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UT-Austin Acknowledges 17 Cases Of Sexual Misconduct By Employees

The University of Texas at Austin.
Tamir Kalifa
For The Texas Tribune
The University of Texas at Austin.

Seventeen employees at the University of Texas at Austin, including three faculty members and one research fellow, were found to have violated the flagship's sexual misconduct policies between November 2017 and December 2019, according to a university document released Jan. 9.

One faculty member, a professor in the department of integrative biology, Johann Hofmann, “allegedly tried to start a consensual relationship” with a graduate student and “made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature” to the student, who contacted administrators in December 2017, the document shows. A professor in the college of pharmacy, Kevin Dalby, “allegedly made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to a student."

A third faculty member, Coleman Hutchison, did not disclose a "consensual, romantic relationship” with a graduate student and made inappropriate comments, including about “the attractiveness of women faculty members and other women scholars in front of graduate students,” according to the report.

Hofmann and Dalby denied some of the allegations and “tried to provide context regarding” others, according to the university’s records, which were released in response to a public information request. All three men were punished by the university, which said through a spokesperson Thursday that “sexual misconduct violates the values and policies of UT Austin.”

“Every individual who serves our university must feel valued, respected and free to learn and work in a safe environment,” said UT-Austin spokesperson J.B. Bird. “Transparency around past violations, which is mandated by the Texas Public Information Act, is an important step toward accountability.”

Hofmann was temporarily barred from holding an administrative or leadership position within the university and from supervising graduate students on his own, was suspended for one semester without pay, and was removed as a lab facilities director.

Dalby was temporarily prohibited from sole-supervising graduate students.

Hutchison was, for a time, barred from supervising graduate students on his own, being appointed to an administrative or leadership position at the university, or being promoted to full professor.

All three faculty members received written reprimands, had to discuss their behavior with college officials and had to develop plans to manage their "professional working relationships with students."

Of the 14 other employees on the list, 10 resigned or were terminated, including a supervisor with UT Libraries and director and lecturer in the Department of Radio-Television-Film who "allegedly made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature” and “engaged in unwelcome physical contact with multiple students.” (Both denied the allegations, according to the university records.) Five of the employees are barred from future employment with the university, and one of the 10 — a research fellow in the Department of Geography and the Environment who “allegedly attempted, on multiple occasions, to engage in unwelcome physical contact with a faculty member” — resigned for unrelated reasons.

UT has about 3,000 teaching faculty members and 24,000 staff members, including student and seasonal employees, Bird said. A human resources department coordinates the disciplinary process for staff. The provost’s office oversees the process for tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Although UT has provided a similar summary before, the release follows months of protests by UT-Austin students angered that two professors punished for sexual misconduct violations had returned to the classroom to teach undergraduates. Both men's cases had been reported in the news media and one of the men, Hutchison, was included in the records released Thursday.

The other, professor Sahotra Sarkar, was suspended for a semester after students complained he asked them to pose for nude photos and swim with him at a nude beach. He was placed on half-time leave without pay and restricted from teaching or advising students during the suspension.

Sarkar — who disputed the allegations in a statement to the university — resumed teaching undergraduates in 2017. Hutchison returned this fall.

But UT-Austin students have recounted their shock at learning about their professors' behavior through friends or on Twitter, and protesters have demanded that information about all faculty members found to have violated school misconduct policies be publicized.

A university spokesperson, Shilpa Bakre, has said UT does not proactively publish the names of policy violators but would review the students’ request. The university has also formed a working group with students to address protesters’ concerns and hired a law firm to review its sexual misconduct-related policies. Students and officials — including UT-Austin President Greg Fenves — are expected to have a forum on the topic Jan. 27.

An earlier list from UT-Austin shows 11 employees, including Sarkar, were found to have violated its sexual misconduct policy between 2013 and November 2017.

“Complainants reported sexual misconduct, including allegations that Sarkar invited complainants to go swimming with him at nude beach, propositioned complainants to pose nude for photographs, held many school-related meetings at bars, and led discussions that were sexual in nature and uncomfortable for the complainants,” part of the entry about Sarkar says.

Other employees made “inappropriate comments that were sexual in nature” or were “involved in a series of inappropriate and uncomfortable interactions with a female coworker.”

One employee at the time was alleged to have cornered a “coworker in a storage room and grabbed the coworker by the hips and tried to kiss her.” The accused employee issued an apology letter and was quickly fired.

Another allegedly “waved a picture at 2 coworkers that made them uncomfortable” and “had a history of making inappropriate comments to women, including talking about women’s clothing, women’s bodies, and making masturbating hand gestures.” He denied the behaviors, but a UT office “determined there was sufficient evidence” that he violated a school policy barring sexual misconduct and related behaviors. The employee received a warning letter, according to the summary sheet.

Of the 11 employees listed, four were terminated, three were not rehired and one — a former academic adviser and coordinator accused of racial harassment, using “homophobic slang” and making “sexual comments directed at females” — resigned.

In an unrelated situation, UT-Austin is also reviewing concerns about Department of Classics professor Thomas Hubbard, specifically his academic writings about the age at which boys can consent to sexual relations, including an article titled "Sexual Consent and the Adolescent Male, or What Can We Learn from the Greeks?"

An excerpt from that article says, “Contemporary American legislation premised on children’s incapacity to ‘consent’ to sexual relations stems from outmoded gender constructions and ideological preoccupations of the late Victorian and Progressive Era; that it has been extended to “protection” of boys is a matter of historical accident, rather than sound social policy. Rigorous social science and historical comparanda suggest that we should consider a different ‘age of consent’ for boys and girls.”

In December, a small group protested outside Hubbard’s home. A 50-minute livestream of the incident showed people banging on the door of the house and Hubbard — who has not been found responsible of violating the university's sexual misconduct policy — being escorted out by police.

Fenves has said he understands the concern over Hubbard’s “writings about sexual relations between teenagers and adults” and personally finds them “outrageous.”

Fenves said the university has assigned Hubbard “to teach Classics courses that do not relate to the controversial topics in his writings” for the last few years but was reviewing complaints about classes last semester and would “take appropriate action, within the bounds of academic freedom and the constitutionally protected right to free speech.”

In a lengthy Q&A document posted online, Hubbard said he condemns rape and writes about “pederasty” — the "romantic courtship of adolescent males” — rather than pedophilia.

Pedophilia, he told the Texas Tribune in an email, is defined "as persistent attraction to pre-pubescent children. That has nothing to do with what the ancient Greeks practiced or what I discuss in my scholarly work, which pertains to male adolescents. Confusing pedophilia and historical pederasty is irresponsible."

Student protesters also interrupted a class taught by Sarkar last semester. Sarkar and the three faculty members found to have violated sexual misconduct policies since November 2017 did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Shannon Najmabadi is the higher education reporter at the Tribune, where she started as a fellow in 2017. She previously reported for the Chronicle of Higher Education, where she covered the gender equity law Title IX, fallout from an executive order on immigration, and a federal loan forgiveness program with an uncertain future. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.