Less than two weeks after a former student filed a complaint in federal court alleging social work faculty members violated her First Amendment rights, Missouri State University settled the lawsuit out of court, according to a university news release.
"We are glad we have come to a resolution on this matter," said Missouri State President Michael Nietzel. "Now, the important task is for us to make sure that students of the university experience a positive learning environment."
The university agreed to clear Emily Brooker's academic record, and give her roughly $27,000 towards schooling.
Frank Kauffman, the professor who allegedly discriminated against Brooker because of her opposition to homosexual adoption, has voluntarily stepped down as director of the master of social work program, said the news release.
Kauffman has also been re-assigned to non-classroom duties in the School of Social Work for the remainder of the fall semester and will begin weekly consultations with Associate Provost Chris Craig, which will continue through the spring 2007 semester, according to the news release.
According to the lawsuit filed on Oct. 30, Brooker, while participating in a class project assigned by Kauffman, refused to sign a letter to the Missouri Legislature that advocated homosexual adoption.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian organization that advocates for religious freedom and represented Brooker, did not return calls seeking comment.
Brooker could not be reached for comment.
Kauffman told The Standard that his colleagues have "stepped up" to take over his classes, but he refused to comment on the lawsuit or the settlement.
Nietzel told the Springfield News-Leader that Kauffman is has not been fired, and he expects Kauffman to be teaching again in the spring.
Nietzel and Provost Belinda McCarthy said they have been investigating the matter since Oct. 30, when the complaint was filed in federal court.
"Although our investigation did not support all of the allegations made in the lawsuit, we were concerned about some of the actions that we did learn about," Nietzel said in the news release.
"She claimed that members of the Board of Governors or members of the administration knowingly and intentionally were involved in the case, which is not correct," Nietzel told The Standard in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
"Many of us didn't know about this incident until last week."
Nietzel would not discuss the allegations against Kauffman and the three other social work faculty members.
According to the complaint against the university, Brooker was told she had violated the School of Social Work's Standards of Essential Functioning in Social Work Education and was accused of a Level 3 grievance.
According to the complaint Brooker attended a hearing on Dec. 16, 2005 conducted by social work faculty members including Lola Butler, Anne Summers, Frank Kauffman and Catherine Boling, all of whom were listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
The meeting lasted two and a half hours and focused on Brooker's refusal to sign the letter to homosexual adoption letter in Kauffman's class, according to the complaint.
According to the terms of the settlement, Missouri State has agreed to clear Brooker's official record of the Level 3 review referenced in the complaint.
Brooker will also receive $9,000 for legal fees.
Also, the university will waive academic fees at Missouri State or reimburse fees at any other public institution in the state for two years towards a graduate degree.
These fees are estimated at approximately $12,000, according to the news release.
Brooker will also receive $3,000 per year in living expenses for two years of graduate education.
In addition to these terms, Nietzel announced that based on the university's investigation, he believed it was important for the university to take broader steps.
The complaint against the university alleged that the university "engaged in indoctrinating, not educating."
Nietzel said in the news release that he will commission a comprehensive, professionally directed evaluation of the Missouri State social work program by an outside group of social work education experts.
"It is important for current and prospective students, for potential employers, and for the faculty and staff in the program to have confidence that the policies, procedures, leadership, and delivery of the program are up to par," Nietzel said in the news release. "The reviewers will have the complete cooperation of the university as they conduct their assessment. We will begin to recruit this external team immediately with the hope that they can visit us and conduct the review in the spring 2007 semester."
Nietzel also said in the news release that he will appoint a special committee to recommend ways in which the university can more effectively implement its policies regarding freedom of speech and expression on campus.
"When we talk about making sure that a Missouri State education is rigorous, part of that is the recognition that the content, theories, and implications of any number of academic disciplines often engender vigorous debate and can sometimes conflict with personal beliefs," Nietzel said in the news release.
"How these controversies and how the inevitable clashes of personal convictions and values are raised and addressed are crucial questions for a university," Nietzel said in the news release.
Ultimately, universities must be responsible for providing an environment that promotes learning and that permits individuals to exchange ideas in honest and civil ways. That is our goal," Nietzel said in the news release.
Nietzel said the investigation of the incident did not focus on the School of Social Work's policy, including the Standards of Essential Functioning in Social Work.
When asked if the reputation of Missouri State's social work program may be effected negatively by this incident, Nietzel said, "I don't know."