Return of CCU professor leaves students stunned

Dozens of students are upset about the return of theatre professor Steven Earnest, who will resume teaching classes in the spring.  

Earnest was removed from teaching in September after students raised concerns about inappropriate behavior. Earnest and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said he was removed from teaching because of an email chain. Students said the emails triggered them, but that there’s an indicative pattern of incidents that have been happening.  

A meeting was held and opened for all theatre students on Thursday, Nov. 18. Those leading the meeting included CCU’s Provost Dan Ennis, Chief of Staff Travis Overton, Edwards Dean Claudia Bornholdt, and the university’s lawyer Carlos Johnson. Ennis announced he was responsible for the decision.  

After the announcement was made, the room went silent, and tension abounded. Students were upset, hurt, some even furious. As the meeting progressed, students trickled out, leaving a room of what was about 50 students, to only about 10.  

Ennis said he heard the students and their concerns, but for reasons that could not be legally disclosed, he decided to reinstate Earnest. 

“Folks, if you fire somebody without being sure it’ll stick, they get their job back and they get rich, all right. I’m speaking the truth here,” Ennis said. “So, we have tough choices here and these are the choices that we’re facing.”  

Students said they want to know that Earnest is going to behave as a professional once he returns and rests assured that another incident is not going to occur. Students said they want to ensure that if something happens, that they will have their voices heard and know that action will take place when a situation is reported.  

Senior Jihad Levermore said he and his peers are upset about Earnest’s return. He said Earnest is just one of many problematic professors, but he said the difference is that Earnest shows no signs of wanting to progress. 

“There are just professors who have shown that they’re open to learning and changing the way that they think about things,” Levermore said. “But I think that there are also professors, and Steve was one of them, who was just like rigid and not really showing that he’s willing to grow from like his past mistakes.”  

Bornholdt announced at the meeting that Earnest will be teaching, but he will be lecturing classes that are not mandatory for theatre students, so it will be their choice as to whether they opt to take his classes or not.  

Earnest said he is looking forward to teaching once again. 

“I am happy to be able to move forward with no additional legal action,” Earnest said.  

Joseph Fitsanakis, the president of Coastal’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), said he learned of Earnest’s reinstatement when The Chanticleer contacted him on Friday, Nov. 19. Fitsanakis said the faculty advocacy group would issue a statement after its executive committee’s scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 30.