Fresno City College professors persist in voicing concerns about colleague

The Fresno City College community is still reeling from the recent revelation in an EdSource report. The report details an incident in 2015 where Tom Boroujeni, a tenured communication arts instructor and president of the school’s academic senate, was found to have committed an “act of sexual violence” against a professor and colleague at Fresno State.

The aftermath of this report was evident during Wednesday’s academic senate meeting. Many professors openly criticized the leadership of the academic senate and demanded change, despite the acting president’s urging not to focus on the Boroujeni case during the public comment period.

This academic senate meeting was the first since Boroujeni was placed on paid administrative leave on November 30th, following the release of the EdSource story and the subsequent cancellation of classes by professors.

Boroujeni, who is currently on administrative leave, had requested to speak at the meeting through Fresno City College President Robert Pimentel. However, he did not attend. Despite his absence, discussions about Boroujeni, his case, and the conduct of the academic senate still took place.

At the meeting, communication arts instructor Kherstin Khan expressed her disappointment in the leadership of the academic senate and called for action. She stated, “Your silence in the face of controversy has exacerbated the division of faculty and left many feeling alienated and marginalized.”

In light of Boroujeni’s absence, Jackie Williams, the president-elect and acting president, instructed attendees to focus only on academic and professional matters during the open forum at the meeting.

Williams, speaking to EdSource, emphasized her support for confidentiality for victims, while also stating that personnel matters should not be discussed in a public forum.

Although she did not stop people from talking about Boroujeni and the Fresno State case, Williams declined to comment on the criticism of the executive board.

What happened in the Fresno State case?

Boroujeni has been a teacher at Fresno City College since 2015, the same year he began his academic career at Fresno State as a graduate student. The alleged victim is also a professor and colleague of Boroujeni’s at Fresno City College. The State Center Community College District, which oversees Fresno City College, became aware of the sexual misconduct investigation after the alleged victim requested a no-contact order, which was granted during the spring semester of 2022.

Fresno State initiated an investigation based on Title IX, a federal anti-discrimination law. The investigation found that Boroujeni had committed an act of sexual violence in 2015. However, Fresno State was unable to take disciplinary action against him because he was a graduate student when the alleged incident occurred.

Boroujeni ultimately resigned from Fresno State in 2022 when officials decided to include the act-of-sexual-violence report in his personnel file.

The Fresno City College community, despite the investigation findings from the community college district, elected Boroujeni as the academic senate president in 2023 and granted him tenure.

Fresno State provided a redacted copy of the report to EdSource, citing public interest in knowing about a college instructor’s prior act of sexual violence.

Academic senate presidency

In May 2023, Boroujeni assumed the role of Fresno City College’s academic senate president for a two-year term. As academic senate president, Boroujeni collaborates with the college’s administration to establish academic policies and hire faculty members. Prior to his presidency, Boroujeni served as the president-elect for two years. However, this rule has come under scrutiny by Tiffany Sarkisian, the program review coordinator and a communication arts instructor at Fresno City College.

Sarkisian has called for a task force to be created by the executive board to examine the effectiveness of the academic senate’s bylaws. She believes that changes need to be made to the nomination process, voting procedures, and board duties.

Williams acknowledged that the executive board is currently reviewing the bylaws in response to the situation regarding Boroujeni.

According to the current bylaws, there are no provisions on what to do when an officer is on leave. They only address the resignation or removal of an officer. To remove the president, a written petition with the rationale for removal, accompanied by signatures from 25% of the academic senators, is required. The removal must be approved by a majority vote of 50% of the senators.

In December, anthropology professor German Loffler submitted a petition calling for Boroujeni’s removal. However, Loffler later withdrew the petition.

Williams stated that if appropriate, the issue can be placed on the agenda for a discussion.

Boroujeni’s case has divided the Fresno City College community

While the community college district has placed Boroujeni on leave and initiated an investigation, faculty members are still expecting more action from the district, the college, and the State Center Federation of Teachers, the faculty union.

Some professors have called for transparency from union leaders regarding their knowledge of the sexual misconduct findings at Fresno State. Others expect the union to take a stance on the case.

There have been heated discussions within the union among faculty members.

On December 4th, the union censured philosophy instructor Michael Stannard for his behavior during a discussion of the Boroujeni case at a union meeting. Additionally, the district announced an investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior by several unnamed employees, who reportedly made female employees feel unsafe during union meetings.

Boroujeni had requested to speak at the public comment period during the meeting and asked to be escorted off campus by police during a brief recess. However, his request was declined.

Recently, Boroujeni published a blog post on Medium titled “Reclaiming My Narrative” where he discusses his perspective on the situation. The post, which is nearly 8,000 words long, portrays Boroujeni as a victim of sexual harassment, racism, and stereotyping due to his Middle Eastern background.

Some of Boroujeni’s colleagues, including communication arts instructor Jerry Thurston, believe the alleged victim’s account. Thurston stated, “When women share their experiences, I believe them. I believe my female colleagues when they tell me someone has mistreated them.”

This story includes reporting by EdSource reporter Thomas Peele.

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