On August 26, 2004, Mr. Ford met with Professor Wetchler, as Wetchler had requested via e-mail (see Parts I, II, III, and IV of this series for background information). At the outset of the meeting, Wetchler stated that he was representing all of the program faculty members when he said: “You’re not in trouble. This is an opportunity for you to make changes because we are extremely concerned about your behavior.”
The behavior to which Professor Wetchler referred was Mr. Ford’s letter to the editor regarding “same-sex marriage,” which he had written under the full protection of the First Amendment. Nonetheless, Wetchler continued by explaining exactly why the faculty was concerned about Mr. Ford’s letter to the editor: “If someone were to recognize your name, it might misrepresent the clinic, simply by your name.” He explained that the faculty wanted him “to stay underground, because we are worried about you being a therapist and hurting a lot of people with this type of article.”
Professor Wetchler elaborated on why such a letter to the editor might hurt people: “You are creating a hostile environment for the program, clients, and students.” Wetchler tried to argue that Mr. Ford had misquoted articles and misrepresented data in his letter but Mr. Ford declined to discuss the contents of the letter, instead saying: “It is simply an expression of my faith tradition which my religious doctrine compels me to speak out.”
Of course, Professor Wetchler did not see it that way. He said: “This is not about religion or First Amendment rights. It is about hurting people. And you hurt a lot of people. Students have read the article, other faculty in the department have read the article (not that we are passing it around) and you have hurt people.” Wetchler mentioned that Mr. Ford had “hurt people” at least seven times and repeatedly pressed for an apology. But Mr. Ford refused to deny his God in order to appease his professor.
Professor Wetchler next commented that faculty members were concerned about what Mr. Ford would teach regarding single parent families, children of divorced parents, and sexual identity as he was scheduled to teach Introductory Psychology and Adolescent Development in the upcoming semester. Mr. Ford responded: “I adhere strictly to the curriculum which I am given, and if it is necessary, I can provide my lectures for review.”
Professor Wetchler then told Mr. Ford he was “The most beloved student until three or four months ago. Now the faculty are enraged with you. None of the faculty, at this point, feel like they could write you a letter of recommendation unless you stop your aggressive behavior around LGBT issues and stop creating a hostile environment.”
It sounded very much like a threat. Indeed, Mr. Ford was being confronted with a choice between following his God and following his career. Indeed, for a marriage and family therapist, a doctoral degree is essentially a professional requirement. To get into a doctoral program, Mr. Ford needed several letters of recommendation – letters he had planned to get from the professors who once loved him.
As the conversation continued, Professor Wetchler went on to declare that Mr. Ford’s “religious beliefs create a hostile environment.” Wetchler then demanded that Mr. Ford make several behavior changes. First, he demanded that Mr. Ford “come directly to people.” Second, he demanded that Mr. Ford “stop intimidating faculty.” Third, he demanded that Mr. Ford “work with Kent Pierce on lectures dealing with single parents, children of divorce, and sexual identity for the classes you teach.”
After this, Professor Wetchler requested permission to ask Mr. Ford a personal question. After receiving this permission, he asked: “Why are you so interested in LGBT issues? For a guy as sensitive as you are, you are insensitive in this area.” Mr. Ford responded that this was merely one of many areas in which he had developed a professional interest. Others included such topics as parenting and marital relations. Wetchler responded, “Yeah, but why LGBT?”
At this point, Mr. Ford responded: “What are you getting at?” Professor Wetchler started to talk about how much Mr. Ford had hurt his feelings, how Mr. Ford was insensitive to his feelings when Mr. Ford wanted to explore issues surrounding homosexual conduct, and how much Mr. Ford’s conduct and positions hurt him.
Professor Wetchler concluded the meeting— one which had lasted nearly two hours—by telling Mr. Ford: “You are liked, but you are not beloved.” Wetchler also asked if he could review Mr. Ford’s notes from the meeting, a request which Mr. Ford obliged. After reviewing them, Wetchler nodded in agreement to what was written. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ford met with Mr. Ken Pierce, as Professor Wetchler had instructed.
Mr. Pierce and Wetchler then decided that Mr. Ford should submit his class materials to Ms. Ann Edwards, an openly practicing lesbian, in order to determine if they were suitable. When Mr. Ford met with her in October, he described his classroom techniques. She responded by saying: “Wow, you sound as sensitive as they come.” She repeatedly assured him that he was being as sensitive and tolerant as she could imagine.
Nonetheless, as late as August 2005, the professors repeated their threats not to write letters of recommendation on Mr. Ford’s behalf. In Mr. Ford’s clinical work, many of his professors also served as his supervisors. Frequently, they would note his improvement, mention the letters of recommendation issue, and then say, “You’re not out of the woods yet.”
Then, one summer day, Professor Hecker was bored and had nothing to do. So she passed along a copy of Mr. Ford’s letter to the editor to Ms. Duffy-Greslo. Though she and Mr. Ford had been friends, she gave him an ultimatum: he must change his religious beliefs or she would no longer be his friend.
Could it be that certain faculty members at Purdue University Calumet were trying to destroy this man’s career in the long-term and make him friendless and miserable in the short-term? It all would have been so much simpler had he abandoned his religious beliefs in deference to the wisdom of the professoriate.
But Mr. Ford held firmly to his beliefs. And his story continues next week.