UM: Computer Science faculty member under investigation
The University of Montana campus in Missoula is seen in this file photo.
| October 12, 2021 9:00 AM
An investigation of University of Montana Computer Science faculty member Rob Smith is underway following reports of derogatory statements about women and LGBTQ people he made on his blog, “Upward Thought,” a UM spokesperson said Monday.
The Montana Kaimin reported this week that Smith had written posts that disparaged women, Muslims, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Smith had encouraged men of all ages to date women as close to 18 as possible because the value of women — their appearance — peaks at 16 to 18 years of age and quickly fades after 25.
Through a spokesperson, UM President Seth Bodnar issued a sharp rebuke of the comments. Smith’s LinkedIn page notes he started at UM in 2014 and is also the CEO of Prime Labs in Missoula.
“I am personally disgusted by the homophobic and misogynistic views that were reported in the Montana Kaimin,” Bodnar said in a statement. “Building a culture of respect, empowerment, and equity is foundational to our mission at UM as well as personally important to me. I have directed the appropriate university officials to take immediate action to address this matter through investigatory and supportive measures.”
Smith did not respond Monday to an interview request. UM confirmed he was a tenured faculty member as of Monday afternoon.
Jesse Johnson, chair of Computer Science, confirmed he reported Smith’s blog up the chain. He said he returned to the site because he knew it contained the story of Smith’s apostasy from the Mormon church, which he thought would be relevant in the context of another matter.
“Upon visiting his blog again, I discovered very objectionable material about women and LGBTQ people and Islamic people. Human beings, basically,” Johnson said.
He anticipates a student walkout Tuesday afternoon and potentially a demand letter from students. He said the situation has been depressing for a department “that struggles mightily to be as inclusive as possible.”
Johnson said he is prepared to address the concerns of students by identifying other instructors capable of offering the courses Smith teaches. He said several women would like to remove themselves from Smith’s classes, and Johnson would be sympathetic to such a request.
“I know that the attitude of the student organizers is very hardened and very committed to getting change — and not getting change on a long-time scale, getting change immediately,” he said.
A website called Fire Rob Smith launched as well. In an email Monday to the university community about the website, Betta Lyon Delsordo, a Computer Science and Spanish student, called on people to file complaints if they have had a reportable interaction with Smith and to boycott Smith’s classes.
“He has posted several blogs and videos that include sexist, discriminatory, and predatory statements about his students and specifically young women,” said Lyon Delsordo in the email forwarded to the Daily Montanan. “He repeatedly states in these blog posts that women are intellectually inferior to men and that his female students should be at home and pregnant, not at the university. Some posts also include homophobic and Islamophobic statements.
“Most worryingly, he claims multiple times that girls are most sexually attractive at age 16 and that it is a shame that society doesn’t allow older men to marry 16-year-old girls. … His comments and behavior make it unacceptable for him to remain a university professor, where he requires young women to visit him alone during his office hours, and so clearly states that he is attracted to teenagers.”
In its story Monday, the Kaimin said Smith deleted posts and made YouTube videos private after the Kaimin started working on the story, but the student newspaper preserved writings and downloaded videos. It quoted one post in part: “Homosexuality was forbidden by the law of Moses, and is still a sin today, because a person living in a homosexual lifestyle can’t progress as far as one who is not in joy, happiness, etc.”
The https://firerobsmith.wixsite.com/firerobsmith website also quotes from Smith’s blog: “I would contend that a woman isn’t really mature until after she has kids, and that it (is) as much of her developmental process — if not more — as getting a high school diploma, and should happen around the same time.”
The website also quoted Smith as saying the following: “The fact is that one cannot both be a peaceful Muslim and a faithful Muslim. In other words, Muslims are only peaceful to the degree that they are not Muslims”
Johnson said he needs to be careful about making any public statements about an employee’s performance. However, he said the opinions Smith expressed on the blog were “contrary to his history of interactions as a university employee.”
He also said the opinions expressed by Smith are “far, far outside of the mainstream in our department.” He said the department wants its demographics to be reflective of society at large.
“We delight in our students and their culture and their activities and their mindset, and we love the job of being professors and influencing the future,” Johnson said.
UM also said it is bolstering supportive measures for the students in the Computer Science department as well as campus-wide.
Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan, a nonprofit news organization based in Helena.