Archive for Friday, January 4, 2013

Dean of Education initiated recent email incident over turkey abuse case

January 4, 2013


An embarrassing series of emails between the Kansas University School of Education and an Indiana animal-lover last week actually originated with the dean of the school, and not with the associate dean who apologized last week.

It was Dean of Education Rick Ginsberg who first passed along, on Dec. 26, an email joke about recent animal cruelty allegations involving a rented turkey at a KU fraternity house, according to copies of the correspondence obtained by The Lawrence Journal-World.

Dean of Education Rick Ginsberg

Dean of Education Rick Ginsberg

He kept his joke, which included a slang term for masturbation, within a circle of school administrators. But when Jim Lichtenberg, an associate dean, accidentally included Jennah Dibiase, of Terre Haute, Ind., on the email chain, it became a national news story.

Ginsberg said the fallout, including widespread criticism directed toward Lichtenberg, has been "awful."

"He's gotten death threats," Ginsberg said. "It's been very hard on a number of people."

Police responded Dec. 14 to reports that KU's Beta Theta Pi chapter had rented a turkey for an annual celebration and then abused it, chasing and injuring it before, according to police, someone killed the bird to "end its suffering." That story reached across the country within days, including to Terre Haute, Ind.

Dibiase, of Terre Haute, read those accounts and emailed the education deans in protest, choosing them specifically because their email addresses were some of the first she found on the university's website. She asked that the students involved be held responsible.

"What your students did is deplorable," Dibiase wrote. "They should be expelled from your school."

Ginsberg said he had been traveling abroad, was unfamiliar to the turkey abuse case, and was surprised and confused when he received Dibiase's email. The School of Education, he said in a phone interview Friday, had nothing to do with the fraternity or any disciplinary measures or a criminal investigation that could be directed against them.

The local chapter of the fraternity has been suspended "indefinitely" by its national organization.

"Why something like that came to me, I had no idea," Ginsberg said. "The incident is awful, and I think the university is handling it."

But only two minutes after receiving Dibiase's email, Ginsberg sent a copy of it, along with his joke, to associate dean Lichtenberg. Lichtenberg added his own joke, and accidentally copied Dibiase on the reply.

Associate Dean for Graduate Programs Jim Lichtenberg

Associate Dean for Graduate Programs Jim Lichtenberg

Lichtenberg tried in vain to recall the email, which the offended Dibiase turned over to The Kansas City Star. Other news media picked up the story.

Lichtenberg apologized to Dibiase and called his joke "stupid, unprofessional and embarrassing."

"That I would craft such an email was most certainly a significant lapse in judgment on my part," he wrote.

Both Ginsberg and Lichtenberg stressed that they did not intend to make light of the abuse of an animal.

Jill Jess, a university spokeswoman, said the university considers the reported treatment of the turkey reprehensible and expects anyone involved to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations.

"The disrespectful levity used in this email does not reflect the opinions or actions of the university on this issue," she wrote in a statement.

Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman, said an investigation of animal cruelty offenses is ongoing.


costello 5 years, 4 months ago

"He's gotten death threats," Ginsberg said. "It's been very hard on a number of people."

Death threats. Good God.

"Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman, said an investigation of animal cruelty offenses is ongoing."

Is anyone investigating the death threats against the human beings?

Haiku_Cuckoo 5 years, 4 months ago

Does KU have any sort of policy that prohibits its employees from sending sexually themed emails to coworkers? It seems highly inappropriate for any employee, particularly a Dean, to send a masturbation email to a female coworker.

Haiku_Cuckoo 5 years, 4 months ago

This article indicates tht the email was sent to a female coworker at KU:

I agree with your comments, too. Good points made there.

fiddleback 5 years, 4 months ago

Assistant Dean Sally Roberts was also included, but allusions to frat boys masturbating frankly strikes me as on the lower end on a 1-10 scale of sexual inappropriateness. Still, I think it offers a very good learning opportunity for the entire university about professional discretion.

seagull 5 years, 4 months ago

Isn't there any real news? It must be a slow day in the news business if this is the best the LJWorld can do. You've put a new spin on the meaning of "local" news.

NotReallyChuck 5 years, 4 months ago

In August, a Terre Haute woman was charged with animal cruelty on what prosecutors called the worse case of animal abuse they had ever seen. Perhaps one of these hard hitting reporters from the Star or LJW could ask Ms. Diabase why she's not making news complaining about what went on in her own hometown.

50YearResident 5 years, 4 months ago

My Google search brings up the correct spelling of Jennah's name as "DiBiase", not Diabase.

Ian_Cummings 5 years, 4 months ago

Yes, thanks. I have it as Dibiase from the email.

Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 4 months ago

The Dean of Education should be FIRED!

This is not the kind of person I, and many others want, to take care of the future education of our children!

And to think students and we are paying tax dollars for this kind of person.

It is time for the Chancellor of the University to let the public know her opinions on this.

There are lots of people out there who would find a job like Dean Rick Ginsberg has to be exciting and challenging. Fire him and choose a decent person to run the Department of Education.

Over and over again we see top people in Kansas University's top rank make serious mistakes and there is nothing done about this. This HAS to change!

50YearResident 5 years, 4 months ago

You are making a mountain out of a molehill. Let the person without sin cast the first stone. Is that you?

fiddleback 5 years, 4 months ago

What I find annoying is that even after getting copies of the actual emails from KU, the LJW still won't just print the jokes and allow the truth to set us free of disproportionate responses...

Ian, maybe if we could read what's most likely a pretty tame and obvious set of quips, these deans wouldn't be getting death threats, and maybe readers might be less inclined to howl for their termination. Maybe we could all agree that this indiscretion warrants some disciplinary action but not demolishing their academic careers.

At this point, the fact that the LJW won't print the jokes, or that KU dissuaded them, just suggests that the emails are more salacious and incriminating than they probably really are. The mystery that's being perpetuated allows the most emotional readers to assume the worst, imagining that these deans are somehow just as boorish and calloused about animal cruelty as the frat boys who committed the actual crime.

Or, I guess you can just wait for the KC Star or another newspaper with less sensitivity to KU's PR wishes to come along and finally print the dang any case, full sunshine seems the best disinfectant especially when minor indiscretions get so overblown.

Ian_Cummings 5 years, 4 months ago

The jokes are pretty much exactly what you would think. We don't omit them in order to create any false mystery - it's just a standards and practices policy we follow in all stories. I regret any frustration on readers' part.

fiddleback 5 years, 4 months ago

"The jokes are pretty much exactly what you would think."

That's just it -- the spectrum of what people imagine seems to be pretty wide. If the actual emails are withheld to be consistent with a broader publishing policy, okay, but as it is, this follow-up story just seems to add peripheral details (and fuel) to a story in which the actual exchange in question could offer readers the most perspective and sense of proportion. I guess if your hands are tied, then it can't be helped, but I do think these folks receiving death threats or demands for termination is in part due to this missing piece of disclosure and looser cannons assuming the very worst.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 4 months ago

A fine example is a recent email to students reminding us to purchase spring parking permits if we don't have them. A freshman hit reply all and got lots of responses I'm sure.

50YearResident 5 years, 4 months ago

Ban all Jokes.....Jokes have killed more careers than Guns. And as a reminder, "Choking the Chicken" does not kill a bird, nor is it animal abuse.

beatrice 5 years, 4 months ago

Is that what was said? I would have figured him for a "turkey jerky" jokester.

Taxpayer 5 years, 4 months ago

Not the best and brightest leading our School of Education. Even elementary school kids know not to send e-mails that can be forwarded...

PhilChiles 5 years, 4 months ago

Here's a good idea. People should only be allowed to be offended a certain number of times per month, say 4 or 5. After you reach that point, you have to leave people alone for the rest of the month.

fiddleback 5 years, 4 months ago

Reminds me of this:

“Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.” ― Elbert Hubbard

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 4 months ago

IT WAS A JOKE! It was not meant to be sent to her and he made a mistake. I cannot believe this is even newsworthy or that I am commenting on someone making a joke that offended someone.

Terry Sexton 5 years, 4 months ago

No harm, no foul...unless you were the bird. Then it's plenty of harm to the fowl. Don't lose sight of what makes this disgusting. It isn't the email.

Kat Christian 5 years, 4 months ago

Seems to me LIchtenburg is the culprit in the email abuse to me and should be reprimanded if not fired. Wonder how many he's fired for doing the same thing or the like? As for the turkey (poor thing) who in the heck approved to allow these student to get a live turkey in the first place. What do they think they would have done with it anyway? If the students wanted a turkey they should have bought one at the grocery store. Idiots!! And they call this a higher institution of learning. Nuff said.

voevoda 5 years, 4 months ago

This is not even close to a "firing offense" for a tenured faculty member.

Alpenglow 5 years, 4 months ago

Perhaps not firing, but formal probation and admonishment for certain. A tenured colleague was put through the wringer for an email sent within his department that another staff member perceived hostile. Which it was not. The treatment he received was reprehensible from the powers that be. The overall drop in morale university wide rests firmly in the laps of the the top two leaders of KU. This entire turkey email debacle is much ado about nothing.

Gary Denning 5 years, 4 months ago

How is this news? These kinds of jokes have been exchanged around water coolers for eons. I guess the sin was putting the joke in writing, and it's pretty stupid to think it wouldn't end up in the wrong hands, but please. . . Could we over-react a little less?

I expect the 4-5 students whose behavior was over the line will be kicked out of the frat house, and all will be well in a few weeks.

smot 5 years, 4 months ago

The fraternity boys made stupid decisions while under the influence....I am sure that all of you who are calling for their beheadings and banishment have never made stupid decisions under the influence. It is unlikely these offenders have ever made mistakes in judgement resulting in injury to an animal prior to this. We still don't know how sadistic their behaviors were and I suspect their may be some embellishment (or at least different sides to the same story) in the amount of abuse and torture that occurred at thefraternity house. Punish appropriately those who transgressed and make the fraternity boys contribute their time to the humane society and lets move on.

Kontum1972 5 years, 4 months ago

makes one not to eat turkey anymore....

hedshrinker 5 years, 4 months ago

we don't typically drag caged food animals around parties to be tormented until the only kind thing to do at that point is to put them out of their misery. Most people who raise animals for slaughter know that the quality of the end product depends on your good care....garbage in. garbage out, so to speak...Temple Grandin has been a tremendous advocate for humane slaughter which prevents the animals fr being terrified and releasing adrenaline which degrades the meat quality. Educate yourself a bit before you rant.

gl0ck0wn3r 5 years, 4 months ago

Am I the only person amused by the fact that the woman simpy went to the KU website, picked two names essentially at random and directed her complaints to them? Lazy activists.

parco814 5 years, 4 months ago

First, thank you to the LJ World for reporting this story of unprofessional and stupid conduct among the upper echelons at KU. What galls me more than anything is that if the emails had been sent by contingent faculty or GTAs, their positions at KU would be at risk. But these educated and credentialed fools will only suffer embarrassment and death threats from a few cranks. Real role models, they are--and at the top of the heap in the School of Education, no less.

parco814 5 years, 4 months ago

You say prosperity, I say posterity, let's call the whole thing off...

Patricia Davis 5 years, 4 months ago

Really, are these two the best KU can get for these jobs?

beatrice 5 years, 4 months ago

"Both Ginsberg and Lichtenberg stressed that they did not intend to make light of the abuse of an animal."

Wrong. They absolutely intended to make light of it, hence making a joke. What is a joke if not making light of something? Does this mean they condone such behavior? Of course not, but they fully intended to make light of the situation, they just meant to do so amongst themselves. They didn't mean to offend by making light of the situation is what they meant to say.

Beyond that, just remember to NEVER hit "reply all" unless you mean to. Oh, and say no to Dibiase's invitation for Thanksgiving -- they are likely serving tofurkey.

blindrabbit 5 years, 4 months ago

Kansas: Land of Speaker of the House Owens racial jokesters! Sea of Galilee swimmers! Dean of Education crude e-mailers! State Representative shooters of aliens from helicopters! Board of Education evolution deniers! Home of supposedly Christian funeral protesters! Koch-a-Kola voter suppressors! No wonder we are the "laughing stock" for the rest of the country

Alceste 5 years, 4 months ago

Clearly Ginsberg is underpaid in his ever so important slot with the "family" of the "University" of Kansas having only pulled in a paltry $191,684.60 in 2011. He needs to be paid more so he has more to do, eh? Facts obtained from:

And, for that matter, grossly underpaid Jim Lichtenberg simply needs to be better appreciated for what he does, what with being a "family" member and all. The poor Jim Lichtenberg only pulled in $131,265.28 for 2011 per

Alceste simply cannot understand how these fellows survive on such low wages and is convinced these low wages lead to mischief................and misunderstandings........probably more of the latter......misunderstandings. Uh huh........

Liberty275 5 years, 4 months ago

He has publicly stated it was a lapse in judgement. So put a note in his dossier and leave him alone.

His lapse in judgement wasn't the joke. His lapse was telling such a somewhat sophomoric joke on what I assume are government owned computers during a period when he was "on the clock" or however you smart people say it Latin.

Give me a bit of free speech and I'll make you talk about sex and poultry just to try to stop me from offending you. His personal speech is as protected as mine.

As his employer, I would merely ask he not do similar things in the future. Otherwise, keep up the good work.

Now the real questions.

1: Who would rent a turkey, and why would they rent one?
2: Who rents out turkeys?

Jason Graham 5 years, 4 months ago

Anyone making six figures should know better. At every trivial job I have ever had making $10/hour or less, I have had to read and sign extensive sexual harassment information and sometimes attend classes and take tests on the topic. Sure it was a joke, but it's a major problem that this man likely sends routine emails of a sexual nature to co-workers. Is there not a policy against that? Shouldn't a dean be held as much responsible as the people getting paid the least at the organization?

Alceste 5 years, 4 months ago


Please understand these impoverished civil servants are not subject to the same set of rules and regulations the rest of working people are subject to: They're special because they're part of the "university" "family".

What all that mumbo jumbo means is that these fellows are NOT accountable; are easily "forgiven", irrespective of their actions; and, despite their poverty and pitifully disgusting low wages, are operating under a totally unique set of "rules and regulations".

Alceste wants to stress just how badly these two fellows have it in the "work" environment (does any "work" really go on at "KU" by their "class" of employee???) given their obvious lack of work assignments such that the two can spend a good deal of "work time" sending out and receiving/reading emails in the jocular arena. Poor, poor, poor overworked and underpaid KU administrators.

Get with the program, UselessToRemain.

Alceste 5 years, 4 months ago


If these two underpaid and overworked School of Education types do this kind of "stuff", isn't one compelled to ask "Just exactly WHAT is being TAUGHT in the School of Education"????

KU_cynic 5 years, 4 months ago

This is an embarrassing example of political correctness run amok.

I feel sorry for the poor turkey, but frankly what would impress me would be if Ginsberg et al. would merely respond with, "&%@ 'em if they can't take a joke."

riverdrifter 5 years, 4 months ago

My GAS switch is locked into the off position on this one. Next.

JackMcKee 5 years, 4 months ago

Death threats? Over a turkey joke? Are these people serious?

I've killed hundreds, if not thousands, of deer, bunnies, birds and fish over my hunting career. Come and get me vegans.

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