Professor returns after last year’s controversy

Elizabeth Johnson

A professor has agreed to a one-year contract with Murray State after retiring in March when he was suspended without pay for allegedly making a racist comment to a student.
Mark Wattier is contracted to teach four online courses this year, said Bonnie Higginson, provost of the University. She said he will teach one class this semester, one during the winter term and two during the spring semester.
Wattier is teaching POL 140 American National Government and, according to myGate, has almost reached the capacity of 40 students.
The tenured professor had worked for more than 30 years at Murray State and once served as Faculty Senate president, before his March retirement, which he called “early” and “forced” in an email he sent to several faculty members in July.
The retirement resulted from a complaint filed with the Office of Equal Opportunity by a black student who took Wattier’s fall POL 140 class.
According to the case documents, Arlene Johnson and another black student approached Wattier after class on Aug. 25 to ask why he had started a movie before class was scheduled to begin.
According to the documents, Wattier responded with, “I expect it out of you guys anyway.” Wattier allegedly went on to say, “It is part of your heritage. The slaves never showed up on time to their owners and were lashed for it. I just don’t have the right to do that.”
Johnson dropped the class and quickly filed the complaint.
Wattier was suspended without pay or benefits during the spring semester.
He appealed the decision, citing depression among other factors. He said his theory-based comment, referring to the magazine article titled, “Why Are Most Blacks Always Late?,” was taken out of context.
The email sent by Wattier to other faculty members included a 26-page PDF attachment sharing his “side of the story.” In the document he states that on Aug. 18, 2010, he addressed three students, whom he could not identify, who were late to class saying, “Do you know why you were late? There’s a theory that a way to protests their master’s treatment was for slaves to be late.” Wattier said he regretted saying the comment out of context, but that his tone was “playful or teasing” and his volume was “soft and personal.”
In his appeal, Wattier also cited a section from the Faculty Handbook which states, “Should a suspension of longer than 30 days be deemed necessary, the President must receive approval of the Board of Regents, which will hold a due process hearing on the matter.”
Wattier’s suspension was never brought up to the Board.
However, President Randy Dunn told The Murray State News via email last spring that the matter did not fall under the policy because it was an equal opportunity grievance.
The matter did, however, move from Equal Opportunity to the Office of the President where a resolution was made.
“The resolution of that issue, which of course many people in the campus community followed, is a personnel issue I really can’t discuss or divulge in terms of comments, but I can tell you we’ve contracted with him as we do with many retired professors to teach on a part-time basis for us,” Dunn said. “We’ll look forward to having a strong enrollment in those classes and moving beyond some of the issues we dealt with earlier.”
Higginson said, like most retired part-time faculty, Wattier does not have an office on campus and subsequently will not have office hours.
While she could not comment on most of the situation, Higginson said Wattier is experienced in web-only instruction.
“He had taught online courses prior to his retirement and had been successful in teaching those courses,” Higginson said.
Last spring, The Paducah Sun quoted Wattier saying, “I won’t work there ever again. Any place that would do this to a person does not deserve that person’s labor ever again.”
Dunn said he is not worried about the negative comments Wattier previously made about the University.
“If we didn’t feel that he could do a credible job in teaching these courses, we wouldn’t have brought him back on a retirement contract for the next year,” Dunn said. “I’ll expect the same strong level of performance we want from all of our faculty.”
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