An embattled sociology department at the University of Colorado Boulder is entangled in harassment allegations among faculty and staff that a local union organization is calling an ongoing, systemic problem.

The allegations include verbal abuse, intimidation and bullying that can largely be traced back to "one bad actor" within the department, according to Tim Markham, executive director of the union organization Colorado Workers for Innovative and New Solutions. The union, which Markham said represents more than 31,000 state employees and all classified state employees at CU, is working with a woman within the department alleging harassment, who has asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation. The woman reported her claims to her supervisor and multiple agencies around campus and saw no results, Markham said.

"Literally, they've done nothing," he said.

The poor treatment — yelling, condescension and inappropriate behavior and remarks — has created a hostile work environment and culture of fear that pervades the department, Markham said.

On Monday, the union organization posted on Facebook saying staff in the sociology department felt bullied and harassed by faculty members. The post called for people to tell the vice chancellor of academic affairs that harassment in the sociology department must stop.

Campus spokesman Ryan Huff said the university has looked into the allegations and found no evidence of harassment.


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"We take all allegations of harassment very seriously," Huff said in a written statement. "We are aware of this Facebook post and are looking into it. Colorado WINS has no official relationship with the university and does not represent our employees for purpose of collective bargaining. Despite this, they recently contacted the university on behalf of a Sociology staff member. This employee had alleged harassment in the department. Through a preliminary investigation, we have not found evidence of harassment. We will continue to review this case according to university policy. The university is committed to having a work environment that is civil and free of harassment."

An email obtained by the Daily Camera shows sociology department Chairman Don Grant telling faculty and graduate students within the department that the Colorado WINS Facebook post is a "larger tactic" being used by the union to unionize staff workers.

The email said if the Daily Camera got wind of the allegations, the university "is prepared to go public and call out WINS for its use of this tactic." The email advised anyone contacted about the matter to direct inquiries to Huff.

Grant declined to comment for this article.

"Their overreaction to a simple Facebook post is very telling," Markham said. "It seems really interesting that a university would get so upset about people freely expressing themselves and their concerns."

While Markham said they are always signing up and recruiting members to the union, what they're trying to do in this case is change the culture at CU.

"This isn't about membership," he said. "This is about standing up for workers and holding their management and administration accountable."

The woman alleging harassment reported her concerns months ago, with emails obtained by the Daily Camera showing conversations between her and the CU Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance dating back to November. In January, the email chain dies off after the woman said she hadn't heard back about her complaints and would like to know where it stands.

Markham said going public with the allegations was the next step after trying to work within the channels of reporting issues to the university and being ignored.

While the union is dealing with one specific case, Markham said he has a list of about 10 names of people in the department over a few years who have reported similar issues.

"Many of them have left, including faculty members," he said.

A Wednesday request for staff, faculty and graduate student turnover and retention rates in the sociology department for the past five years was not able to be produced on Thursday, Huff said.

Tensions within the department playing out publicly are not new.

In 2014, sociology chairwoman Joanne Belknap stepped down from her position after she reported sociology professor Patti Adler for a skit Adler used in her "Deviance in U.S. Society" course using undergraduate teaching assistants to portray prostitutes and pimps in front of the 500-person class.

Adler was first pulled from teaching the class and then allowed to return again by CU administration. Adler retired later that year. After the contention, Belknap left the sociology department and is now a professor in the ethnic studies department.

These conflicts aren't going away, Markham said.

"This is becoming a pattern at CU and in the sociology department," he said. "Clearly, something is broken."

Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-473-1106, hernandeze@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/ehernandez