Suspended Professor Still Under Investigation for Story About Drag Bar Five Months Later

Pacific University Professor Richard Paxton's attorney and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) are pressuring the school to conclude a Title IX investigation that has gone on for five months.

Paxton was suspended with pay in October after a Title IX sexual misconduct investigation was launched, in part, because of complaints the Oregon-based school received about an anecdote he shared in class about a New Orleans drag queen bar.

Five months later, the professor has yet to be contacted by the investigator, and his advocates argue the school is setting a harmful precedent for tenured faculty.

Robin DesCamp, Paxton's attorney, noted that tenure exists to promote academic freedom and to protect those professors from dismissal without adequate cause and due process. Having done nothing to warrant suspension or loss of tenure, Pacific University is using Title IX to oust Paxton, according to DesCamp.

"Title IX is like the slip and slide of getting rid of tenured professors—but even Title IX comes with due process and jurisdictional requirements, neither of which were followed in this case," DesCamp told Newsweek.

She said her client was shocked to learn that he would be subject to a sexual misconduct Title IX investigation if he didn't resign. After numerous requests for details about the complaints against Paxton, DesCamp said they received an undated "Notice of Allegations" in December, two months after he was suspended.

The document alleges Paxton "constantly" berated students with "misogynistic language"; ignored the gender identity of agender and nonbinary students by saying "every person had a gender"; and made negative and gender-stereotyping comments about transgender individuals in telling a story about an experience at the bar.

richard paxton pacific university
Richard Paxton, a Pacific University professor, has been suspended for five months as an a Title IX investigation continues, an unacceptable timeline according to his advocates. Pacific University

DesCamp said she never received specifics about the allegations, but Paxton assumes it's related to an anecdote he's been using for 20 years intended to illustrate Schema Theory of how the human mind works. In his version, Paxton highlights differences in his behavior during a presentation to mixed company and afterwards at dinner with two old friends, saying "my schemas are unconsciously telling me how to behave in social situations."

After dinner, the group heads to a bar that has "rather fine-looking ladies" standing out front. However, their attitudes change when they find out the bar touts the "World's Best Female Impersonators." Having never built up schemas to tell him how to behave in front of female impersonators, Paxton explains he felt uncomfortable. But with time and experience, his schemas would reach equilibrium in that situation and he'd feel "perfectly comfortable at a drag bar."

The comments, DesCamp argued, weren't subject to Title IX because they didn't have to do with transgenderism, but were geared towards men who dress like women.

Paxton, who is Jewish, was also under investigation for saying "Jews funded the Revolutionary War," which DesCamp explained was in the context of a story about his own ancestors—adding "there's nothing anti-Semitic about that. It's a fact." She likened it to being accused of being anti-French if she were to say France helped fund the Revolutionary War.

DesCamp argued the issue could largely be settled by reviewing recordings of Paxton's Zoom lectures, which the investigator has but not released to her, despite making numerous requests for them. The university's response has largely been that it's protected by FERPA, the Federal Education Records Protection Act.

Even if the classes are protected student records, DesCamp said the law is clear that when there's a discrepancy between FERA and due process until Title IX, Title IX wins. There's no hard and fast rule for resolving Title IX complaints, but the commonly accepted time frame is 60 to 90 days, according to DesCamp.

Newsweek reached out to Pacific University for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

The Washington, D.C.-based AAUP saw the alleged comments as relevant to the subject material. It wrote in a letter to Pacific University President Lesley Hallick that the judgment as to whether comments violated professional ethics should be left up to his professional peers.

Comments aside, Gregory Scholtz, director of AAUP's Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, argued that not having a faculty hearing for over 100 days amounts to summary dismissal—a harmful precedent for tenure, academic freedom, and due process at the university.

Responding to Scholtz's letter, Hallick said the school doesn't control the investigator's timeline, an answer Scholtz found unacceptable.

"I hope you appreciate that if allegations against faculty members were commonly handled in this manner at Pacific University, academic freedom, tenure, and due process would have little meaning," Scholtz wrote Thursday in a response to Hallick, as provided by DesCamp to Newsweek. "This has gone on long enough."