A government and international affairs professor filed an assault and battery complaint with University Police, claiming that a heated argument with a departmental colleague escalated into a physical altercation. A committee formed by the College of Arts and Sciences on Monday is to investigate the incident.
According to the UP report, Michael Gibbons filed a complaint against Harry Vanden on April 29, claiming Vanden “shoved up against him” in an intimidating manner following a departmental meeting on April 22. Gibbons gave a verbal statement to UP and a written account to Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Arthur Guilford. In a written statement to UP, another government and international affairs professor, Steven Johnston, corroborated Gibbons’ account of events.
Gibbons’ and Johnston’s account is disputed by Vanden, according to department chair Mohsen Milani, who was present when Gibbons and Vanden exchanged harsh words, but said he had his back to the pair when the disputed incident occurred. Milani said that when he later asked Vanden about Gibbons’ complaint, Vanden denied that any physical contact took place. “(Vanden) told me straight to my face he did not do it,” Milani said.
Vanden could not be reached for comment. Since filing the complaint, Gibbons has opted not to press charges.
According to the verbal statement Gibbons gave to UP and written accounts from Gibbons and Johnston, the chain of events started after a departmental meeting during which Vanden interrupted Gibbons several times. Gibbons asked Vanden to stop interrupting and asked Milani to intervene; both requests, according to Gibbons’ statement, were not acknowledged.
After the meeting, Gibbons, Johnston and Milani met and were in discussion in the entrance of Johnston’s office when Vanden approached the group. According to Gibbons’ statement, Vanden tried to interrupt the meeting by telling Milani that it was late and he should probably leave. Gibbons responded by telling Vanden that he should cease his attempts to interrupt a meeting he was not a part of.
“At that point, Dr. Vanden shoved up against me with such force that I had to shift my feet to keep from being knocked over. He positioned his face within six inches of mine and said in a venomous and threatening tone, ‘I will take you down.’ I responded to Dr. Vanden, saying that his physical assault would not silence me,” Gibbons said in his written account.
Milani, who said he was under the impression that members of his department had spoken to The Oracle, said he heard the two professors arguing but did not see a physical altercation take place.
“I did not see any contact between the two,” he said. “I told the police the same thing. I’ve shared this with the dean’s office. They started shouting at each other but I did not see any physical contact.”
According to the UP report, Gibbons said he was aware of Vanden’s proficiency in martial arts, which “combined with the threatening statement made by Mr. Vanden, created fear in Mr. Gibbons that the potential for greater harm existed.”
Gibbons’ accounts also state that after the altercation he asked Milani what he was going to do about the incident, to which Milani responded that he did not see the interaction. When Gibbons pressed him further, Milani said he was not the “department’s policeman.” Even though Gibbons told Milani that he would have to give a witness account of the incident, Milani insisted that he was so “rattled by events at the meeting, he did not notice what happened one way or the other,” according to Gibbons’ statement.
Due to Gibbons’ complaint, Guilford formed a committee to “investigate misconduct in the workplace.” Guilford said that Milani is on the list of witnesses to be interviewed in the investigation by his appointed committee.
The first meeting for the committee, which Guilford characterized as a fact-finding body, is today. The committee is charged with interviewing everyone involved, as well as all possible witnesses. Guilford, who formed the committee after he was sure the incident was no longer a criminal investigation, stressed that it is a civil investigation.
Although Gibbons decided not to press charges, he has kept the option to do so at a later date, the police report states. Gibbons requested that the police did not interview Vanden unless he does proceed with formal charges.
Repeated calls to Gibbons, Johnston and Provost Renu Khator were not returned.
Milani said the dispute was not typical of the working atmosphere in his department. “There has not been a single grievance in the past seven years that I have been chair,” Milani said. “This gives a very wrong impression of what our department is like.”