A former LSU professor has been accused of allegedly using a graduate assistant with whom he was reportedly having an affair to lobby the Louisiana Legislature to approve legislation targeting critical race theory. The professor denies the accusation, one that a university investigation has cleared him of wrongdoing.
Charges from the Louisiana Ethics Administration allege David Sobek, a former political science professor, instructed a graduate assistant to investigate material in courses his “estranged wife” taught. The graduate assistant was allegedly told to look for anything that touches on critical race theory (CRT) and to distribute that information to legislators who might favor anti-CRT legislation.
Critical race theory is an advanced academic subject that holds that race is socially constructed and examines how legal structures are used to oppress people of color. It is typically used in graduate programs. The term is used as a political rallying cry by some conservative politicians who target basic and accurate teaching of American history and slavery.
In an interview with Sobek and an email statement from wife, who is also a professor at LSU, both said they are happily married. Sobek declined to comment when asked whether he had a relationship with the graduate assistant.
Louisiana law prohibits state employees acting in their official capacity or on behalf of their agency from lobbying the legislature.
Sobek denied the veracity of the ethics charges but said he intends to settle the case to put the situation behind him.
Sobek, who was a tenured professor at LSU, was terminated by the university earlier this year. While the lobbying allegations came up during his termination process, a committee of faculty and administrators found them to be unsubstantiated and not the reason for his termination. LSU has declined to provide records related to its Title IX and human resources office investigations into Sobek’s conduct.
The graduate assistant, who is not named in the complaint and the Illuminator has been unable to identify, was not acting on his orders, Sobek said. She contacted lawmakers of her own volition because of her own interest in critical race theory legislation, he added.
Before she reached out to legislators, Sobek told the Illuminator he asked the graduate assistant not to contact him and only found out she had contacted legislators after the fact.
Sobek said he also reported the student for harassment. LSU’s Title IX office, which handles such complaints, later contacted Sobek’s colleagues as part of an investigation into the harassment, but Sobek said nothing came of it.
Records LSU released to the Illuminator in response to a public records request shed light on the unusual aspects of the allegations.
An email from the graduate assistant to several members of the political science department alludes to a conspiracy to force her to participate in the lobbying, or else she and students in her courses would face “harm.” The grad assistant does not say what specific harm she feared, but described Sobek as “becoming angry” and used the word “harm” multiple times in the same email.
“He (Sobek) was instructing all of this and telling me I was doing this work for his coalition with the Provost in connection with the Faculty Senate,” the graduate assistant’s email reads.
Additional emails from political science faculty raise concerns about disturbing language in the graduate assistant’s repeated emails.
“This last set of messages includes lurid details that have nothing to do with the purported purpose of her email,” political science department chair Robert Hogan wrote in an email to Title IX representatives. “[The email] contained disturbing language in which [name redacted] draws parallels between her present situation in our department and a play involving Greek mythology.”
“In it, she discusses aspects of killing and death,” Hogan added.
The emails indicate the graduate assistant made other claims about Sobek that were found to be untrue, including that he funneled additional payments to her for her work lobbying the legislature. Hogan’s investigation into the matter found Sobek could not have been and was not involved in the extra payments. They were actually the result of a clerical error, according to Hogan’s findings.
“This is a pattern in many of [name redacted] claims, there is often some degree of truth in them, but they are accompanied by additional information that is far less credible or even false,” Hogan wrote. “She is already implicating the department administration as part of a conspiracy.”
Hogan later raised concerns the university was not following procedures when investigating and reprimanding Sobek, a concern other faculty members have raised since June 2021 when the university implemented new procedures for terminating tenured professors.
Sobek agreed his termination was mishandled but declined to go into details, maintaining his desire to move on from the situation. Sobek is no longer in a teaching position.
Ethics charges are initiated by a complaint to the Louisiana State Ethics Board, which then conducts a confidential investigation. If sufficient evidence is found, charges are recommended that are then handled in an Ethics Adjudicatory Board hearing.
The Board of Ethics recommended a fine of $10,000 against Sobek. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Read the original reporting from the Louisiana Illuminator here.