A Loyola Professor is Still Holding Classes After University Investigation Found Evidence of ‘Unprofessional and Sexual Harassing Behavior’

Larissa Paseta | The PhoenixTwo female Loyola graduates said their professor asked them invasive questions about their nose piercings, specifically asking one if the jewelry was “indicative” of bisexuality. These comments are just a few in a long list, according to students.

A female Loyola student showed up in class one day sporting a new nose piercing — which her professor took note of, asking her whether she was “broadcasting her sexuality,” she later recalled.

On another occasion, she said the professor told her she should wear more clothes that “show off what’s happening under there.”

Another time, she said he referred to her, another student and himself as a “design threesome.”

Beyond the “inappropriate” comments, the professor also allegedly “constantly” touched, rubbed or squeezed the shoulders and backs of female students — several of whom ended up complaining to Loyola administrators about his behavior.

A 2018 internal school investigation into the professor ultimately found “evidence to support the complaint of unprofessional and sexual harassing behavior” against him, according to records reviewed by The Phoenix. Five female Loyola graduates, who The Phoenix isn’t naming, told reporters they experienced or witnessed sexual harassment from the man between 2016-2018 while they were still in school.

Despite the allegations against him and the school’s own findings, The Phoenix also found Loyola continues to employ him as an associate professor teaching five classes, according to class records in Loyola’s online portal, LOCUS, and the chairperson of his department.

The professor, who The Phoenix isn’t identifying, refused to comment to a reporter other than to say via email: “It is the Policy of Loyola University that faculty must not discuss confidential student or personnel matters.”

School officials wouldn’t say how he was punished after the investigation, except to say that disciplinary action was taken. 

The students who brought complaints against him have graduated, meaning some were left in the dark about what happened to him after the investigation concluded.

After The Phoenix told some of the graduates he’s still teaching at the university, one said she was “shocked.” 

Another questioned why the man is still teaching, saying she doesn’t think he’s “fit to be a professor.”

“How many people need to be taught by him, and how many of these people are going to feel very uncomfortable in their school environment?” she asked.   

Larissa Paseta | The Phoenix

‘Going into his class, I knew to stay away’

Loyola defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome, sexual, sex-based, and/or gender-based,  verbal, written, online and/or physical conduct.”

One of the now-former students interviewed by The Phoenix said her professor’s actions fit that description.

She said he “constantly” touched her, once told her to wear clothes to “show off what’s happening under there” and referred to her, another student and himself as a “design threesome.” 

She said she would sometimes skip class because of these comments and behavior, especially on days when attendance was optional. She said those classes were “just more opportunity for him to be weird.”

One of the woman’s former classmates told The Phoenix she not only witnessed some of the professor’s behaviors with her friend, he also touched and squeezed her own shoulders on occasion.

“It was just one of those things where every day in class it always felt like it was an opportunity to try and touch my shoulder,” she said.

The first woman got her septum pierced while she was a student in the professor’s class, and she said he asked her invasive questions, including whether she was “broadcasting her sexuality” with the new jewelry. 

The professor also asked the second woman, who has a similar nose piercing, personal questions about her sexuality, specifically suggesting her piercing was “indicative” of bisexuality, she said.  

According to this woman, he said: “You really mean it has nothing to do with your sexuality, you really don’t think that? ‘Cause I also saw you wearing your dog collar the other day, and you know when people wear that, that’s as much of an indicator of what they like to do in the bedroom than anything.”

She said the suggestion made her feel “very uncomfortable” and she was wary of going to class.

A third recent graduate said she avoided taking a class with the professor for as long as possible because she heard questionable things about him from upperclassmen.

“Going into his class, I knew to stay away,” she said.

When she did take his class, she said the rumors held true.

The first day of class, she said the professor acknowledged students have said they didn’t like when he went near them. But he told them “that’s just how I teach,” she said. 

His classroom was “a weird space to be in,” yet another graduate said. She said while the professor never touched her, she watched him touch other students.

“For some students he would put his hand on their back, and it would just go a little far down in my opinion,” she said.  

‘I am willing to be an advocate for them’

Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney’s administration has been criticized repeatedly by students in recent years for its handling of sexual misconduct allegations, with the school accused of poorly managing internal investigations. 

Last fall, The Phoenix published a story about three Loyola students who alleged rape against the same man and were frustrated with how the university handled the investigation. Just last month, The Phoenix also reported on a male Loyola student who was expelled for a rape allegation against a female student yet walked the stage at graduation. 

The investigation that’s the subject of this latest story led to similar frustrations among the women who made the complaints against the professor and were interviewed by a Loyola Human Resources (HR) employee as part of the case.

The Loyola HR rep who was involved in conducting the university investigation wouldn’t comment to The Phoenix for this story, saying in an email, “Due to confidentiality requirements, information regarding specific cases cannot be shared or discussed. No additional information is available.”

But the now-former students described poor communication with the HR rep throughout the investigation.

One of the women decided to contact the rep during her last semester at Loyola, after hearing classmates of hers had spoken to the HR rep about the professor.

In February 2018, the graduate emailed the HR rep detailing eight incidents in which she felt like she was sexually harassed by the professor, including the comment about a “design threesome,” asking if her septum piercing meant “broadcasting her sexuality” and suggesting she wear clothing to “show off” her body, emails show. 

She also said the professor joked about going “on a date” with another student and told her she could “join in on the fun.”

“I know many other female students who are afraid to do certain things, act a certain way or have changed their schedules because of him,” she wrote in an email to the HR rep. “I am willing to be an advocate for them.”

This graduate said, after meeting with her, the HR rep promised to reach out with the findings of the investigation, likely in a “couple weeks.”

Not only was there no conclusion in that time, the graduate said she repeatedly contacted the HR rep over the following seven months for updates. The rep responded saying the investigation would be done “soon” or “in the coming month,” according to emails reviewed by The Phoenix.

“Are there any updates?” the graduate wrote to the HR rep April 24, 2018. “I really can’t leave Loyola and graduate knowing that this man is still employed here.”

The rep replied two days later saying she hoped to complete the investigation “in the coming month.” 

Graduation came and went in May 2018, and the graduate still hadn’t received the findings. 

Another graduate who spoke to the HR rep said she received one update about a month or two after speaking with her, saying the investigation was ongoing. 

One of the other women who also spoke to the rep said she didn’t receive any follow-up emails and wishes she would’ve gotten “closure” before graduating.

Larissa Paseta | The Phoenix

Under Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, colleges are responsible for responding “promptly and effectively” to notifications and reports of gender-based misconduct. But there’s no exact time frame in the statute.

One graduate — who participated in the investigation as someone who said she witnessed sexual harassment — said she understands investigations take time, but said the lack of updates was frustrating.

“I’m trying to be fair and say, ‘I understand they’re busy and they have a lot of cases and whatever,’ but it’s kinda unresolved,” she said. “In my mind, I’m like, ‘Well, where did this case even go? Is stuff even happening? Is there going to be a resolution? Is action going to be taken to get him out of there?’ I don’t know.” 

Two other graduates — who said they witnessed  or experienced harassment by the professor — said they decided not to reach out to the HR rep because they felt their experiences weren’t enough to warrant participating in the investigation. One of the graduates said she ignored her “feelings of discomfort” and didn’t talk to anyone at the university because she thought it wasn’t a big enough deal. 

The graduate who started an investigation with the HR rep emailed her three times throughout the summer after graduation in 2018, documents show. 

“Please let me know what is going on,” she wrote after one email went unanswered for two weeks.

Emails show the HR rep didn’t tell her the findings of the investigation until August 29, 2018 — nearly seven months after it began.

The investigation found “evidence to support the complaint of unprofessional and sexual harassing behavior,” the HR rep wrote in the letter, saying the investigation included meeting with professors and students in the professor’s department.

But the letter didn’t include what action the university would take against the professor, the graduate said. She was left with unanswered questions.

“What happens now? … Who decides what happens to him?” she asked the HR rep in an email.

‘A whole long process with no resolution’

The HR rep told that graduate the professor’s department and school would review the investigation report and make a recommendation based on the process outlined in Loyola’s Faculty Handbook, emails show. That was the only information the rep said she could give, according to the graduate.   

The chairperson of the professor’s department also couldn’t tell the graduate what would happen to the professor. 

Speaking generally, Tim Love, who now oversees internal investigations into sexual misconduct at Loyola, said once the findings of an investigation involving a faculty member are released, there’s a chain of command for what happens next. The chairperson of the department makes a recommendation of disciplinary action to the dean of the school, who makes a recommendation to the provost, who then makes the final decision, according to Love.

It’s up to Loyola’s Office of the Provost to get back to a student or graduate about the outcome of an investigation involving a faculty member, but there’s “less of a need to know about outcome” if the student has left the university, according to Love, who was speaking generally.   

Data from Stop Street Harassment

One graduate said despite having graduated during the investigation, she still felt “determined” to get answers. 

“I feel like I deserve to know that information,” she said. 

Another graduate said she was frustrated by not knowing the outcome of the investigation, calling it “a whole long process with no resolution.”

During the time of the investigation, Loyola’s Office of the Provost was under the charge of Margaret Callahan as interim provost. As of February 2020, Norberto Grzywacz is the new provost. Neither of them responded to requests for comment from The Phoenix.

After the investigation concluded, the graduate who launched it soon learned from current students the professor was still employed by Loyola, which The Phoenix confirmed with the chairperson of his department and through Loyola’s online course list.

Some of the graduates said they were “shocked” and “discouraged” upon learning he’s still a Loyola professor. 

“For that to be ignored is really unsettling to me, it really makes me feel Loyola doesn’t care about its … sexual harassment allegations,” said one graduate, who said she experienced harassment but didn’t participate in the investigation. “It feels disrespectful to the potential threat that he poses to any other student’s livelihood.”

It’s unclear how the professor was disciplined, but the chairperson of his department told The Phoenix there was “disciplinary action” taken and it followed all the “official channels.”

The graduate who received the investigation’s findings in August 2018 reached out to the professor’s chairperson one last time in January 2019 to ask for news about the professor’s discipline. 

Emails show the chairperson said she couldn’t say “much but that disciplinary action has been taken and is now in place.”

The graduate responded to the chairperson, saying she thinks allowing the professor to teach is a mistake.

“I understand a lot isn’t solely up to you, but keeping him employed at Loyola at any capacity is telling your female students that they don’t deserve protection from basic harassment,” she wrote to the chairperson. “I am not going to give up my pursuit of either his termination or exposing his behavior.”

Loyola students can report sexual misconduct to The Office for Equity & Compliance at (773) 508-7766 or use the university’s EthicsLine reporting hotline, Loyola’s system for dealing with different complaints.

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