Kyle Bryant Simmons letters

NSHE Board of Regents
2601 Enterprise Road
Reno, NV 89512

Dear Regent:

It has come to my attention that Dr. Kyle Simmons is not only being passed over for tenure at Truckee Meadows Community College, but also that he will have his employment terminated in a year’s time. Frankly, hearing this news has me perplexed as to how this could have occurred, since I feel strongly that Dr. Simmons is one of the best professors I have ever had. I am especially troubled that his personal integrity has been called into question. To not provide tenure and terminate Dr. Simmons would not only be a grievous injustice to him, but an injustice to the students and the quality of instruction at Truckee Meadows Community College.

I earned my associate’s degree in philosophy from TMCC in 2016. I was on the Dean’s List every semester I attended and was proud to be the first recipient of the Scally Philosophy Scholarship. Dr. Simmons was my philosophy professor for two separate classes— World Religions class in my first semester and Introduction to Existentialism in my final semester. I have since transferred to University of Nevada Reno and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in May 2018. I have done rather well, earning a 3.98 GPA. When I tell people about the education I received at TMCC, I recount how surprised I was by the high quality of instruction I received there. Many of the best instructors at TMCC had previously taught at University of Nevada – Reno, but Dr. Simmons stood out because he was right where he wanted to be. I frequently refer to Dr. Simmons as being one of the most outstanding professors that I was fortunate enough to have class with twice. I even participated in a class of his in which I was not enrolled because I enjoyed his teaching so much. I returned to campus after graduating to seek his counsel on continuing education because I found Dr. Simmons to be highly intelligent, affable, approachable, and engaging. I have a profound respect for him having gone back to school as an older student to achieve two master’s degrees and a PhD. Frankly, he has been the most knowledgeable in matters of Eastern philosophy of all the professors I have had at either school, and the syncretic observations in his dissertation are an inspiration to me. He was very generous with his time and attention with all the students in the class. He worked to ensure that everyone’s voice was heard and helped to draw out opinions from more sheepish students. I would characterize his teaching style as “free-form,” which is to say, rather than simply providing a lecture and letting people ask questions, he allowed the main points of a topic to emerge in a more organic manner from a guided class discussion. I think that this strategy of teaching allowed students to participate in a more active way and was very effective in teaching the sometimes arcane and complex tenets of philosophy. This strategy also required Dr. Simmons to be well-prepared and dynamically engaged with the class, and it was always evident to me that I should similarly give the class my best effort.

In our World Religions class, we were required to participate in a religious activity of some sort and to report back to the class. I remember a young student who confided in me that although at first he was nervous about his plan to demonstrate the Muslim daily prayer to a non-Muslim class, complete with the prayer rug he had from early childhood, he found Dr. Simmons’ class comfortable and inviting enough that he was able to share that very intimate and personal ritual. This student and I would sometimes sit together at lunch and discuss the subjects from our philosophy class together. The entire class benefited from a much richer education because of this inviting atmosphere. I watched that particular student grow in confidence and knowledge in no small part because of the efforts of Dr. Simmons. Our experience stands in stark contrast to that of one solitary student who complained of an unwelcome environment in Dr. Simmons class. Certainly, everyone has their own way of experiencing things, and this person did well to drop the class if it was not a fit for them, but to attempt to define the character and efforts of Dr. Simmons based on this one person’s experience is very inappropriate. College is not high school, and people are expected to be more mature in that environment. This can sometimes be difficult for young students to accept when they have generally been much more protected from controversial or contentious views up to that point. It is impossible to avoid such conflict in philosophy, and students would be poorly served if their intellectual comfort was the only goal of education. To further characterize Dr. Simmons as employing “aggressive communication tactics” sounds to me more like someone was intimidated by him for their own personal reasons. Communication can often be difficult, and it requires a desire in both parties to understand and to listen. In my experience of Dr. Simmons, I never had any impression that my point of view was not warranted or respected, even if we did not agree. The assertion that he has no capacity for further intellectual and professional achievement is frankly ridiculous. It is so laughable that it is hard for me to believe that someone would actually put the sentiment into words. It is pure libel. This professor is one of the brightest that TMCC has to offer and makes the college look better. If the strategy of TMCC moving forward is to expel the best and brightest among them over emotion-based misunderstandings, I will have to revise my previously high estimation of the college. Worse, the students of TMCC will lose the benefit of his incredible talents, and I imagine such a policy would put pressure on other academics to conform to some watered-down expectation of what is possible in an academic environment. It would be a mistake to deprive young people of the knowledge and understanding that Dr. Simmons so expertly and passionately provides for them. I strongly urge you to reverse course and provide tenure to Dr. Kyle Simmons, and thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Matthew Ebert

** ** **

Dear Regent:

I appreciated the opportunity to speak to you yesterday in the public comment portion of your meeting on behalf of Dr. Kyle Bryant Simmons. I would like to take the opportunity to clarify my remarks, and respond to the person who interrupted my testimony. In my comment, I pointed out that it was insulting to suggest that a man with 3 advanced degrees lacks “the capacity for further significant intellectual and professional achievement,” as has been written about Dr. Simmons. I called those words a slur, and I have called them libel. Then, I said that the integrity of a person who would write such a libelous statement could be called into question. Someone at that point interrupted me and said that my comment itself could be construed as defamatory. I am pleased to know that there is a Regent who is sensitive to defamation and desires it to be avoided in a professional setting. I agree that defamation must be called out strongly, since the damage to someone’s personal reputation is a very serious matter. Of course, true comments cannot actually be defamatory. It impugns Dr. Simmons’ character to say that he has no capacity for significant intellectual achievement. To impugn someone’s character without evidence is itself evidence of a lack of integrity– that statement is simply true, and I stand by that remark. Moreover, I did not name a specific person in making my comments, since I do not know which person wrote that defamatory statement about Dr. Simmons. In order for Dr. Simmons’ intellectual capacity to be called into question, a person would have to provide evidence that Dr. Simmons was intellectually deficient. That evidence is not forthcoming, and is not a part of the rationalization provided to explain his dismissal. For example, someone could show that he did not actually earn a PhD. In fact, Dr. Simmons did earn a PhD, and I have read his dissertation. Dr. Simmons’ significant intellectual achievements are how I know that he has the capacity for further intellectual achievement. Past accomplishments are not irrelevant to someone’s character. If that were true, there would be no way to judge anyone’s character at all. It is an outrage that Dr. Simmons has been defamed in this manner by someone who has written provably false statements about him in a professional setting. If you truly are committed to protecting the reputations of the people in the NSHE, you must address the injustice that has been done to Dr. Simmons.

Sincerely,

Matthew Ebert