Ginty files complaint against UI professor over 'f-word' email

BY NINA EARNEST | APRIL 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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College Republican leader Natalie Ginty filed a formal complaint against University of Iowa Professor Ellen Lewin in the wake of her organization receiving a message from the professor containing profanity.

Lewin, a professor of anthropology and women's studies, responded last week to a universitywide e-mail from the UI College Republicans, which promoted "Conservative Coming out Week" with profanity directed at Republicans — igniting a national firestorm of criticism.

Ginty, the chairwoman of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans, said she filed the complaint — which calls for an investigation into the incident — because it was "the most proper thing to do at this point."

"I didn't see any action taking place," she said.

UI President Sally Mason told The Daily Iowan Monday that recent incidents of civil discourse — both Lewin's case and three incidents of ethnic slurs on campus — reflect poorly on the UI community.

"It doesn't accurately reflect what our community is all about or what the vast majority of people in this community believe in," Mason said. "… It's certainly not been my experience in this community. I think if you ask the average person on the street that, he or she would say something similar."

She declined to discuss any disciplinary measures that may be taken against Lewin because it is a personnel issue, but she said she didn't believe Lewin's behavior rose to a level requiring her removal.

"I think this is bad behavior," Mason said. "And it deserves to be acknowledged as bad behavior. Behavior never to be repeated."

Ginty's complaint — dated April 25 — alleges Lewin's e-mail containing her UI credentials represents the UI.

"When a member of the faculty targets a student group in this way, especially a group such as the College Republicans, who already operate as a frequently ostracized and underrepresented voice within the University community, this reflects poorly on the University of Iowa," the complaint said.

The letter goes on to say Lewin's actions violate university policy in the Anti-Harassment section 14.2 (a) of the Operations Manual.

Also on Tuesday, Matthew Strawn, the chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, sent a letter to interim Provost P. Barry Butler claiming Lewin's correspondence with the College Republicans was a "fundamental disagreement" with the university's goal to encourage civil debate.

"On behalf of Republicans across the state, I stand with Ms. Ginty and the College Republicans in calling for a full investigation into the incident of April 18," Strawn wrote.

Strawn said it was not a "partisan issue" but a "question of appropriate conduct between a faculty member and a student organization."

Mason emphasized on Monday the need to bring the community together and be understanding of different viewpoints.

"There are a lot of things in this community to be proud of, and that last week there were moments there where we had nothing to be proud of," the president told the DI.

One expert said the context of the incident doesn't necessarily require punishment.

Robert Kreiser, senior program officer at the American Association of University Professors, said Lewin's actions would have been interpreted differently if it had occurred in the classroom.

"It doesn't rise to the level of alleged misconduct that would warrant imposing a sanction of a faculty member," he said.

Kreiser doubted the claim that listing Lewin's credentials could make her a spokeswoman for the university.

"No one could conceivably believe that in her response she was speaking for the university or anyone else at the university besides herself," he said.

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