News and Commentary

Campus Due Process Title IX

Hostile Environment Concerns May Cancel Academic Freedom

Sharing is caring!

Hostile Environment Concerns May Cancel Academic Freedom

David B. Porter, DPhil, Col, USAF (Ret.)

June 6, 2021

I am a 72-year-old veteran and acknowledge my many blessings and privileges.  I graduated from the Air Force Academy with distinction in 1971 with an engineering degree; a year later, I earned a master’s degree from UCLA in Industrial Relations and Labor Law.  After serving as a rescue helicopter pilot and aircraft maintenance officer, I returned to the Air Force Academy faculty. Later, I completed my doctorate in Experimental Cognitive Psychology at Oxford University.  In 1996, I was selected by the Academy and confirmed by the Senate as the third Permanent Professor and Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership.

Throughout my career, I’ve supported diversity and inclusion. I earned AF qualifications as an Equal Opportunity & Treatment Officer and Race Relations Instructor.  As an Organizational Maintenance Officer, our unit was the first to be assigned female aircraft mechanics; the following year, we won the Dedalian Award for the best Aircraft Maintenance in the AF.  At the Academy, I advised the first female cadet to finish first in Graduation Order of Merit; I led efforts to integrate women & civilians into the Academy’s faculty and I sponsored the Cadet Free Thinkers.  I drafted the Academy Core Values (which later became the Air Force Core Values) and the initial Operations Plan for the integration of gays and lesbians into the Cadet Wing in 1995.

I’ve been a “consultant evaluator” for three regional educational accrediting bodies and was on key academic committees for Western Governors University. I served as Provost at Berea College from 2001-2005 and as a tenured professor of psychology and general studies until 2018.  I’ve sought to implement the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout my lifetime.

This is why I was so deeply disappointed when I observed the negative consequences of Title IX’s Dear Colleague Letters on my campus.

Trying to combat racism and discrimination without authentic assessment and due process is like trying to fight a fire while blindfolded.  Hosing down a fire chief because he happens to be “some old white guy” is not an effective tactic.  As an advisor to a faculty respondent charged with discrimination in selection and promotion, retaliation, and creating hostile environment, I saw nearly all the critical due process safeguards I had learned as an Air Force Equal Opportunity and Treatment Officer abandoned.

The college’s Title IX coordinator was an advocate rather than an administrator, mediator, or arbitrator.  A slip-shod investigation undertaken by misinformed and poorly prepared social justice zealots, ignored objective contrary evidence and obvious exaggerations, misinformation, and demonstrably false claims by the grievants.  The administrative goal was successful prosecution rather than fair and equitable treatment.  I was embarrassed for my college and for the cause I had served for so long.

Berea College is not the only place where such travesties have occurred; there are hundreds of others who have been unjustly accused and dismissed for doing or saying things subjectively assumed to be “dangerous” or “threatening.”  Emotions are important and microaggressions can be real, however, objective analysis of the variables involved is essential.

In 2018, I developed a survey of identity, beliefs, perceptions, & judgments related to hostile learning environments & academic freedom with my Industrial/Organizational classes.  Some of the scenarios it included were derived from actual incidents both at Berea College and elsewhere.  No names were revealed, and race and/or gender were sometimes changed to obscure the identity of the guilty as well as the innocent.  The survey was reviewed by my acting department chair, my academic division chair, and the chair of the Institutional Review Board.  No one expressed ethical concerns or harm to others.

For posting this survey as a part of my course, I was suspended, prohibited from communicating with students, and banished from campus.  To the best of my knowledge, there was never an investigation and suggestions of mediation or compromise were quickly squelched by a zealous dean who falsely claimed to my colleagues that I was “unrepentant and unapologetic” despite clear evidence to the contrary.  After a 10-week suspension based on fears expressed by un-identified grievants; my professional competence was questioned; my tenure was revoked; and I was dismissed for cause.  A presentation of the results of our study is available at  We found that identity and beliefs predict a perception of environmental hostility, and that this perception negatively influences judgments about academic freedom.

The enhanced protections for due process incorporated in the Office for Civil Rights 2020 regulation must be retained and strengthened. A formal assessment of program effects on campuses must be integrated into all programs and policies. As our research suggests, the more that is done to increase sensitivity to micro-aggressions and exaggerated perceptions of “hostility,” the greater the potential damage to academic freedom and higher learning.

“When we tell the truth, we honor all those who have given their all…” — Anonymous Gold Star Father, 2021