Davenport talks unemployment, upcoming assault trial

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Varlo Davenport, a tenured theater professor who was fired from Dixie State University last spring, is gearing up for an assault trial in November while the department moves forward without him. 

Although Davenport was fired from his position of 15 years, he said he still wants to see the department he spent much of his life building thrive.

Davenport said President Biff Williams has indicated returning to DSU is off the table.

“[The dean] said if I was found innocent, he would want me back in the classroom as soon as possible, but the president has pretty much indicated that’s not going to happen,” Davenport said.

Davenport was terminated because of an assault complaint filed by a student who claimed he used a teaching technique that was too aggressive. After a faculty review board exonerated Davenport, he returned to class only to be officially terminated by the president Feb. 27. 

“There was no explanation, which was kind of devastating,” Davenport said. 

Present and former students of Davenport organized a protest on campus and one created a petition to reinstate him, which received nearly 1,400 signatures. Davenport said when a student presented the petition to Williams and asked him to reconsider, Williams cautioned the student by saying once more information becomes available, nobody will want to be associated with the petition. It has been seven months since then, and no new information has been released from the university.

Public Relations Coordinator Jyl Hall said because the case is now in legal proceedings between the city of St. George and Davenport, comments from university officials including Williams are irrelevant.

Davenport said he’s been applying for jobs in the area that will allow him to provide for his family, but the looming court date is turning potential employers off. His unemployment benefits run out in roughly two weeks. 

“Our all-else-fails plan is to sell the house and move into my mother in law’s basement,” he said. 

Campus police began conducting an investigation three months after the incident occurred.  Davenport hired a lawyer, and said he was told he was being investigated for child abuse because the student was 17 at the time.  Davenport said Washington County prosecutors looked at the case but declined to press charges. 

“The fact that [officials from the county] decided not to press charges should have said it all,” he said. “My guess is that campus security said, ‘Well, if the county won’t prosecute him, maybe we can get the city to.’”

Davenport said his relationship with Mark Houser, the theater department’s program director, has been challenging.

Michael Harding, an associate professor of theater and head of the department of theater and dance, said Davenport spent a large portion of his life building the theater department, and students and faculty members are trying to honor that. He said although losing Davenport was unfortunate, it gave the department the opportunity to bring in a new, impressive faculty member, Kathryn Syssoyeva, an assistant professor of theater.

“Certainly there have been some changes in the department,” Harding said. “[Davenport] is a very good friend, and I’m sorry he’s not here, but I have to say it opened the door to bring [Syssoyeva] in.”

Lizzy Peterson, a DSU alumna from St. George, said she quit being involved in the theater department after Davenport was terminated. 

“I don’t intend on returning until things get better,” she said. 

Harding said Davenport’s termination brought many faculty members closer together.

“[Davenport] will be missed by a lot of people,” Harding said. “He is a good friend to a lot of people. The department that he dedicated himself to creating is moving forward, not in a separation from him, but in honor of what he did.”