A criminal assault charge has been filed against former tenured theater professor Varlo Davenport because of an incident in his Acting I class in November.
A class-B misdemeanor assault charge was filed by the St. George City prosecutor’s office against Davenport on April 21. Davenport’s first court appearance is scheduled for June 6.
A 17-year-old female student filed the complaints of assault in December, alleging Davenport pulled her hair and used physical resistance on her as part of an acting exercise.
Dixie State University President Biff Williams made the decision to terminate Davenport Feb. 25.
The case was subsequently sent to the Washington County prosecutor’s office, who in turn sent it to St. George City prosecutor’s office after failing to find evidence for a criminal charge within the scope of a felony or a class-A misdemeanor.
St. George City Prosecutor Robert Cosson declined to comment on the charges until after the trial.
DSU’s official statement on the case is: “DSU regrets that an alleged assault of a student took place on campus and in a classroom setting. The university administration took this incident very seriously and strongly believes the decision to terminate Professor Davenport was the correct decision.”
DSU administrators declined to comment further “out of respect for the ongoing investigation and pending criminal charges.”
Williams said he fired Davenport because he had a responsibility to protect the students at DSU. Williams said he followed all policy “with exactness” and ensured Davenport was given due process.
“It’s a hard situation because it affected a student,” Williams said. “I don’t think [Davenport] had intent to hurt anyone. That said, it had been going on for a long time. I made the right decision in firing him.”
Jeffrey Jarvis, dean of visual and performing arts, held a meeting Dec. 9 with theater students to answer questions about Davenport’s termination.
Erica Whalen, a sophomore theater major from Las Vegas, attended the meeting with Jarvis.
According to Whalen, Jarvis said Williams made his decision to suspend Davenport in “10 seconds” after reading Jarvis’ report of the incident.
Several other students, including Serena Dabney, a sophomore theater major from Las Vegas, were witnesses of Jarvis’ statements at the meeting.
Jarvis now refuses to comment on the case.
Dean of Students Del Beatty heard the complaint from the student first and supports Williams in his decision to terminate Davenport.
“I can only speak for the student that came to me with the assault complaint [on Davenport], tears in her eyes,” Beatty said in a March interview. “Speaking as an advocate for all students at DSU, President Williams did make the right choice in firing Davenport. There is so much information that once it becomes public, everyone’s opinion will change.”
Davenport was planning on suing the university for wrongful termination before the charges were filed. He said he only found out charges had been filed against him when a reporter from The Spectrum texted him the news.
Davenport said he plans on bringing the case to trial.
“It has been such a bizarre experience for me,” Davenport said. “In some ways, I’m looking forward to fighting this in court. There is so much evidence that I believe will work in my favor when it’s all presented to the court. I have nothing to hide.”
Davenport said as much as he loves teaching at DSU, his goals are simply to clear his name so he will be employable again elsewhere.
“President Williams has told me I will never teach at DSU again,” Davenport said. “I only want to have a clear record so I can go teach acting somewhere else. That’s my passion.”