“So cute when she is speaking. Don’t let her catch you peeking.”
So says Oxford College Associate Professor of History David Leinweber on the 2012 song “Little Sophomore Girl.” The song, which details his festering resentment for a “little sophomore b*tch” in his class, was Leinweber’s reaction to negative course evaluations from students. The Wheel’s recent reporting on the song reveals that students still suffer from that vitriol, despite it being removed from internet streaming platforms in 2013. Emory needs to take a firm stance against Leinweber’s sexual misconduct and fire him today.
While Leinbewer apologized for publishing the song, his repugnant and threatening behavior towards a Wheel student reporter demonstrates that he has not taken any of it to heart. After responding to the Wheel’s request for comment about the song, Leinweber sent a follow up email to the student reporter covering the story and stated he would publish a video highlighting her and another named student. “I’m going to be nice and thoughtful,” Leinweber wrote in his email, “but I’m also going to be emphasizing how cruel some young students can be, especially young, sheltered, ambitious careerists.” From a three-minute song objectifying and derogating his students to his recent comments, Leinweber’s seeming inability to stop attacking his students should tell you everything you need to know. This is not a mistake, a misunderstanding or a misheard word. It’s abject cruelty.
Leinbewer’s lyrics, which belittle student feedback and describe “peeking” at a female student, also constitute sexual misconduct. By its own rules, Emory should have investigated Leinweber for sexual misconduct years ago. According to Chapter 12 of Emory’s faculty handbook, it includes “all unwelcome conduct based on sex or gender that is so severe and/or pervasive” that it creates an “environment that a reasonable person would find intimidating, hostile or offensive.” Leinweber’s references to a “little sophomore lass” who “detest[s] all the white men of the West” are undeniably gender-based. If current Oxford students’ opinions are any indication, it has certainly also contributed to a hostile learning environment. Current Oxford students have expressed their disgust with Leinweber’s song as well, with one denoting the conduct as “creepy,” and others indicating they would be “uncomfortable” taking his classes. If students feel unsafe with Leinweber in a classroom, he should never be allowed in one again. So to Emory, we ask this: if sexual misconduct does not meet the baseline to fire a professor, would anything?
University officials have attested that Leinweber’s behavior is unacceptable. Even Oxford College Dean Douglas Hicks agreed that Leinweber’s behavior toward the reporter was “deeply disturbing.” So why hasn’t Emory fired him yet? For one, his status as a tenured professor means that he cannot be terminated without cause. But Emory’s so-called Gray Book on faculty relationships clearly states that “cause” includes “moral delinquency, neglect of academic duty, [and] incompetence.” Leinweber clearly meets these baseline requirements. Dozens of tenured faculty are fired for cause each year, and Leinweber should be next.
Leinweber’s case raises broader questions about the tenure system and how we should prevent tenured professors from acting with impunity in the classroom.
Currently, Oxford College requires departments to consider course evaluations and three student letters of endorsement when evaluating a faculty member for tenure. However, these letter writers are chosen from a list of six students chosen by the professor themselves. This incentivizes professors to pick their favorites, not a representative cross-section of students who know their teaching. To prevent poor teachers like Leinweber from using this strategy in the future, all of Emory’s undergraduate colleges should require their departments to solicit letters from more than just the professor’s handpicked reviewers.
Although Leinweber said he faced “hurtful comments” from students and online harassment, lashing out with a disturbing sexual song and then sending a threatening message to a student reporter is unacceptable. The same should be true for all tenured faculty. Even in cases short of termination, tenure should not grant immunity from punishment or inappropriate conduct.
As one of the nation’s top universities, Emory needs to set a higher standard for its faculty beyond academic achievement. Leinweber should have been fired in 2012 regardless of his tenure. Tenure likely helps to protect professors who act in the way Leinweber did. But to earn that honor and its attendant job security, he, like any other professor, should have demonstrated exceptional teaching ability and basic human decency.
Emory, fire Leinweber now. Otherwise, the University will remain complicit in his abuse. The student body has spoken — it’s time for him to go.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Rachel Broun, Kyle Chan-Shue, Sophia Ling, Demetrios Mammas, Daniel Matin, Daniela Parra del Riego Valencia, Sara Perez, Sophia Peyser, Ben Thomas, Chaya Tong and Leah Woldai.