KNOXVILLE, Tn. – In the last two years, six cases of sexual misconduct by faculty or staff at the University of Tennessee Knoxville led to those employees resigning or disciplinary action being taken.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the complaints were made between November 2015 and November 2017. The complaints represent only accusations involving faculty or staff — not between students — that the university said were substantiated by the Office of Equity and Diversity. The total number of complaints involving faculty or staff was not available.
There are about 9,700 UT faculty and staff in Knoxville, including the UT Space Institute and UT Institute of Agriculture.
The information came from a public records request. The request came amid questions about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault and how to break a culture of silence.
Higher education is no exception. University employees might be slightly more likely to experience sexual harassment or assault than those in the average American workplace due to the nature of work often done independently, with little oversight and strong interpersonal relationships where the lines between personal and professional blur, according to Joanna Grossman, a professor of law at SMU Dedman School of Law in Texas.
The recent spotlight on sexual harassment and assault means universities and other workplaces are being forced to evaluate their own work climates and public reaction to how the issue is handled.
“People who didn’t complain before are going to now,” Grossman said. “People who weren’t going to say anything before are saying it now. It’s really a whole new world. Universities have been really kind of slow to recognize what’s going on on their own campuses, and to me, #MeToo is sort of a catalyst for that self-reflection.”
Jenny Richter, associate vice chancellor and director of the Office of Equity and Diversity at UT, agreed that sexual harassment and assault are issues that more people are paying attention to now. But she said it’s also something universities are often more cognizant of, thanks in part to recent pushes around Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education.
“I think we are freer to speak about it, freer to report it and more conscious of our rights and opportunities,” Richter said. “I’m sure there are also people who never report it; they just deal with it. But that I think it’s at every employer.”
One case at UT involved an ROTC instructor who was reassigned away from the university after he was accused of having a consensual relationship with a cadre member.
There also were two cases in which UT would not release all the details, citing a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.
One of those cases involved a faculty member who asked a female undergraduate student to come to his office after a night out drinking and asked her not to leave because he was concerned he couldn’t drive. Once in his office, the faculty member said to the student, “I’m so gonna get fired for this,” ”I’m extremely tipsy” and “I’m very attracted to you.”
Nothing physical happened between the pair and the student said that while she was uncomfortable with one-on-one meetings with her professor, she felt comfortable remaining in his class for the semester.
The professor was suspended without pay for a semester and remains employed.
Another case involved a graduate student and a faculty member who the university found violated school policies in multiple incidents of physical and verbal sexual harassment.
In one case, an employee of Hodges Library received a final written warning after comments and interactions with another library employee. The comments included suggesting that she carry a concealed weapon inside her bra and other comments about bras, lingerie and the woman’s body.
Another case involved a facilities service employee who was making unwanted comments to a female co-worker about an imagined relationship between them.