July 21, 2019

Students allege sexual and professional misconduct from professor, Title IX case unresolved

Editor’s note: Faculty members are not identified in this story in order to not reveal the identity of an individual who has not been charged with a crime.

Webster University student Tamsen Reed filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment by a Webster professor to the Title IX office in the spring of 2018. One year later, the case is yet to be resolved according to Reed.

Reed said fellow students told her about the professor commenting on the way she dressed to class and how her outfits became more revealing as the semester went on. Reed had one class with the professor during her time at Webster during the spring of 2017.

The Journal reached out to the professor Reed alleges sexually harassed her but did not receive a comment.

Webster University released a statement Tuesday saying the university engaged an independent investigator into Reed’s claim, among others, to examine all allegations from students and former professors. It also said the university cannot comment on the status or outcome of any investigation.

Reed said she sent multiple emails about an investigation into the case to Title IX coordinator Phil Storm from August through September of 2018, some of which were unanswered.

Reed said Storm told her the investigation would take about three months after she filed the complaint in May of 2018. Saturday, she graduated with other students who accused the professor of being inappropriate or unprofessional in the classroom.

“When you’re not in the (Title IX) office, it’s just radio silence,” Reed said.

Storm did not answer multiple calls from The Journal. He later declined to comment in an email.

She said Storm cited an inability to contact a former Webster faculty member as the reason the investigation was not making progress. Reed received personal contact information from the faculty member on Facebook and emailed it to the Title IX office in January. She did not receive a response after sending it. The email was the last time communication was shared between Reed and the Title IX office, she said.

On Monday, that former faculty member told The Journal that Webster University never contacted him regarding a Title IX investigation.

Webster’s policy regarding sexual harassment states the university intends to resolve all reports within a timely manner, typically within 60 days following the report. The policy also states the time frame is only a guideline.

“All time frames expressed in this policy are meant to be guidelines rather than rigid requirements,” the policy says. “Extenuating circumstances may arise that require the extension of time frames.”

The policy also mentions the university will update both the reporting party and the responsive party throughout the investigative process.

Reed said the Title IX office has not updated her on the status of the investigation in months.

Webster University’s examples of sexual harassment include verbal abuse or hostile behavior such as teasing, mocking, degrading or ridiculing another person or group.

Reed posted a testimony on social media, along with 13 other students and former faculty, alleging sexual and professional misconduct from the professor. Reed was the only person to write a testimony that alleges she was sexually harassed.

Student Patrick Rausch said he witnessed the professor make comments about Reed’s clothing. Rausch echoed Reed’s accounts of the teacher’s behavior.

Rausch said the professor insinuated Reed was flirting with her.

The Journal interviewed six students who recalled inappropriate or unprofessional behavior from the professor. Student Chester Bacon said classmates informed faculty or administrators about the professor but did not see any action taken.

“As the time kept going and going and as I’ve seen my other classmates try to do the right thing in reporting it up the chain, they only get ignored,” Bacon said.

Bacon and Rausch said they did not report their concerns to administrators or faculty. They cited other students’ pleas not getting answered as the reason for not reporting it.

“We no longer trusted the administration in helping us with these problems,” Rausch said, “as we feared they would be swept under the rug.”

During student course evaluations last semester, Bacon said the professor stayed in the classroom while students completed them. Webster University policy states teachers should leave the classroom during evaluations to ensure students can evaluate professors independently.

Bacon said he felt he could not fill out the evaluation how he wanted to because he was intimidated by the professor being in the classroom at that time.

Senior Nicholas Fuhrmann said he filled out several course evaluations in recent years saying the professor was unfit for his position. Fuhrmann said he did not witness the professor’s behavior change after the evaluations.

Student Jordan Embree said his class was given many assignments during the last few weeks of the semester without the professor giving instruction or direction for students. Embree reported his concerns to a faculty member, he said.

Embree said that faculty member told him his situation was an isolated incident and that nobody else had complained about the professor.

Embree said the faculty member told him the professor would be talked to about the complaints and Embree would receive an update on the situation. Embree said he never received more information after meeting twice with the faculty member.

The Journal reached out to the faculty member Embree spoke to for comment but did not receive a response.

One day before graduating, Reed said she gave up on the Title IX office.

“I have no faith that they’re going to finish the investigation, Reed said, “especially because I’m graduating.”

Webster University’s full statement read, “Webster University is committed to providing a safe and productive learning environment free from unlawful discrimination of any kind.  To that end, the University maintains a robust Title IX complaint and investigation procedure for all allegations of sexual harassment.  Consistent with its legal obligations, Webster University maintains confidentiality with respect to Title IX investigations and shares information regarding allegations only to the extent necessary as part of its investigations or as required by law.  Thus, the University cannot comment on the status or outcome of any investigation.  Likewise, the University will not comment on confidential personnel matters or share information specific to any Webster University student, faculty member or employee.

“The University takes the recent allegations regarding its Title IX procedures very seriously and has engaged an independent investigator to examine the merit of these claims. The University is investigating all related allegations, as well, and will continue to maintain its strong commitment to providing an educational environment that fosters open and individualized learning experiences for all its students.”

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