After their professor was told his contract would not be renewed and then was arrested in his office two weeks ago, students of education professor Dr. John Aston are outraged and Aston is calling for a university investigation into his subsequent termination.
In an e-mail to The Houstonian, Aston said he received verbal notice of the nonrenewal of his contract on Thursday, Feb. 26, from Dr. Daphne Johnson, the chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the Education Department. After receiving written notice from Dr. Bill Edgington later that day, Aston said he “would not just accept this action without a complaint” and a University Police officer was called to the scene. When he refused to leave the building, Aston was arrested and booked into the Walker County jail.
“He started to cause a ruckus, not wanting to leave the building,” UPD Deputy Chief James Fitch said. “An officer arrived to have him leave. He resisted the officer and was arrested for Interfering with Public Duties.”
Fitch said the offense is a Class B Misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in a county jail.
According to Aston, the department provided no prior notice that there was any issue with his teaching or contract until Thursday, when Johnson and Edgington told him of the decision not to renew his contract.
“When I asked her (Johnson), she said there had been concerns expressed by students and staff. She did not offer any explanation,” Aston said.
The SHSU Education department declined to comment for this story and referred all inquiries to the SHSU Public Relations department.
“When a faculty member is hired, they are reviewed periodically and they are either asked to come back or not,” Julia May of the Public Relations department said. “In this case, he was just not asked to come back.”
Aston was a first year non-tenured professor, according to May.
While the department failed to give specific reasons concerning the nonrenewal of Aston’s contract, several education students say they are concerned the decision may have been impacted by a recent discussion Aston introduced about homosexuality in the classroom.
Ashley Ziegler, an education major, said the subject arose without incident as part of class discussion last month in her EED 374 Human Growth and Learning course when Aston produced a book about a student with homosexual parents.
“Last Tuesday (Feb. 24), we were talking about inclusion in the classroom, that there were going to be students who come from broken homes and students dealing with their own questions and he had a bunch of different books out, and he showed a book titled ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’,” Ziegler said. “There was a big discussion, but no one seemed terribly offended by it.”
However, the subject did not go over well in another class, both Ziegler and Aston said, in which students were offended by the subject matter.
“The only student concern I was aware of was that a student in my EED 374 class had responded to my talking about [the book] by calling out angrily, ‘That’s illegal’,” Aston said. “I replied that it was not and that we were required to address gender and sexual orientation issues.”
The education department declined to acknowledge if the decision not to renew Aston’s contract had anything to do with his use of the book. However, students such as Ziegler say they feel the university dealt poorly with the issue and now wonder if they will receive the education they signed up for.
“My beef with this is, regardless of the facts they present to us about why he was removed, it was quite timely that it was immediately following the lessons he taught,” Joe Nidezer, senior music education major, said. “Sam is known for their exquisite education program and the teachers it produces. I fear now we are going to be treated as third or fourth week students, at best, on the material and I will not get what I paid for.”
A current SHSU professor took over classes previously taught by Aston, according to Nidezer, and will finish out the remainder of the semester in his place.
Following his termination, Aston wrote a letter to Dr. Genevieve Brown, Dean of the SHSU College of Education, outlining his concerns and calling for a university investigation of the incident. In a copy of the letter provided to The Houstonian, Aston calls for a university investigation into the string of events surrounding his termination and asks for further explanation into the decision not to renew his contract.
“I suspect strongly that it was an attempt to censor and silence me, due to my insistence on addressing issues that we are bound by the NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) to address,” Aston said in the letter. “I am hoping that your conscience will prompt you to create appropriate new policies and safeguards so that this will not happen again in the future.”