They have secured the resignation of philosophy professor David Barnett, whom a faculty committee found did not commit "retatliation" against a complainant in a sexual harassment case, with a payout of $160,000 to Barnett (roughly 1 1/2 years of salary and benefits), forgiving an $80,000 loan, and payment of his legal fees. Since philosophers don't really understand how lawsuits work, let me explain what actually happened here.
The University has been under intensive Title IX scrutiny for several years; toleration of sexual harassment in the philosophy department was the tip of the iceberg (those boys, now forced into early retirement or resignation, look like "saints" compared to some of the misconduct associated with the athletics program). Serial violations of Title IX can result in loss of all federal funding for a university (the Obama Administration has been aggressive in cocking the trigger on that gun); for a school like Colorado, whose areas of academic excellence (outside Philosophy) are overwhelmingly in the natural sciences and engineering, such a loss of funding would be fatal. So the University has been keen to show that the bad 'ole days are over. To that end, they actually got rid of serial sexual harassers and, allegedly, stopped the recruitment-by-rape program for football. Good for Colorado! But so fearful are the administrators at Colorado that they've now forced out a tenured professor whose only malfeasance was to write a report that tried to exonerate one of his grad students against hotly contested accounts of sexual misconduct.
So what does the settlement mean? It's pretty simple: the university knows its case for firing Barnett is pathetically weak; it knows there is a real risk he would prevail in litigation; it also knows that the University, unlike Barnett, can afford to spend years litigating the matter; so it has offered not only a cash settlement with Barnett but it has offered to pay his legal fees hoping, reasonably, to take advantage of Barnett's prudent risk aversion (five years of litigation, lawyer fees, he loses, etc.--for just a year, his legal fees are already 50K). Just for the record: you generally don't agree to pay legal fees when you're on the side of the angels. You do so when you have a chance of getting rid of a complicated legal problem--firing a tenured professor who didn't engage in a fireable offense--that it would be to your advantage to get rid of.
In short, this settlement says: We, the University of Colorado are acting wrongfully, but we are leveraging our superior financial position, to get the result we want, to show that we are Title IX saints, despite the sordid history.
I do not know David Barnett; I do not even know his work. The only time I ever posted about him was here. Some people have told me David Barnett is an asshole; perhaps so, though his enemies would seize the moment to say so. But that isn't a firing offense, or lots of philosophers would be fired, and for worse behavior than trying to defend graduate students they believed to be wrongly accused of sexual misconduct.
As with many such cases, there is no doubt a lot that is not public. What is public suggests that Barnett has been wronged, and the terms of the settlement suggests that the University knows its position is legally dubious, but they hope to sustain it by virtue of superior resources.
In the current neoliberal environment for state universities--in which right-wing Governors like Scott Walker are eviscerating preeminent public universities, while others are privatizing their functions--this development can only be viewed with alarm.
ADDENDUM: It's indicative of Colorado's highly selective interest in alleged faculty malfeasance that it has not moved to fire Paul Campos, a law professor who is such a notorious charlatan and underperformer--one who even admitted in print that he is a fraud--that a Dean of another law school wondered in public about the case for firing him. But since there is no Title IX credibility at stake, the University, so far, isn't interested.
ANOTHER: A philosopher at Colorado writes:
Your diagnosis of the situation at Colorado was quite accurate. For the record, I can assure you that Barnett is not an asshole. It is true that he is not a terribly prudent person. He rather recklessly risked his career, and ultimately lost it, trying to defend a graduate student from an administration that became deeply invested in making an example, in the first instance, of the accused graduate student, and then of Barnett himself. Having placed an $825000 bet [the amount paid to settle the retaliation claim] on Barnett’s guilt (prior to having conducted any kind of inquiry into the accusations against him), they were never going to back down, notwithstanding the Privilege and Tenure committee’s not-guilty verdict. Barnett’s real character flaw was his rather naive faith in the willingness of administrators to respond to evidence and reason. (Some philosophers have no sense of audience.) There are a couple of assholes in the CU Philosophy Department - as there no doubt are in most large departments - but Barnett was not one of them.
AND ANOTHER: David Koepsell, a familiar noxious mediocrity to readers of this blog, tweets sarcastically, "Guess who thinks Barnett was the one wronged at Colorado." Apparently not Koepsell!