OU President Initiates Dismissal Process Against Escobedo

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An Ohio University English professor embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal will now face the real possibility of losing his job, after the university’s interim president recommended the dismissal process be initiated.

Andrew Escobedo

Interim President David Descutner sent Dr. Andrew Escobedo a letter notifying him that he has decided to start “dismissal proceedings” following recommendations from the Executive Vice President and Provost and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Robert Frank.

“The grounds for dismissal are that for an extended period of years you have engaged in a pattern of sexual advances directed at students whom you supervised, graded, or advised as well as at colleagues in your department,” Descutner wrote in the letter provided to WOUB by the university.

Descutner received a recommendation from Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit to consider firing or terminating the tenure of Escobedo less than a month ago.

“I find that Dr. Escobedo’s conduct violates the most basic relationship between faculty and student and erodes the foundation of trust upon which the academy depends,” Benoit wrote in her letter to Descutner.

The decision comes after OU’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance released a Memorandum of Findings in December that concluded Escobedo had “engaged in a pattern of exploiting females who are subordinate to (him) by virtue of their student status or their junior employment status,” investigator Jessica Cook wrote in the document.

ECRC investigated claims from six different individuals claiming to be victims of Escobedo. The women accused him of actions ranging from “inappropriate touching” to sexual harassment, nonconsensual sexual conduct and hostile workplace accusations.

Women who participated in the university investigation said they were hesitant to stop Escobedo or report his alleged actions for fear of career or educational damage.

“(She), because she was a graduate student in (Escobedo’s) class, perceived that refusing (his) advances would impact not only her grade but also her educational opportunities at Ohio University,” the memorandum stated about one alleged victim.

Escobedo has called the investigation and the accusations in it the result of a “social justice crusade to get him fired from his job,” he told investigators.

He also discredited the women’s claims in a letter to faculty before they took a vote to recommend him for termination consideration.

“I did not intentionally coerce anyone or abuse my authority,” Escobedo told colleagues in early February. “The complainants’ behavior at the scene strongly suggests that they remained at the bar without coercion or, in other cases, that they did not witness what they claim.”

Escobedo has not been charged with any criminal offense.

The ECRC findings triggered responses not only from university officials debating if disciplinary action should be taken, but also from faculty and  students within the English department.

After a vote by the faculty of the English department, Frank made the dismissal recommendation to Benoit.

Frank said in his letter to Benoit that he agreed with a majority of English Department faculty in saying the ECRC findings warranted dismissal consideration.

“A serious breach of student trust has occurred, and it is difficult to imagine how we will be able to confidently assure our students that they can be free of concerns about sexual harassment with Prof. Escobedo on our faculty,” Frank wrote in a letter to Benoit on Feb. 14.

Escobedo is entitled to a hearing before a faculty committee, according to Descutner’s letter. The committee will determine whether Escobedo will officially be removed from his tenured position.

A request for a hearing must be made by Escobedo by April 3, the president wrote.

According to the faculty handbook, the faculty committee consists of Faculty Senate members in the third year of their senate term, and is usually chaired by the Faculty Senate chair. Dr. Joe McLaughlin, a member of the English department, is currently the Senate chair.

In addition to potential dismissal for Escobedo, Chicago-based attorney Michael Fradin, is pursuing a civil rights lawsuit against Escobedo on behalf of two of the complainants in the investigation.

Fradin told WOUB the case would not only take on the case of two graduate students against Escobedo, but would also address what he called a “systematic” culture within the English department that led to Escobedo’s actions.