Elizabeth Taylor

Visiting Instructor of Psychology

Terri Fisher

Visiting Professor of Psychology

Nicky Hamilton

Senior Associate Director, Civic Engagement

S. Katherine Nelson-Coffey

Assistant Professor of Psychology

G. Norman West

Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology

Nicole Noffsinger-Frazier

Director, University Wellness Center

John Coffey

Assistant Professor of Psychology

Jordan Troisi

Assistant Professor of Psychology

Andrea Mansker

Professor of History and Chair, Women’s and Gender Studies

Martha Dinwiddie C’17

Research Intern, Life Paths

John Jackson

Assistant Director, Counseling and Psychological Service, UWC

Julian Wright C’17

Grant Coordinator, UWC

Karen Tharp

Director, University Health Service, UWC

Bennett Bridgers-Carlos

Therapist, Counseling & Psychological Services, UWC

Kelly Whitmer

Associate Professor of History

Julie Berebitsky

Jessie Ball duPont Professor; Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies

Benjamin Craft

Case Manager, UWC and Visiting Instructor of Psychology

Donna Murdock

Professor of International and Global Studies, Anthropology and Women’s and Gender Studies

Katie Van Cleave

Staff Clinician, Counseling & Psychological Services, UWC

Marya Ashby

Office Manager, UWC

Susan Ridyard

Professor of History

Robert Bachman

F.B. Williams Professor of Chemistry

Reinhard Zachau

Professor Emeritus of German

Paige Schneider

Assistant Professor of Politics and Women’s and Gender Studies

Manuel Chinchilla

Associate Professor of Spanish

Nicholas Roberts

Associate Professor of History

Jennifer Michael

Professor of English

Eric Thurman

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Harold J. Goldberg

David E. Underdown Professor of History

Jennifer Matthews

Professor of Theatre Arts

Kirk Zigler

Professor and Chair of Biology

Jeffrey P. Thompson

Chair. Art, Art History and Visual Studies

Husnain Fateh Ahmad

Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics

Christopher Van de Ven

Instructor of Earth and Environmental Systems

Matthew David Mitchell

Assistant Professor of History

Mae Wallace

Professor of Anthropology and Education

Anne Duffee

Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Julie Garai

Assistant Professor of Statistics

Shelley MacLaren

Curator, University Art Gallery & Visiting Asst Professor of Art, Art History and Visual Studies

Alec Hill C’16

Managing Editor, Sewanee Review

James Peters

Chair and Professor of Philosophy

Maryellen McCone

Therapist, Counseling & Psychological Services, UWC

Matt Schrader

Assistant Professor of Biology

Stephanie McCarter

Associate Professor of Classical Languages

Helen Bateman

Associate Professor of Psychology

C. Ken Smith

Assistant Dean and Professor of Integrated Program in the Environment

Clint Smith

Assistant Professor of Biology

Tam K. Parker

Professor of Religious Studies

Arturo Márquez-Gómez

Assistant Professor of Spanish

Amanda Sprott-Goldson

Research Help Librarian

Lisa Burner

Assistant Professor of Spanish

John C. Willis

Jessie Ball duPont Professor of History

Donald Rung

Professor of French

Christopher Conn

Professor of Philosophy

Lucia K. Dale

Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics

Virginia Craighill C’82

Professor of English

Sid Brown

Professor and Chair, Religious Studies

Mila Dragojevic

Asssociate Professor of Politics

Scott Wilson

Associate Dean, Office of Global Citizenship

Sarah Sherwood

Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Systems

Lauryl Tucker C’99

Associate Professor of English

Aaron Elrod

Assistant Professor of Economics

Amy Patterson

Professor of Politics

Elizabeth Hayes

Biographical Entry Specialist, Advancement Services

Sheri Kling

Associate University Registrar

Kevin Wilson

Associate Professor of English

Alison Miller

Assistant Professor of Art History

Richard Milby C’15

Admission Counselor, Office of Admission

Doug Drinen

Associate Professor of Mathematics

Annie Adams C’17

Editorial Assistant, The Sewanee Review

Julia Stubblebine

Manager of Stirling’s Coffeehouse, Sewanee Dining

Kim Bradford

Office Coordinator, University Wellness Center

Tanner Potts C’15

Alumnus, University Employee

Curtis Johnson C’14

Assistant Director of Admission, Staff Trustee

Dann Wigner

Instruction and Information Literacy Librarian, Library and Instructional Technology Services

Keri Watson C’12

Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Kayla Deep C’15

Lay Chaplain, All Saints Chapel

Anna Palmer C’17

Student Sustainability Coordinator, Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability

Kathryn Oliver Mills

Professor of French

Brandon Moore

Associate Professor of Biology

Amber Smith C’15

Assistant Manager of Stirling’s Coffee House

Nicole Barenbaum

Professor Emerita of Psychology

Sarah Edmondson

Area Coordinator, Office of Residential Life

Eric Benjamin C’73

Director, Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs

Andrew Moser C’93

Teaching Professor of Philosophy

James Crawford

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts

Jody Lynn Allen

Visiting Assistant Professor of History

Elizabeth Wilson

Assistant Director, Career & Leadership Development

Benuel Post

Area Coordinator, Residential Life

Jessica Mecellem

Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics

Paul Wiley

Assistant Provost for Academic Services and Institutional Research

Spencer M. Hupp C’17

Editorial Assistant, The Sewanee Review

Daniel Holmes

Associate Professor of Classics

Thea Edwards

Research Assistant Professor of Biology

Kim Heitzenrater C’89

Director, Career & Leadership Development

Walt Evans C’17

Editorial Assistant, The Sewanee Review

Nancy Mann C’11

Senior Assistant Director, Office of Admission

Maria Watters C’93

Campus Visit Coordinator, Office of Admission

Katie McGhee

Assistant Professor of Biology

Matthew Irvin

Associate Professor of English

Mark Hopwood

Assistant Professor of Philosophy

David Landon

Bishop Frank A Juhan Professor Emeritus of Theatre Arts


Bonnie Wilkinson

Ty Wilkinson

Elizabeth Eidson C’17

Matthew Hagler C’13

James Dunaway C’17

Annie Shalun C’16

Zack Loehle C’17

Grace Gibson, C’17

Sarah Clark C’11

Adreyauna Lewers C’16

Cullen Mitchell C’16

Sara Balte C’17

Madeline Taylor C’16

Eleanor Ezell C’13

Elise Anderson C’16

Parker Van de Water C’17

Tyler Edell C’17

Ainsley Atkins C’17

Lindsay Selden C’15

Patrick Smith C’17

Rebecca Gorodetzky C’17

Sandra Graham-Bermann C’88

Lillie Howell C’17

Augustine Hosch C’12

Current Students

Melanie Gamboa C’19

Baird Davis C’18

Julian Cope C’18

Ali Egan C’18

Ivana Porashka C’21

Hagen Clements

Hunter Swenson C’18

William Burton-Edwards C’18

Tristan Carico C‘20

Fiona Charnow C’20

Elisabeth Vulpas C21

Anna Bradley C’18

Summer Menefee C’19

Sarah Cordell

Chris Hornsby

Anna Nayfa C’18

Mary Jane McCaghren C’19

JT Mitchell C’20

Luke Williamson C’21

Madison Freedy C’21

Susan Oliver C’19

Rebecca Rowan C’20

Virginia Klemens C’19

Benjamin Straessle C’18

Ford Peay C’19

Heather Eoff C’18

Dayla LaRocque C’19

Victoria Robinson C’21

Malcolm Brown C’18

Louis Messina C’18

Mallory Anne Sheehan C’19

Rachel Vincent C’18

Peyton Costa C’18

Jacqueline Culver C’18

Owen Zalesak C’21

and others


  1. Thank you.. Our Bishop and the Trustees from the Diocese of Mississippi have written the Chancellor and V C asking that they reconsider this.. David Elliott C’61/T’69 Board of Trustees

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