Steven Helmericks has trouble sleeping.
He has an unlisted telephone number and a gun to protect himself
and his wife.
The former part-time CSU sociology professor is no longer in the
classroom. He has been reassigned to a research position.
Three months after making a political remark in the classroom,
and one month after he said he and his wife began receiving
threats, Helmericks is speaking publicly for the first time about
what he calls a “benign” comment that was blown out of
Conflict and Bias
On June 14, Helmericks began the first session of General
Sociology by introducing himself and the course. Helmericks said he
believed the war in Iraq was unjust and that American troops were
One student, Heather Schmidt, spoke up and said she did not
appreciate his views because her husband was fighting in Iraq.
Helmericks said he then told Schmidt that he appreciated her views
and that he did not mean to offend her or anyone else.
“He immediately apologized,” said Allison Evans, a junior
biological sciences and zoology major who was in the class. “The
rest of the term was fair. Helmericks was definitely opinionated,
but I didn’t want to let that get to me.”
Schmidt, who could not be reached for comment, was quoted in an
Aug. 13 Denver Post opinion column. According to her quotes in the
article, Helmericks said, “(Bush) is sending boys and girls out to
die for no goddamn reason.” Schmidt said Helmericks dismissed her
In the article, Schmidt also said that after class she
confronted Helmericks, and he told her to go to a different
Helmericks remembers the second exchange differently.
“I told her, ‘If you are having trouble with what you’ve heard
in today’s lecture, I think you’re going to have trouble with lots
of things we’re going to talk about in this class, and there may be
other sociology classes that might better suit your needs,'”
Helmericks also said he was never asked to tell his side of the
story, either by the media or university officials, nor were any of
the other students in the class.
“Basically, nothing happened,” said Bruce Tracy, a junior
English major who was in Helmericks’ class. “To say there was
political bias in that class is a completely personal bias of the
situation. He did not at any time bully or slam down our throats a
Schmidt never returned to Helmericks’ class, but she did voice
her concerns to Lou Swanson, chair of the sociology department.
“Steve (Helmericks) and I had a lengthy conversation about the
importance of a learning environment and it was a very constructive
conversation,” Swanson said.
The next day, Helmericks said he told his class he wanted open
discussion and that he valued differing opinions and ideas. Some
Chelsea Skidmore, a senior French major, said the class was very
politically biased and that Helmericks did not handle the situation
with Schmidt appropriately.
“He apologized for his behavior in a manner that seemed as if he
was egging people on,” Skidmore said.
Helmericks wrote Schmidt a letter of regret, though he stressed
it was not an apology.
Both Helmericks and some students in the class said the class
was not the same after the incident.
“After that day, it was over,” Helmericks said.
Danielle Norman, a senior restaurant and resort management
major, also said the class atmosphere was different after that
“He was very guarded in what he said, and I thought that took
away from his teaching,” she said.
Later in the summer Helmericks received e-mails from Chuck
Fogland, president of the CSU College Republicans, condemning
Helmericks’ actions in class.
Fogland said he intervened on behalf of Schmidt and other
students who were being “harassed” by a “totalitarian”
“It is narrow-minded, abusive and unfair, and it is wrong,”
Fogland wrote to Helmericks soon after the incident. “In the
interest of all points of view, (CSU College Republicans) will not
tolerate stifling of debate.”
Helmericks said people are taking his comments out of context,
but Fogland said that is not possible.
“You can’t possibly say (Schmidt) took it out of context,”
Fogland said. “This was a genuine case of harassment and stepping
out of line.”
Some other students who were in the class agree.
“I have never in my life been so offended by a professor at CSU;
I literally dreaded going to class every day,” said Emily Mayfield,
a junior consumer and family studies major.
Helmericks said he is not upset with Schmidt at all.
“She was representing her feelings in her heart at the time, and
I truly believe that her position has been exploited by the
Republican Party to promote a political agenda,” he said.
Not all Republicans are pleased with the situation’s
“I am a registered Republican and I am outraged at the way CSU
Republicans have taken this and run with it,” Tracy said.
Helmericks said the Aug. 13 Denver Post column sparked an
unending string of threats. Helmericks said people began sending
threatening e-mails and letters to his home, and he received
hang-up calls in the middle of the night.
After presenting the information to the CSU Police Department,
Helmericks met with Swanson and others in the College of Liberal
Arts and determined that it was not safe for him to continue
“He wasn’t fired,” Swanson said.
Helmericks said some of the Liberal Arts faculty was so
concerned for his safety that they asked if he and his wife could
leave town for a while, which Helmericks said was not an
“Some people think I was fired, some people have the impression
that I bailed on my classes,” Helmericks said. “The fact is the
university and I came to the consensual agreement that I was in
danger, as were other students and other professors.”
Kathie Helmericks said they received some sort of letter or call
nearly every day since Aug. 13.
“To be just living your life, and then all of a sudden this
happens, you can not imagine what it’s like,” she said.
Helmericks said he misses teaching.
“My voice is out of the classroom. Why? Because I feared for my
life,” he said. “I really miss teaching – that’s where my heart
Taylor McCue, a sophomore psychology major who was in
Helmericks’ class, said the incident was overblown.
‘This is not a political issue. This is not a students’ rights
issue. This is one student wanting revenge for a statement she blew
out of proportion,” McCue said.
Josh Legoza, a senior mechanical engineering major, agreed.
“(Helmericks) was always very respectful of everything myself or
anyone else in that class had to say,” he said.
On Sept. 9, Schmidt joined students from the University of
Colorado-Boulder and Metro State University at a hearing before the
Colorado General Assembly regarding professors’ political biases in
While students were allowed to speak about the allegations, the
professors were not invited to participate.
“In my view, they were isolated issues,” said Sen. Ken Gordon, a
democrat. “The whole hearing was a witch hunt against more liberal
Fogland said the hearing was simply an opportunity for the
students to tell their stories.
“The fact that it was one-sided is immaterial,” Fogland
Jessica Baker, director of the Colorado Student Association,
likened the hearing to “political theater,” and said issues of bias
and disrespect in the classroom need to be handled at the
“They need to take care of teachers that are whacked, but they
usually do it quietly,” Baker said.
Fogland agreed, saying he wants to see free discussion about all
issues available in the classroom.
“I don’t want professors to feel like their jobs are in danger,
and I don’t want students to feel like if they’ve got a bone to
pick with their profs that they can just go to the dean and
suddenly there’s mega-pressure,” Fogland said. “But I do want
professors to understand that there is a line, and they should
Kathie Helmericks, however, said the exact opposite has happened
– her husband has been silenced, which could cause other professors
to censor themselves in class.
“If it can happen to Steve, it can happen to anyone, and it
will,” she said.