More than 100 people gathered in front of UM’s Main Hall at noon Friday to call for the resignation or firing of Rob Smith, whose blog filled with misogynistic writings sparked outrage after its contents were published in the Kaimin.
Students held up signs made of posterboard or butcher paper. Some slogans simply called for Rob Smith’s firing, such as “Fire Rob Smith” and “Misogyny has no place here.” Other signs referenced Smith’s posts. One said “Hell yeah I’m gonna ‘travel the world, sleep with a dozen men, get tattoos and a nose ring, gain weight and dye my hair blue,’” quoting Smith’s words about the life goals of modern young women written in his post “Young women say they want to make an impact.”
Mia McKinney, a student and director of the Women’s Resource Center and the primary organizer of the rally, said a demonstration was necessary to put pressure on Smith and support students. She said there may be further demonstrations and calls to action in the future.
“I’m so proud of everyone for coming out,” McKinney said.
At around 12:15 p.m., McKinney took the microphone first. She encouraged the protestors to use their feelings of anger, grief, sadness and confusion to get things done.
“It is with anger, distrust and sadness that we hold these people accountable,” McKinney said.
She introduced Noah Durnell, the president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana. Durnell thanked his vice president Canyon Lock as well as ASUM Senators Nicholas Ververis, Emma Kiefer and Melissa Glueckert for authoring a resolution demanding Rob Smith’s immediate termination or resignation. This bill, SB 28, passed unanimously at ASUM’s Wednesday meeting.
After the rally, Durnell said he read the Kaimin’s article on Smith at 8 a.m. on Monday. When he came into the office at 9 a.m., Lock had the resolution written. Durnell said he reached out to McKinney to organize the protest on Thursday — he added the turnout was really good for a protest that came together in about 28 hours.
Durnell said in his speech the University’s collective bargaining agreement stipulates faculty should have a deep interest in the progress and welfare of their students, and it was inconceivable that Smith held such an interest.
He said tenure offered too much protection to Smith in this case, and the University’s investigation would be decided on Title IX complaints filed by students who felt their education was compromised.
According to UM’s Title IX coordinator Alicia Arant, the Office of Equal Opportunity has seen multiple Title IX complaints about Smith. Arant said she and her colleagues read every report, provide outreach information and invite complainants to come in and give more information.
“There is a history here of student-driven change,” Durnell said. “But I don’t want the progress of this institution to rely on student driven change, I want our University administration to hold itself accountable and stop relying on the labor of marginalized students to tell them what’s right and wrong.”
Erin Heaton, a new ASUM senator, asked the crowd, “when will justice be served?”
She demanded to know when the education of marginalized groups would be valued the same as that of cisgendered, heterosexual white men.
“We have had enough of this administration’s empty words,” Heaton said. “Time and time again, they break their promises.”
Heaton referenced the sexual discrimination lawsuit against the president’s office and the recent allegations of the mishandling of an investigation into the law school.
“We will rally, scream at the top of our lungs, and fight back,” Heaton said.
According to UM’s Director of Strategic Communications Dave Kuntz, the University started the process to start a Title IX investigation in mid-to-late September. Kuntz said Title IX usually does not announce that it’s doing an investigation, and that this was a unique scenario because Smith’s conduct was reported on.
Kuntz said he has fielded a lot of calls from community members and students. Some were proud the University moved so quickly, while others were concerned Smith had not been terminated. Kuntz said he understood their frustrations, but that it was in everyone’s best interest to follow established processes.
“The University’s doing the right thing here by following these processes, because it’s the best way to protect everyone and make sure the facts rise to the surface,” Kuntz said.
Shayna Adams, an intern at the Women’s Resource Center, said her initial reaction to the blog was to feel embarrassed and ashamed. Adams is 35 and a mother, and said she has taken years to convince herself it was not selfish to use her brain for more than her family.
She said she thought the University was a safe place, so it was devastating to know someone at UM thought she maximized her potential as a stay-at-home mom and had been declining for 20 years. She called for Smith to leave the University.
Adams pointed out there are freshman girls who are minors and highschool girls who take University classes through dual enrollment, and said they should be kept safe from a man who believes they are at their peak attractiveness and should be available to older men.
“Despite Rob Smith’s insistence in my inherent inferiority, he’s hella wrong,” Adams said. “I’m worthy of my space here, and so are you.”
Jen Eull and Alison Pepper, director and prevention education and advocate coordinator, respectively, of the Student Advocacy Resource Center, said they were available as a resource to anyone having trouble processing their emotions about the situation. Eull urged students to keep their efforts going, saying such outrage has made positive change happen throughout history.
Esther Lyon Delsordo, a computer science major and a part of the team who set up the Fire Rob Smith website, spoke next. She said any student who experienced or witnessed discrimination or bigotry from any faculty member could file a Title IX complaint.
She also said since the post “Young women say they want to make an impact” talked disparagingly about students Smith talked to in one-on-one meetings, any student who had a personal meeting with him could file a Title IX complaint.
Lyon Delsordo said she’d felt personally targeted by that post, because the post specifically mentioned young women who wanted to travel the world. Lyon Delsordo is a female computer science major who plans to travel abroad, and that there are many such people at UM who would have interacted with Rob Smith.
Lyon Delsordo also said people at higher risk from COVID-19 could file a complaint, since Smith refuses to hold classes online, which forces his students to take on greater risk than those who are immunocompromised may be comfortable with.
Jenny Rokosch, an intern at the Women’s Resource Center, spoke next. She said the Montana University System’s continuous quality review of professors had failed in Smith’s case.
Rokosch said though the posts the Kaimin saved were made after computer science department chair Jesse Johnson checked the blog in 2017, a post made in 2015 entitled “The Irony of the Rainbow” made homophobic claims, such as “Homosexuality is a sin flaunted by those who support it.” They said this post should have been flagged and investigated, even if the blog wasn’t connected to Smith’s YouTube channel at the time. Rokosch questioned what quality of education a man with Smith’s beliefs could give to the women and minorities in his classes.
“Getting an education should be safe. Always,” Rokosch said. “Rob Smith, I’ll see you in hell.”
University President Seth Bodnar sent in a written statement through Durnell, since he was in Butte for a meeting. Bodnar thanked the attendees for their efforts, and said the University did not condone Smith’s beliefs. He said the University was addressing the matter through the appropriate processes.
“We are at our best when we work toward change together,” Bodnar said.
McKinney concluded the speeches with chants of “Fire Smith” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
“Our work does not end here,” McKinney said.
Halson Witt, holding a sign reading “Rob Smith is a pedophile,” said she attended the protest because she was tired of having to prove she belonged at the University, and was appalled that Smith was given tenure.
Mackenzie Majors, holding a sign saying “Fire Rob Smith,” said “being a woman should not hinder you from getting the education you deserve.”