Dean of Students Jerry Price holds open forum after Max Landis appearance canceled

max landis

Around 20 students attended an open forum on controversial campus speakers held by Dean of Students Jerry Price Nov. 13. The forum came nearly a week after a guest lecture Max Landis, a screenwriter and producer who has been accused of sexual assault, was canceled. Photo by Catherine Owen

After film and television professor Joseph Rosenberg canceled a class appearance by Max Landis, a screenwriter and producer accused of sexual assault, when students planned to protest the speaker, Dean of Students Jerry Price held a forum to discuss controversial speakers at Chapman’s Cross-Cultural Center.

During the Nov. 13 forum, sophomore Brittany Toombs asked if Chapman would hypothetically allow a convicted rapist to speak on campus. Price said yes, adding that faculty have academic freedom to invite any speaker they want – leaving Toombs emotional and in tears.

“I expected that (Price) would protect the administration and would defend Dodge, but I didn’t think he would go that far,” Toombs, a public relations and advertising major, told The Panther. “It seemed like he wasn’t understanding where we were coming from, so when he said he would point-blank allow a rapist to come to campus, I just got really emotional … it was just hurtful to hear.”

The fliers for the forum, which circulated around campus earlier this week, invited students to take part in a conversation about how to react when speakers who have had a history of sexual misconduct – alleged or otherwise – are invited to campus. 

Price began the forum, which drew about 20 students, by saying he preferred not to center the conversation solely around Max Landis, the speaker who was scheduled to guest lecture in a Dodge College of Film and Media Arts class Nov. 7.

“I am knowledgeable about what happened (with Landis),” Price said. “With that said, my preference would be to have this discussion be broader than just debating one incident.”

Still, the hour-long forum mainly focused on Landis and how some members of the Dodge College administration discouraged students from taking part in a walkout during Landis’ guest lecture in the class.

Price, who said that his objective for the evening was to encourage students to “think about the complexity of the issue at hand,” posed questions throughout the forum that prodded at the legitimacy of the allegations against Landis.

“Proving sexual assault is very difficult. It’s a matter about believing women who don’t have a reason to lie,” Toombs said to Price at the event. “It’s not like (Landis) just has a controversial opinion that we can debate in an academic way. The controversial thing is that the university isn’t acknowledging that and they are inviting someone who is a danger to women to a college campus full of young women who are trying to be in the industry he is in.”

But, Price said, he believes that there are “other questions that need to be asked.”

“Is it legitimate for other women and men in the class to say ‘That’s not enough for me,’” Price said, referring to believing the allegations made against Landis on social media. “Other women might say that they have a different standard for determining whether or not (they are) going to believe allegations.”

In response to Price’s comments about unproven allegations, film studies major Erika Sela referenced  the fact that Landis has openly discussed his interactions with women he has been in relationships with in interviews with other news sources.

“I think that’s a valid enough reason in itself to not welcome him on campus and for the population of students to feel unsafe around him, barring any of the other allegations, which I find valid as well,” Sela said, referring to the now-deleted 2013 interview between Landis and Shelby Sells, a sex and relationship blogger.

In the interview, Landis talks about an ex-girlfriend to whom he “gave a crippling social anxiety, self-loathing, body dismorphia (sic), eating disorder.”

“I was so fickle about her body. I’m not shy, I would just blurt out (expletive) all the time,” Landis said in the interview, according to the Daily Beast. “She ended up completely changing how she dressed and how she looked for me. That chick will never talk to me again.”     

After the forum ended, Price told the Panther that while he would have liked to have a broader conversation that wasn’t so focused on Landis, he found the forum productive.

“The goal was for people to understand this in an academic, university context and not just a sociopolitical context,” Price told the Panther. “But at the same time, a lot of the speakers today pointed out the unique nature of sexual misconduct and how that needs to be carefully weighed in our decision-making.”