Another Complaint Lodged Against TMCC: #me(n)too! (Opinion)

By Dr. Kyle Bryant Simmons

I am a 48-year-old male of Native American heritage with a Ph.D. in Humanities, which means I fall within a category of extremely underrepresented minorities in academia with a Ph.D. I am also a citizen in two different nations on the North American continent: the United States of America and the Muscogee/Creek Nation, so being in unique/unorthodox categories is nothing new to my life.

However, six months ago I found myself forced into a new minority group: men that have been sexually harassed — grabbed or pulled or touched without permission — by their female administrators (which has led to retaliation against me for filing a sexual harassment claim and the subsequent denial of my tenure — more about all this later).

This new minority group that I now find myself to be a part of is not a group that I chose to represent (quite frankly, it has taken me months of psyching myself up to have the courage to write this embarrassing article).

I hope that the following narrative of my experience will help others (men and women alike) to speak up and out against people in positions of power that are abusing their power and abusing people in the process; and I hope that it becomes clear that the paradigm of men with power over women has become reflected in the actions of women with power over men and I hope that #me(n)too! is a concern that will now be addressed constructively.

What Happened

Dr. Karin Hilgersom, TMCC President.
Dr. Karin Hilgersom, TMCC President.

On Aug. 17, 2017 most Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) employees were gathered for a Semester Kick-off Event, led by TMCC’s President, Karin Hilgersom, and her administrative staff.

At 1:47:59 into this event, extremely loud music began to blare throughout the room, drowning out the speaking President.

It seemed like the booming audio was a mistake, but when it was not immediately silenced, and individuals around the room began to stand on their chairs, shouting, clapping, and swaying, it became apparent that the shrieking music was not a mistake.

Within a minute, the individuals standing on their chairs, shouting, clapping, and swaying, jumped to the ground and made their way to the front of the room, where they were joined by even more people who started a choreographed dance routine to the music, accompanied by the President and her administrative staff.

"Charters of Freedom" Monument Nixed by Historical Resources Commission

I would like to reiterate that this meeting was a mandatory, professional gathering, which broke into a flash mob with people swaying and shaking their bodies in the faces of seated individuals that did not ask to be a part of such an activity.

At the end of this unprofessional dance routine (the 1:50:52 mark), the dancers made their way into the crowd, clapping and encouraging people to stand and dance and clap with them.

The Vice President of Academic Affairs locked her eyes on me and said something to the effect of: “Come on, Kyle!” — “Get up, Kyle!”

I indicated that I did not want to dance. She did not heed my refusal and grabbed my right wrist, attempting to pull me to a standing position — saying something like “Come on, Kyle!” — as if my first refusal was unacceptable to her.

So I said “No” and pulled my wrist loose from her grasp. I was shocked that I had to tell the Vice President that I did not want to dance (twice) and that I had to physically pull myself loose from her grasp at a mandatory, professional gathering.

Instinctively, I refused to be a jester or a fool and perform for people with supervisory power over me. My Native American heritage is filled with a history of people in power forcing many Native Peoples to dance for them. I do not dance for others. I dance only if I choose to dance. I also do not respond positively to physical force and I do not believe that I should be compelled to perform, dance, sway, or clap for my employer — ever.

An hour after being grabbed I could still feel fingers encircled around my wrist; it was a burning feeling of restraint that I could not shake. I called friends and family for advice and they all recommended speaking to Human Resources about the incident.

A couple colleagues said that if I valued my future tenure (which the Vice President and other administrators had the power to deny) that I would not report this incident to HR. I finally approached a campus police officer and the TMCC Nevada Faculty Alliance (NFA) Union President and their collective advice was to also report the matter to HR.

So I went to the HR office with the NFA President and reported the matter to the HR Director who did not take my complaint seriously, because the HR Director was a dancer in the flash mob too and she also grabbed at someone in the crowd to get up and dance.

Lawsuit filed against TMCC alleges retaliation (updated)

Long story short, HR closed the matter within two weeks and it took me a month to get an investigation opened into this matter, citing state codes of assault and battery and some definitions of sexual harassment examples, such as: “Other than customary handshakes, uninvited touching, patting, hugging, or purposeful brushing against a person’s body or other inappropriate touching of an individual’s body.”

Tenure Denied

A month after an investigation was conducted by HR the President closed the matter and within two months these same TMCC administrators denied my tenure, gave me a notice of non-renewal of my contract, and removed me from instruction, directing me to work at home on special projects.

My tenure committee has written a letter disagreeing with the decision to deny my tenure and my tenure committee chair, Dr. Tom Cardoza wrote the following in a letter to TMCC’s President (read the complete letter here):

“We are writing to express our grave concern at your decision to recommend denial of tenure to Dr. Kyle Simmons… We are particularly troubled by the timing of the change in tenor of his administrative evaluations, which came after he filed a sexual harassment complaint against a senior administrator.”

Thus, after filing a sexual harassment claim I’ve been retaliated against for months and now I am being paid not to teach and do non-meaningful projects at home (all of which are retaliatory, contract violations conducted by TMCC administrators).

Truckee Meadows Community College
Image: TMCC

I feel as if I keep getting “grabbed,” over and over again and am being compelled to “dance” for these administrators (most recently I have been “grabbed” and told to stay at home and to “dance” by making PowerPoint presentations for a book that my dean is discussing in her lunchtime book group).

Sadly, my story is not solitary at TMCC — here is the link to a similar story in the news about a lawsuit regarding the same TMCC administrators and how contract violations at TMCC are an increasing concern on campus. A female colleague of mine (who prefers to remain unnamed) wrote the following email to a local journalist, under the heading “Culture of Fear at TMCC and discrimination issues”:

UPDATED: New Soccer Coach at TMCC Resigns Before Season Kick-off (Subscriber Content)

“I’ve witnessed a clear pattern of discrimination against my male colleagues by the Dean of Liberal Arts and she has been able to get away with it because of the powerful coalition of female administrators and a female Human Resources Director. What women have had to suffer in the workplace in the past has now been reversed and here at TMCC at least, men are suffering. Women are also targeted once they side with one of their colleagues or they themselves speak up for something they feel is an unfair practice or unwise”…”When my colleague, Kyle Simmons, was denied tenure over false allegations, I knew that I had to do something to support him.”

Voices of support like these from my colleagues are the reason I am making my name and situation public. A hallway campaign about me is currently being waged on the campus of TMCC by administrators while I sit at home, removed from instruction without cause or complaint, creating PowerPoint presentations like an eight grader.

Many of my colleagues are taking notes on campus rumors and keeping me informed of what is going on, all while I file grievances for contract violations by the very people that violated the contract in the first place and who get to decide if the contract violation actually occurred. I think the outcome of such a kangaroo court is pretty obvious, but I will continue to fight back. For the record, I was recently offered a monetary settlement (that I did not request) and an offer to create an entirely new tenure committee (all of whom would be women selected by the female administration to make me dance a new dance for them).

Both offers I declined so I can continue my fight for justice.

Wish me luck and know that this essay is my dance of freedom and my dance of fighting for my rights against those that feel comfortable abusing their power and abusing people.

This dance is the only dance that truly matters because it is a dance that I have chosen myself. Thank you for reading my story and I will gladly provide an update if there is an appetite out there to hear more about this dance. #me(n)too!

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  1. Imagine my surprise to receive a copy of Dr. Simmons’ opinion piece since I am actually mentioned in it! I am one of the three tenured faculty members Dr. Simmons references at the end of his piece when he acknowledges administration made “an offer to create an entirely new tenure committee (all of whom would be women selected by the female administration to make [him] dance a new dance for them).” Point of clarification: I was not “selected” by the administration. I actually, and in retrospect quite stupidly, went to the President, the VPAA, and the Dean and argued for Dr. Simmons to have a reboot to his tenure experience with a new committee since it was my opinion that the scorched earth/publicly disruptive tactics he was following (I assumed on the advice of his mentors) would not end well–again, only my opinion. In the spirit of collegiality, I made an argument for Dr. Simmons to have a reboot committee to address whatever shortcomings existed in his tenure binder, and to show my support, I offered to serve if such a committee was formed.

    That was the last I heard of this conversation until I received a copy of Dr. Simmons’ opinion piece explaining why he rejected the offer. I won’t speak for the others who offered/were asked to serve on this committee, but as I read his piece, I am apparently a “shill” for administration, and worse, someone oblivious to my own white privilege (for what it is worth, I would have been the only member of exclusive European heritage on the committee and I am very aware of my while privilege). It is Dr. Simmons’ right to turn down the offer of another tenure committee, but it is not his right to characterize that committee in the terms he chose. I put my reputation on the line for Dr. Simmons by practicing a quiet diplomacy with administration–with the goal of demonstrating to administration that Dr. Simmons had faculty support outside of his vocal circle; I did this even though I do not know him personally. I did this because I believed it was the right thing to do. It is true–I am a woman–that part he got right. It is also true that the other two members are women, but what he fails to mention is they are both respected, recently tenured members of our community. I am not sure why it bothers Dr. Simmons so much that we are all women–the fact that his previous committee was all men seemed not to be a problem. I do not regret arguing on Dr. Simmons’ behalf for a new committee, but having read this opinion piece, I am going to count myself fortunate that he turned the offer down.

    As for the flash mob business, I was not there. This video was the first time I have seen what happened that day. First, kudos to the 30 something colleagues who participated in this event. Yes, it was silly, but that was clearly the point–to remind one another that it is possible to step outside of our silos of faculty, administration, and staff and just be human beings for four minutes. I fully support Dr. Simmons’ right not to participate, but to characterize the events of that day as “harassing” is a bit much.

    I have no trouble believing that students like those who have posted in this thread see Dr. Simmons as a good teacher, but I would ask those students to consider that tenure is about more than teaching. It is about community, service, professionalism, and consistently ethical behavior. I am personally aware of Dr. Simmons’ (and others) canvassing of past students to post on his behalf. I find this activity patently unethical–again, just my opinion. I find waging personal battles in public venues like this publication entirely unprofessional. I find his characterization of our community–the TMCC community–a convenient distortion of who we are and how the overwhelming majority of us see and value one another.

    Ana Douglass, PhD #IamTMCCtoo

  2. Good essay. I agree it’s about work environment. Although I’m not in the humanities department, there is pretty blatant favoritism going on at the college. Some of us were standing around asking each other how the dancers got picked to be in it. It would have been fun if the whole thing wasn’t handled so deceptively.
    It turns out that the VPs or Deans each got to pick a few people and not tell anyone else. They all practiced a few times. The rest of us that didn’t get chosen are probably supposed to admire their creativity and knowledge of the pop culture including flash mobs. Even though you’re supposed to surprise the audience with the flash mob, there is no reason to choose an activity like this if it causes people to feel left out; those who work hard, help out other fellow faculty, are selflessly devoted to our students, volunteer for thankless jobs, do them with a smile and are loyal to the school. We had no choice except to get up at the very end and dance with those who are the favorites of the leadership, or to sit and applaud the administration for discluding some of us.
    Well, I think our leaders are not smart enough to be able to find a fun activity we could all take part in from the very beginning, or have a choice in taking part in to practice for the professional meeting, or at the college.

  3. I am a past student of Prof. Simmons and I can attest that he is, without a doubt, one of the best professors teaching in his field. He was always extremely insightful and brought the classroom together in a way I’ve never seen before; there was, in my perspective/opinion, no reason for his tenure to be denied.

    While I personally feel this was not something serious enough to report to HR, that should have no affect on his ability to receive tenure. I do believe his denial of tenure was an act of retaliation for the alleged offense.

    • Steve,

      Respectfully, you are assuming that the reason for tenure denial was because of retaliation rather than some other reason(s). A good philosophy class should have imparted that you put aside “belief” in favor of reason and facts. When certain facts are lacking, or not apparent, Occam’s Razor can be helpful.

      Given the facts at hand, including a rather ridiculous-looking sexual harassment complaint, and the admission by Dr. Simmons that he did have a path to tenure offered to him by the administration (albeit with some females on the committee–how awful), Occam doesn’t seem to fall in Dr. Simmons’ favor.

      Finally, would you mind letting us know if Dr. Simmons asked you for your canvassing support–either here in this comment board or via an email/letter writing campaign?

      If so, that would suggest poor ethics, another subject of philosophy.

      • Mark, you seem to have a biased opinion yourself, given that you are assuming Kyle asked for my support. I have not spoken with Kyle in over 3 years. So, no. He did not persuade me to post this.

        It is in fact possible for me to have an opinion other than the one you so clearly see as “correct”.

        You are correct in saying that I can not assume his tenure was denied for this reason specifically, so I’ll give you that and only that. Can’t I say the same to you as well? Why is it okay to assume there was another reason but I can not assume otherwise?

        I respectively find it deplorable that just because I don’t share your opinion you assume he “put me up to this”.

  4. OMG – what did you teach, DRAMA? “locked her eyes on me”, “a burning feeling I could not shake”, “I could still feel fingers encircled around my wrist”, “I feel as if I keep getting “grabbed,” over and over again and am being compelled to “dance” for these administrators” –

    You claim you’re a 48 year old man, but those are comments that I would expect from a bubble-encased MILLINNEUM. “Ohhh she LOOKED at me … ohh, she TOUCHED me … where is my helicopter mother to help me process this TRAUMATIZING event of having another person actually try to encourage me to socialize?!? Wahhhhhhhh”

    Why was your tenure denied, Kyle? Your colleague says, “false allegations” – so, were your claims of sexual harassment false?? Or was it because you refused to DANCE?
    How about because you failed to perform the required components of a tenure track faculty member?

  5. This is not the first time Mr Simmons has done this. Check to see a previous lawsuit he had against a school district in Orange County CA. You will see this is just a way to make some money. Unbelievable.

  6. wow! are you serious? a sexual harassment complaint? unbelievable! reading this story was a waste of time!!!

  7. Is the reason for you NOT being granted tenure because of this sexual harassment lawsuit or are there valid reasons for not being granted tenure?

    What were the reasons WHY you were not granted tenure?

    And seriously, sexual harassment for a touch to the wrist?? How long did she touch you — what 2, 3 seconds max? Your whining about “sexual harassment” for a touch on the wrist is stretching the definition just a bit. Women have been putting up with MUCH more than a mere touch to the wrist.

    Man up. Don’t try and ride the #metoo bandwagon for a touch on the wrist.

  8. Being grabbed by the wrist in an attempt to drag you onto a dance floor is more than being “touched on the wrist”. It’s offensive to many people, and our bosses don’t get to set the boundaries of our personal dignity. You invite people to engage in optional games. You don’t drag them out and throw them into the middle of them. But the real issue is retaliation. This could have, and should have, been settled with an open ear and an apology. I don’t know if that can be done in today’s overheated culture, but that’s where the matter belongs.

    • Good point. I wonder if that apology ever occurred? Perhaps Dr. Simmons can tell us if he received an apology?

      • Mr. Simmons received an apology and a proverbial “handshake” from administration, but the reality is that an apology is not what he desires. Mr. Simmons is looking to create a witch hunt and he proves this theory by not only running to the media and publishing an intensely one-sided opinion piece, but also egregiously including his racial heritage within the first few sentences of the article although no where in the article does he claim discrimination based on his racial heritage. In essence, it seems as if he wants to see TMCC administration burned at the stake, and it’s only a bonus for Mr. Simmons if his pockets (and that of his attorneys’) are lined along the way. As Sarah discovered, Mr. Simmons fails to mention that a case of sexual harrassment is dependant upon the CONTEXT of how the said alleged “harrassment” occurred. As I said before, failure to take into context how the alleged “battery” occurred creates a slippery slope. Using Mr. Simmons irrational logic, a shopper in the grocery store who brushes my shoulder as they squeeze by, is potentially committing a sexual assault. I find it quite obvious that any reasonable person would find that to be simply an outlandish and ridiculous claim. #youwerent

  9. All of the responses to my Article are very interesting. I really enjoy seeing Free Speech in action. I expected polarized responses and am glad to hear all views.

    To help clarify opinions about sexual harassment from definitions of sexual harassment I will quote the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Code about sexual harassment: Title 4, Chapter 8, Section 13 “Policy Against Discrimination and Sexual Harassment” (which is what I referenced in my Essay) and it reads: “Other than customary handshakes, uninvited touching, patting, hugging, or purposeful brushing against a person’s body or other inappropriate touching of an individual’s body.”

    It is important to keep in mind that everyone has a legal right to report such actions and are legally protected from any retaliatory acts for having reported such actions (despite any opinion to the contrary).

    Additionally, we live in a country ruled by laws, not opinions, and opinions (no matter how strongly they are felt) are not laws. We should all be grateful for this truth…

    • You conveniently omitted the preamble to your quote of the NSHE code:

      “Determining what constitutes sexual harassment under this policy is dependent upon the specific facts and the context in which the conduct occurs. Some conduct may be inappropriate, unprofessional, and/or subject to disciplinary action, but would not fall under the definition of sexual harassment [. . .]”

      Also, while you have the right to report your allegations, the alleged harassment–as well as the alleged “retaliatory acts”–require proof beyond your own opinions. You know, given that “we are a country ruled by laws,” as you said.

  10. I think this op-ed would be a great example for a journalism student at UNR to explore in the context of media ethics and law, especially regarding libel.

      • Bob is correct; plus, my attorney read the Essay prior to publication and ensured it was both factual and legal to print.

      • I’ll play. It certainly rises to level of libel (defamation), but it would need to be litigated to be proven. It appears to be an example of poor media ethics in any case (one-sided reporting). Or did you ask TMCC administration for a statement?

        In Nevada, the elements for a claim of defamation are:

        False and defamatory statement by defendant concerning the plaintiff;
        Unprivileged publication of the statement to third party;
        Some level of fault amounting at least to negligence; and
        Actual or presumed damages. Damages which will be presumed if defamation tends to injure plaintiff in his business (defamation per se).

        • Libel and defamation are similar but not the same. TMCC has been offered to submit an opposing opinion; previously, they (TMCC/NSHE) refused to comment on the lawsuit citing personal and legal matters. Their perspective is most certainly welcomed, regardless.

          • Obviously. Libel is written or published defamation. It leaves a trail of evidence via publication.

  11. Thank you, Dr. Simmons, for your courageous account of TMCC administration’s deplorable mistreatment of you. What the previous commenter’s criticism of your sexual harassment claim failed to acknowledge is that sexual harassment includes creation of a hostile workplace environment. Refusing to accept “No” as meaning “No” IS A HOSTILE ACT, and every instance of retaliation that followed your efforts to seek redress only compounded the hostility. The criminal lack of professional judgment displayed by the TMCC administrators who created this fiasco–every single one, including the college president–should cause their removal from their jobs. TMCC’s students deserve competent role models of ethical, professional behavior. TMCC’s teaching faculty deserve respectful supervisors. You deserve to return to the classroom with tenure. Let there be justice. #me(n)too

    • Um. No. You either don’t have an understanding of what constitutes sexual harrassment, or you are a crony of the “aggrieved.” But let there be justice indeed. This pathetic account is an affront to real victims of sexual harassment, as is your enabling defense.

      • I have an excellent understanding of harassment and its legal connection to hostile workplace: perhaps you would like to learn more. “Harassment is a form of prohibited discrimination. Legally speaking, harassment is defined as unwelcome actions or statements, based on a protected trait (like sex or race), that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that an employee must endure in order to get or keep a job.” I’m quite sure that a woman who was grabbed and pulled by her employer, a man demanding that she get up and dance with him, would receive social approval for labeling this “unwanted attention” as sexual harassment, so, clearly, condemning Dr. Simmons for his applying the same label to his experience of being pawed by a female supervisor reveals a sexist bias among his critics, not his or his lawyer’s or my understanding of the legal grounds for his claim. Consequently, when he filed that claim, his female supervisors retaliated against him, making obvious the fact that his ability to keep his job depended on his acceptance of their unwanted attention. A final point: sexual harassment is not always only about overt sexual behavior (quid pro quo demands) or displays (porn in the workplace)–a friend of mine in mid-level management won her sexual harassment lawsuit, which was based on her male supervisor’s insistence that she, the only woman on a 10-member project committee he chaired, serve the coffee provided for their weekly planning meetings. The basic issue is disrespectful use of power in the workplace, and, unfortunately, some women in positions of authority can be as ignorant as similarly situated men. No one has to take it anymore.

        • Without getting into statute definitions of sexual harassment, or federal definitions, or the “apples-to-oranges” analogy of your friend’s irrelevant case, I think we can agree that it will be up to Dr. Simmons to prove that such harassment occurred and that retaliation occurred. You are presuming both, yet both are unproven at this time. Instead, we have a video that seems unconvincing to most that watch it. Good luck to you both on your campaign.

  12. Sure, maybe a flash mob wasn’t the most professional thing TMCC should have conducted, however, a touch to a wrist is neither harrasssment and I find it quite abhorrent that you filed a “sexual harassment” claim. If we classify wrist touching as “sexual harrassment” that would set a dangerous precendent and the proverbial slippery slope. Does this mean that glancing at a woman’s bossom is “sexual assault”? Sure, maybe by Nevada law a “simple battery” may have been committed. The fact that a seemingly intelligent person with a PhD could admittedly call wrist touching “sexual harrassment” is mind blowing, not to mention, somewhat scary. It sounds to me by labeling this incident as “sexual harrassment” gains the complainant an possible advantage in a civil proceeding. Do everyone a favor an stop insulting women by using and stealing their “metoo” hashtag. This claim is essentailly minimizing true victims of sexual assault. The brutal truth is… #youwerent.

  13. I didn’t see anyone getting grabbed in that video. It seems like a really strange thing to do there, and I was uncomfortable watching it but to call it sexual harrassment because someone tried to get you to dance? I call that jumping on a bandwagon and grasping at anything

  14. The semester kickoff nonsense is beyond stupid, and seriously unprofessional, but filing a sexual harassment complaint because someone tried to get you to dance? What a self destructive response. You need some help for sure, but I’m not sure you have the maturity and good sense to be a tenured prof.

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