Former human sexuality part-time professor Michael Schaffer, who was accused by a former student of sexual harassment, is scheduled to meet with University officials next week, when he will push them to fully disclose the reasons why his contract was not renewed.
Schaffer said he believes a threatening spring 2005 student evaluation may have led to his dismissal. In July, Patricia Sullivan, the acting chair of the department of exercise science, which offers the human sexuality course that Schaffer introduced to GW 15 years ago, informed Schaffer that his teaching services were no longer welcome at the University. Schaffer said that when he pressed Sullivan to learn why he wasn’t welcome back, she told him to “check your student evaluations.”
Schaffer said that since The Hatchet reported on his dismissal two weeks ago, he has been in contact with University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to learn why, after 17 years at GW, he didn’t receive another contract to continue teaching here.”I just want to know the real reason why I wasn’t rehired,” said Schaffer, who added that to his knowledge, the female student never filed any formal charges against him. “I just want to let them know that if it was one student, (my dismissal) was a violation of the University’s policy of academic freedom.”
Schaffer said Trachtenberg’s office informed him that the University president does not address personnel issues, and that he must first meet with the dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services, Ruth Katz. Schaffer said he has a meeting set up with Katz for Oct. 3, when he will push the dean to fully disclose the reasons why he wasn’t offered a new contract.
Katz did not return phone calls as of press time. Tracy Schario, director of media relations, declined to comment on the situation, adding only that the Schaffer situation may not be as “black and white” as it may seem.
In a female student’s spring 2005 course evaluation, which Schaffer provided to The Hatchet, the woman threatened to file a sexual harassment suit against the professor, claiming that his teaching methods were “disgusting and demeaning to women.”
Schaffer said he realizes that over the years there may have been a handful of negative student evaluations, but that should be expected in any class taught by any professor. He said the overall response to his course has been overwhelmingly positive, and that he fully defends his teaching methods.
“I didn’t do anything inappropriate,” Schaffer said. “Anyone can take a course and learn facts and figures and parrot them back in an exam. It’s more important to talk about the actions and behaviors of human sexuality. Those are the things people want to talk about and think about.”
Schaffer said he has briefly entertained the idea that his contract wasn’t renewed because he was one of the department’s highest-paid adjuncts. He said he would have gladly taken a pay cut to remain employed at the University, and would still accept his teaching job at GW if it was offered to him.
Since The Hatchet first reported on Schaffer’s release two weeks ago, several local and national media outlets have reported on his situation. Schaffer said he is eager to have the situation resolved so he can get on with his life.
“I just want it to be over,” Schaffer said. “I want to teach again. I miss being with the students.”