Activist banned from part of KU campus for making students feel unsafe is hired to teach on another part of campus
A Lawrence activist who is banned from one University of Kansas building after an outburst left students and staff fearing for their safety has been hired to teach students on another part of the KU campus.
Caleb Stephens, a licensed social worker and organizer with the group BLM-LFK, was banned from KU’s School of Social Welfare building, Twente Hall, after a contentious confrontation in 2015 with the school’s then-dean. University officials said the profanity-laced tirade had disrupted the learning environment and caused students, faculty and staff to feel unsafe.
On Monday, university officials confirmed Stephens’ employment with KU as a graduate teaching assistant in the department of theater, where he is also a doctoral student.
Joe Monaco, KU’s director of strategic communications, also confirmed that Stephens’ ban is still in place until the end of 2018. Monaco, however, wouldn’t comment on whether the ban and the safety issues that were raised by it were considered when hiring Stephens to be a graduate teaching assistant.
In a December 2015 letter addressed to Stephens from KU’s Office of the Provost, Diane Goddard, vice provost for administration and finance, describes the events that led to Stephens’ banning from Twente Hall. She wrote that on Dec. 9, 2015, Stephens showed up at the dean’s office “unannounced and without an appointment.”
Stephens, according to Goddard, then “demanded that the Dean send an email to members of the School — telling him you would not leave until the message was sent, and attempting to dictate the precise terms of the message.”
“You then began shouting at the Dean, from the doorway, and your voice could be heard up and down the halls,” she wrote. “Your shouting — captured on video that I reviewed — disrupted classrooms, and caused instructors and other students to fear for their personal safety.”
In a statement addressed to the University Daily Kansan from February 2016, Stephens explained that he had confronted then-Dean Paul Smokowski after weeks of discussion between the dean and KU’s Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk student activists over concerns about racial equity issues at KU.
Stephens, saying that he was dissatisfied with Smokowski’s response to requests that Smokowski write a letter (as dictated by Stephens and his fellow activists) in solidarity with RCIH, said he then began yelling at the dean.
“I used (the F-word) a lot throughout the four-minute conversation, but did not attack him, advance towards him, threaten him in any way, and was at least three to four feet away from him the entire time,” Stephens wrote of the encounter, also claiming that Smokowski “didn’t (expletive) care about” people of color and that the dean “wasn’t following the requirements of his licensure through the BSRB (Behavioral Science Regulatory Board).”
Stephens could not be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday.
It is unclear when Stephens was hired at KU, though the situation was brought to the Journal-World’s attention via an anonymous email that the sender had originally relayed to the KU chancellor’s office.
The anonymous sender was concerned about Stephens’ language on Facebook, in which he wrote — seemingly in response to an issue of racial injustice — that “yt (white) people are such pieces of (expletive),” with “no accountability and responsibility.” It’s not clear what specifically had prompted Stephens’ remarks, though he regularly posts about race issues on social media.
Jill Hummels, communications manager at KU’s Office of the Provost, said Tuesday that she was familiar with the scenario but declined to comment further, instead pointing the Journal-World to the university’s social media policy.
It was unclear whether the social media policy applies to Stephens’ statement, and it also is unclear how the university administers the social media policy or handles complaints made about social media activity by staff. Hummels declined to answer questions about any of those topics.
The Kansas Board of Regents in 2013 approved a policy that would allow disciplining, including firing, university employees if they communicated through social media in a way that negatively affected the school.
The policy was made in response to a tweet by KU professor David Guth that was critical of the National Rifle Association.
Guth went on administrative leave after a Twitter post following the shootings that left 13 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Guth wrote: “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”
Stephens’ ban from Twente Hall will remain in effect until Jan. 1, 2019, “unless withdrawn in writing,” Goddard said in her 2015 letter.
“Please note that if you engage in a similar disruptive and threatening conduct in other University buildings, you may be subject to arrest for disorderly conduct, and this ban may be expanded to include the entire campus,” the letter to Stephens said.