Another fine academic sexual harassment mess

There doesn’t seem to be any question that Andrew Escobedo, a professor of English at Ohio University, sexually assaulted several of his students, and then threatened them if they exposed him. The case looks like a done deal.

…the school’s civil rights office issued a graphic 78-page report that not only substantiated their claims but also those of two other women alleging sexual harassment by Escobedo dating back to 2003. Escobedo denied the accusations, but his bosses, from the dean and provost to the president, agreed he should be fired.

It also looks to me like Escobedo has basically confessed.

After the investigation finished, Escobedo wrote a letter to colleagues — outing the names of witnesses and alleged victims — in which he said they had multiple opportunities to move away from him, yet they didn’t. Adams and Hempstead told investigators they feared that if they more forcefully rejected Escobedo, he could retaliate when giving them their final grades.

That letter…yikes. While vehemently protesting that he didn’t do it, and the witnesses couldn’t have seen him do it, and that it was the students’ fault for not running away from his grabby hands, and he was really drunk anyway, he also proposes that appropriate punishments would be a year of unpaid leave (in the business, we call those “sabbaticals”) and a permanent ban on working with grad students. He’s bargaining about the degree of guilt! Ick.

But he’s not out yet. He has been suspended from teaching duties, but he’s still getting paid.

The administration may want Escobedo gone, and the school’s own report may have painted Escobedo as a predator who “has engaged in a pattern of exploiting females who are subordinate” to him, but because of tenure, university policies entitle him to an administrative process that has kept him on staff for months. The Athens News reports that Escobedo’s salary last year was $87,000. At any time, Escobedo could resign without facing formal punishment, something the graduate students want to prevent.

Now Adams and Hempstead are questioning whether tenure, a system they both believe in as it safeguards intellectual freedom, has actually hamstrung how universities like theirs deal with sexual harassment cases.

Wait a minute — this looks like a case where the system is working. Escobedo was reported in March of 2016, and he was removed from his teaching responsibilities fairly quickly. That 78 page report was completed in December of that year, so a thorough turnaround in 9 months is simply amazing to anyone who knows how slowly academic bureaucracies grind. The breakdown of the schedule of the investigation shows that while it was lengthy, it was also prolonged by protocol.

Ohio University said it strives to finish investigations within 60 days, but it can be tough booking witnesses for interviews. That’s why the probe of Escobedo’s behavior took nearly nine months. The president then took almost three months to weigh in on how to punish Escobedo. Escobedo then had 30 days to request a hearing before the faculty senate to challenge the firing recommendation, and another 60 days to prepare his defense. Escobedo’s hearing is scheduled for Sept. 1 — nearly 18 months after Adams and Hempstead formally complained about him.

That is not unreasonable. You don’t want tenure decisions to be lightly rescinded, since that would defeat the whole point of tenure.

Now, in light of all the evidence against him, if Escobedo is not fired after his hearing, then there are grounds to complain. Keep in mind that his colleagues are also eager for a certain resolution of this problem because they are currently paying for a faculty line that is doing nothing, so his teaching load has been distributed among others, which is not an acceptable solution. Everyone in a department has to work to keep students progressing smoothly.

The one flaw in the system, though, is that “At any time, Escobedo could resign without facing formal punishment”, and move on to apply for new positions elsewhere, without a big black flag on his record. The internet does provide an informal check (imagine future hiring committees googling “Andrew Escobedo Ohio University”) which probably means his academic career is dead, but still…being able to just put “Resigned” on his CV and invent a bullshit excuse that won’t be checked gives him an out. It also means that when prospective employers check on his work history, Ohio University can pretend the sordid mess did not occur and say something bland.

Having tenure does not mean that you no longer have to worry about the repercussions of your actions.

Oh. Escobedo has already resigned. OK, English hiring committees, keep an eye open for CVs with his name on them. You don’t want to hire him.


  1. snuffcurry says

    Hempstead’s main worry, she told a dean in a January letter, was that Escobedo would be allowed to resign in good standing rather than be fired, enabling him to get hired elsewhere and harass more students. Twice since 2000, Ohio University has moved to fire tenured professors, but both professors resigned before they could be fired, according to a university spokesperson.

    Looks like one of his victims was justified in her fear here about Escobedo resigning before the faculty senate hearing and subsequent university board could determine whether or not to pull his tenure. Escobedo announced his resignation two days ago and that resignation will take officially begin the day the board of trustees were scheduled to meet.

  2. jrkrideau says

    The speed of the inquiry seems reasonable to me. It would be nice if it could be faster but it seems to compare well with some criminal prosecutions I know of here in Canada.

    Unfortunately, resigning is a standard escape route in many professional hearings.