'F-word' stands for fired; prof loses job

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CEDAR CITY - Stephen Roberds, the popular and controversial Southern Utah University political-science professor who recently came under fire for letting loose with the f-word, was fired Wednesday.

"We have gone through policies and procedures, and based on a variety of things, the decision was made that a contract for the 2005-06 academic year not be granted to Professor Roberds," said Dean Decker, dean of SUU's College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Decker sent Roberds a letter saying his contract with the southwest Utah school would not be renewed.

According to Decker, Roberds' ouster had nothing to do with the tenure process or the professor's recent use of the obscenity during a classroom discussion.

The faculty review committee returned Roberds' application without granting or denying tenure, Decker said. The committee decided continued employment "should be an administrative decision."

With that, Decker placed Roberds on paid administrative leave with full benefits for the next six months - the balance of his current contract, which ends on June 30, 2005.

"He will not be teaching classes during the spring semester. We have fully credentialed faculty to teach the classes that Dr. Roberds was scheduled to teach," said Decker, a 40-year SUU veteran.

Roberds did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Lamar Jordan - Roberds' boss in the Department of Political Science & Criminal Justice - declined to comment about the firing, Roberds' tenure quest or whether there were additional, undisclosed complaints against him.

Jordan would say only that "incidents this past fall caused me to reconsider his application for tenure."

The action Wednesday bothered some students.

Greg Allred, a 32-year-old nontraditional student, called Roberds a "phenomenal professor" who challenged students to think outside the box.

"I found his classes outstanding. I hate to see a professor of his caliber terminated," said Allred, a Provo native. "I knew he had a difficult time being in a very conservative area."

Even so, SUU students picked Roberds as their 2003-04 Professor of the Year. Last week he gave the Cedar City-based university's Grace A. Tanner Distinguished Faculty Lecture.

His problems came to light Oct. 12 when he said "f---ing" during a heated classroom discussion with a student about a Supreme Court ruling.

Roberds quickly apologized to the student and class, according to senior Tasha Williams, a political-science major who witnessed the exchange.

The episode happened as Roberds was undergoing peer review for tenure. The resulting investigation and the manner in which it was conducted prompted some students to suggest that Jordan used the curse-word incident as a way to deny Roberds tenure.

Carson Bagely, 23 and a political-science major from the south-central Utah community of Aurora, said Roberds had "glowing reviews," both from the department chair and the dean at the start of the tenure review. But when the curse word happened, everything changed.

Roberds is one of the "really great SUU professors" and the first Bagely can recall who was "terminated because he colored outside the line." Other faculty members in similar situations would "see the handwriting on the wall" and leave before it reached the termination level, the student surmised.

"Even though I didn't always agree with some of his views, I just found his teaching to be extremely helpful," said Bagely, who plans to attend law school. "He has been a benefit to my education."

SUU student Matt Bybee, a senior Cedar City native majoring in sociology, is convinced that Roberds' situation illustrates a perennial battle between the conservative administration and professors who express more contradictory views - especially in the more liberal colleges like sociology.

"It's like the administration is sensitive to ideas of the majority, but not those with opposite views," said Bybee, adding that the loss of Roberds would reflect poorly on SUU.

"It does make the school look like a backwater place when it really isn't," said Bybee. "I've heard plenty of high school coaches use the f-word."