- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

Acclaimed drama professor Jared Sakren, who charged he was ousted unfairly by radical feminists in his department who disagreed with his teaching of Shakespeare and other classic works, has settled his case with Arizona State University.
Under a deal struck Tuesday, after five weeks of trial and a day before scheduled closing arguments, the Arizona Board of Regents agreed to pay Mr. Sakren $395,000, the equivalent of about six years' salary. The settlement ended four years of legal wrangling amid charges of political correctness in academia that spurred vigorous national debate on academic freedom.
Mr. Sakren, who trained at The Juilliard School and whose former students include actors Annette Bening, Val Kilmer and Frances McDormand, filed suit against the university in 1997 after his teaching contract was not renewed. He claimed his theatrical choices were deemed by some colleagues as "sexist Euro-American male" plays. He said his refusal to bow to pressure and teach pro-feminist works, including one postmodern play promoted by some faculty members, "Betty the Yeti: An Eco-Fable," cost him his job.
Also key to the case was the issue of whether the university's contract with faculty over academic freedom was too vague to be enforceable.
The university argued that Mr. Sakren's contract was not renewed because of leadership problems and his inability to get along with his colleagues. After he went public with his case and it drew widespread media attention, the university circulated a letter to college drama programs and their alumni across the country, defending its position in the Sakren case.
One such recipient of the school's missive was Miss Bening, an Oscar nominee and wife of actor Warren Beatty, who testified at the trial in defense of her former professor.
Mr. Sakren, who was highly recruited, left the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to take over ASU's graduate acting program in 1994. In 1996, after fending off criticism within his department, Mr. Sakren lost his job. He then filed suit against the Tempe, Ariz., university for employment discrimination.
His first trial ended in a deadlocked jury in 1999. His most recent trial was in its fifth week.
Since his ouster and subsequent lawsuit, Mr. Sakren, who is married and the father of two, has been forced to switch careers, now working as a financial planner, his attorney said.
In a statement, ASU administrators called the settlement with Mr. Sakren "in the best interest of everyone involved." The university noted that despite a jury verdict, lengthy appeals likely would follow.
"Jared Sakren's moral character and the quality of his theater artistry have never been an issue for ASU, and any inference to the contrary by the media or other publication would be in error," the ASU statement said.
"ASU's theatre department reaffirms its commitment to balanced training, including training for, and production of the classics," the statement said. "ASU stands behind its commitment to academic freedom for its faculty, tenured or not. ASU's academic freedom policy has protected and continues to protect teaching methodology and course subject matter."
As a part of the settlement, Mr. Sakren cannot publicly comment about his case.
Several observers, however, including Winfield Myers of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Del., lauded Mr. Sakren for his determination in seeing his case through.
"He emerges from this nightmare unscathed and unbowed," said Mr. Myers, who added that Mr. Sakren's diligence over the past four years "demonstrates the price paid by academics who refuse to cheat their students of an education."
"It's a testament to his integrity that he suffered being blacklisted by his peers when he had only to compromise his principles as so many others have done," said Mr. Myers, whose organization has helped support Mr. Sakren.
"Then again, integrity and honor are their own rewards and can be lost more easily than any mere academic appointment."
While the Sakren case never made it to a jury in the second trial, Thor L. Halvorssen, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in Philadelphia, said the settlement sends a "clear message to college administrations everywhere that there is financial price to pay for violating academic freedom."
He called the award "a victory," and said he was glad that Mr. Sakren finally had some closure in a matter drawn out far too long.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide