Friday, February 15, 2013

Dismissal Recommended For Professor Who Made Students Pledge For Obama



COCOA, Florida -- Brevard Community College has completed its investigation into allegations of misconduct against Associate Professor Sharon Sweet, following a complaint in September 2012 that she was forcing students in her class to sign a pledge card to vote for President Obama and other Democratic candidates in the November 2012 election.



All students in the five math classes that she was teaching at the time were contacted and asked to participate in a voluntary written survey regarding the incident and her actions in class.  BCC said that some 43 of the 85 students enrolled agreed to participate. 



Brevard County residents, who lean heavily conservative on Florida's Space Coast, were quick to voice their outrage on the BCC Facebook page upon hearing of the professor's alleged in-class political activity last fall.  This was followed by several more posts to the BCC Facebook page demanding an investigation.



As early as September 14, one resident wrote "I hear that one of your Algebra Professors made all the students in her class sign this oath that they would vote for Obama.  I think you need to investigate this allegation and stop this coercion immediately!!! If you remove this comment without taking action you will have additional people with authority contacting the BCC Administration. No teacher, no person has the right to force or coerce or threaten their students to sign an OATH to VOTE for ANYONE!!!!"


The release of the BCC findings come on the heels of reports that a political science professor in West Virginia, Stephanie Wolf, reportedly required in the class syllabus that her students at West Liberty University not cite Fox News as a news source in their assigned class work.


BCC said that the findings showed that Professor Sweet’s actions violated several College policies. As a result, BCC President, Dr. Jim Richey, will recommend to the Board of Trustees that Professor Sweet be dismissed from employment at the College.



BCC outlined the following findings for her recommended termination:



ALLEGATION #1


Professor Sweet’s support for political candidates during work hours violated College policy that prohibits an employee from soliciting political support for a political candidate during regular work hours or on College property.



BCC FINDING:


The investigation found that Professor Sweet strongly encouraged or mandated that students from several classes sign a pledge card that stated, “I pledge to vote for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket.”



She also misrepresented her intentions to multiple students, indicating at various times that she was conducting voter registration for the college, that the pledge cards were non-partisan voter registration forms, and that the pledge was a “statistical analysis.”



Such actions violate Section 500.1(B), BCC Board of Governance Manual.




ALLEGATION #2


Professor Sweet’s in-class voicing of her political views and actions regarding the distribution of political pledge cards created a hostile academic environment that violated College policy which governs workplace behavior.



BCC FINDING:



The investigation found that Professor Sweet’s actions caused students to feel considerable discomfort, to believe their privacy was being invaded, to fear their grade could be negatively impacted if they refused to sign the pledge cards, and to feel intimidated.



Such actions constitute harassment, incompetence, misconduct and unprofessional behavior in the workplace in violation of Section 308.3, BCC Procedures Manual, and Section 400.4, BCC Board Policy Governance Manual.




ALLEGATION #3



Professor Sweet performed below the expected standards of employee comportment and accepted productive work standards.



BCC FINDING:


The investigation’s evidence calls into question Professor Sweet’s compliance with college policy in compromising student learning time in class to impose her personal political beliefs, and misrepresenting her intentions regarding the distribution of partisan political pledge cards in class.



Such conduct violates the College’s Employee Comportment requirements, set forth in Section 500.1 (D), BCC Board Policy Governance Manual, and 308.1, BCC Procedures Manual.




Based upon above findings, BCC officials concluded that, "Taken in its totality, Professor Sweet’s conduct constitutes “just cause” for termination based on Article 17.1(b) of the agreement between the District Board of Trustees of Brevard Community College and the United Faculty of Florida, 2012-2015."



The college has notified Professor Sweet of the investigation’s findings and recommendation for her dismissal.  She has 10 college working days to respond in writing.



The college will thereafter file a written recommendation, along with the charges, with the Board of Trustees.



The Board will then conduct a hearing at a date to be determined to decide to approve or reject the recommendation for termination. Professor Sweet may attend the hearing and address the Board upon request.



Based on terms of the United Faculty of Florida Collective Bargaining Agreement, BCC says that Professor Sweet will remain on paid suspension with no teaching assignments until further notice pending final determination of the case.



Records show that Sharon Sweet is a senator for the Brevard County Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, a collective bargaining organization that overwhelmingly endorses Democratic candidates.


PHOTO: President Obama visits Brevard County during the 2012 Presidential campaign.  Brevard Times / File