SMU Professor Patricia Davis Claims She Was Fired for Blowing the Whistle on Sex and Nazi Fetishism in the Human Rights Program
In 2006, with the controversy over its ultimately successful bid to house the Bush Presidential Center very much brewing, SMU set to work establishing the Embrey Human Rights Program.
SMU Patricia Davis
It was a pioneering effort that aimed to raise awareness of global social justice issues and perhaps inspire students to pursue the type of advocacy that has sometimes been missing from the Hilltop. Every indication is that the program has been a success, in no small part thanks to founding director Rick Halperin, a well-respected academic and human rights advocate.
But Patricia Davis, who until recently was a tenured theology professor at SMU and Embrey's associate director, claims Halperin's saintly reputation isn't entirely deserved. Halperin, she contends, somehow managed to spend seven years atop the Human Rights program despite being a lecherous Hitler fetishist who has sex with students and enjoys nothing better than running around naked and spying on neighbors.
She makes these seemingly wild claims, plus a few more, in a federal lawsuit against SMU claiming she was fired for reporting her boss' sexual indiscretions.
We've reached out to university spokesman Kent Best, who said he's looking into the matter, and to Halperin, who has not yet responded. (Update at 1:05 p.m.: Best passed along a brief statement by email: "SMU does not comment on pending litigation. The University stands by its personnel decisions and looks forward to resolving these claims in a court of law.")
According to Davis, she first suspected Halperin of misbehaving with students in 2005 on a 10-day tour of Holocaust sites in Poland. It was that trip that inspired Lauren Embrey to endow a human rights program at SMU, but Davis claims that a female student approached her one day to report that Halperin had been hitting on her.
Eight months later, Davis says, she walked into her boss' office to find a female undergraduate "kneeling behind Halperin's desk with him," according to the suit. Seeing Davis, "the student jumped up with a start. Both acted embarrassed as if in a compromising situation, and [the student] ran out of the office."
The lawsuit goes on like this for a while. Davis recounts closed-door meetings with female students at odd hours and on weekends, explicitly sexual conversations that drifted across the hallway at odd hours and on weekends, and a growing reputation on campus that Halperin seduced students.
One evening in 2011, Davis claims, she returned to the Embrey office to fetch her cell phone only to find Halperin and one of his female graduate students locked in passionate embrace.
When he saw her, Halperin pushed the woman away from him with such force that the papers on the reception desk went flying. Both "were red in the face and her hair was in disarray," the suit claims. "Both looked very embarrassed, began stammering forced greetings, and picking up the papers. Unprompted, [the woman] said, "I'm here to get my paper.' Then she picked up her backpack and left. Halperin said nothing after the student left; he just went into his office and closed the door."
SMU Rick Halperin
It's at this point in the lawsuit that things get exceedingly weird, and hard to believe.
Almost as soon as they met in 2005, Halperin displayed disturbing tendencies. For instance, he told Davis that he engaged in 'peeping' (which he also called 'steam-piping') and other lewd activities for recreation (like running around his neighborhood naked and looking in windows). Also, he appeared obsessed with the Nazis (privately giving Nazi salutes, screaming 'Achtung' on the telephone, displaying huge posters of Nazi symbols and events in his office and watching hours and hours of pictures of bodies and Holocaust death camps on his office television). These things, in addition to his inappropriate conduct toward women involved with the Human Rights Program, concerned Davis.
How a professor atop the human rights program managed to harbor not-so-secret Nazi tendencies without detection goes unexplained. But Davis claims she eventually reported her concerns to the dean of the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, then to Beth Wilson, an associate VP, then on up the chain to President Gerald Turner. Nothing happened, not to Halperin at least.
Instead, Davis says, the school administration turned their attention to her and began an investigation into her claims. In September, the lawsuit says, the investigation concluded that she had been unfairly targeting Halperin.
She was fired "due to false accusations of sexual harassment and to your disruptive and detrimental impact on Program operations and your poor working relationships with Program and other SMU staff," she was told in a termination letter quoted in the suit.
She, of course, begs to differ. She claims she was fired for blowing the whistle on Halperin, which violated federal law governing universities and amounts to breach of contract. She's seeking unspecified damages.