Community email from college president discloses several accusations, resignations, and ongoing investigations.
Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar send an email to the college community on August 23, 2018, followed by a similar email to alumni, regarding faculty sexual misconduct.
The situation presented was stark: The college received “several” accusations of faculty sexual misconduct from alumni, leading certain faculty members to resign rather than participate in an investigation.
… During my first year at Oberlin College & Conservatory, we received several reports from alumni alleging violation of our sexual misconduct policy by faculty members. In each instance, we launched an independent investigation. While these allegations concern actions that occurred some years ago, it is possible that we may discover more recent misconduct as we continue our investigations.
Some of the individuals facing these complaints chose to tender their resignations rather than participating in our investigative process. Despite these resignations, our investigative processes continue so we can ascertain the facts. Others participated in the formal process. In each instance, we used an independent investigator to complete fact-finding or to conduct climate assessments in the appropriate departments to determine if the conduct was more than an isolated occurrence…
The magnitude of the problem was not fully disclosed, but it must be serious enough if the college president felt compelled to address the college and alumni communities.
I forwarded the following questions yesterday to the college spokesman, Scott Wargo, trying to get a handle on the scope of the problem. None of the questions required disclosure of personally identifiable information as to the accusers or the accused. As of this writing I have received no response despite my follow up:
How many faculty members have been accused of sexual misconduct?
How many resigned as a result of the allegations rather than participate in the investigation?
How many were the subject of investigation, and how many of those investigated were found responsible for sexual misconduct?
How many were disciplined after investigation, and what were the sanctions/remedies imposed?
What was the “formal process” referred to in the letter? Was it a hearing of some sort?. If it was a hearing of some sort, please describe the process, how many faculty members went to hearing, and how many were found responsible.
News reports shed some light on faculty who have resigned after accusations.
The student-run Oberlin Review reported that on November 16, 2017, an Associate Professor of Creative Writing resigned:
Associate Professor of Creative Writing Bernard Matambo resigned Nov. 16 amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct toward students. One such former student has recently filed a Title IX report against him….
English Professor and Chair of the Creative Writing Program Desales Harrison announced Matambo’s resignation to students in an email Nov. 20. It only detailed that Matambo had “resigned abruptly.”
Harrison said that the sparse details in the email are due to legal limitations on what information can be shared, adding that the College faculty and staff will likely be unable to comment on the issue.
“The constraining force is not one of institutional policy as it is one of state and federal law that governs the kind of disclosures that schools can make — the kind that schools are obligated to make,” Harrison said. “One way or another, whether it’s external legal constraint, just an ethical call, or a college policy — I don’t think that students are going to receive any particularly satisfying official narrative any time soon.”
The Matambo resignation prompted an editorial in the student newspaper questioning whether other faculty covered up the situation:
Based on multiple off-the-record interviews, the Editorial Board believes it is likely, if the allegations against Matambo are true, that some of his colleagues — in the Creative Writing program and across campus — were aware of his actions well before his resignation three weeks ago.
Failure of faculty to report knowledge of sexual misconduct would be a grave omission. Under Oberlin’s sexual misconduct policy, faculty and staff members are “Responsible Employees” who are required to immediately report any knowledge of sexual misconduct to Oberlin’s Title IX coordinator. Failure to do so places those Responsible Employees in direct conflict with Oberlin policy. It also violates their moral and ethical responsibility to the students they mentor or simply encounter on campus.
The Chronicle-Telegram reports today on another faculty resignation:
A world renowned and respected Oberlin Conservatory professor has resigned from his post after allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with students emerged and the college started a Title IX investigation.
Oberlin College spokesman Scott Wargo confirmed Friday that on Aug. 10 the college’s Title IX coordinator took a report alleging that James David Christie, professor of organ, had violated Oberlin’s sexual misconduct policy by engaging in inappropriate behavior with students.
The college informed Christie of the allegations Aug. 11 and immediately placed him on administrative leave pending an investigation, Wargo said in an email.
At that point, Christie tendered his resignation.
These two reported cases likely are not the universe of cases, given the wording of President Ambar’s community email, which refers to “several” accusations and ongoing investigations. The college, however, is not being transparent as to the scope of the problem.
Oberlin College’s faculty sexual misconduct problem comes against a backdrop of other difficulties the college is facing. Years of social justice warfare earned Oberlin College unflattering national media coverage. It’s financial outlook was downgraded by major credit agencies, due in part to enrollment declines in the past several years.
At the same time, the college faces a lawsuit from an expelled male student who alleges discrimination against males, including a 100% conviction rate for sexual assault accusations that go to hearing. The college also is enmeshed in a bitter town-gown fight with the local Gibson’s bakery.
Here is the email in full:
From: Oberlin College, Office of the President <[email protected]>
Date: Fri, Aug 24, 2018
Subject: Oberlin’s Values and Community Standards of Professional Conduct
The following message was sent to the campus community on Thursday, August 23. In this message, I want to address a matter of national import that has affected our campus and community as the new academic year approaches.
Early in my tenure, I indicated my commitment to Oberlin’s nondiscrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct policies, issues that have been a part of my core work throughout my career. One month after I arrived at Oberlin, the #metoo movement began its rapid climb into the public consciousness, empowering voices everywhere to share their stories. Across the country, every part of our society has been and is being rightfully held accountable, including the higher education community.
Over the course of this past year, many colleges have dealt with allegations that have come to light as a result of individuals’ newfound willingness to come forward. During my first year at Oberlin College & Conservatory, we received several reports from alumni alleging violation of our sexual misconduct policy by faculty members. In each instance, we launched an independent investigation. While these allegations concern actions that occurred some years ago, it is possible that we may discover more recent misconduct as we continue our investigations.
Some of the individuals facing these complaints chose to tender their resignations rather than participating in our investigative process. Despite these resignations, our investigative processes continue so we can ascertain the facts. Others participated in the formal process. In each instance, we used an independent investigator to complete fact-finding or to conduct climate assessments in the appropriate departments to determine if the conduct was more than an isolated occurrence.
Institutions must be effectively prepared to respond to reports of sexual misconduct and to prevent such misconduct whenever possible. Oberlin has continued over the past decade to review and enhance its policies regarding sexual misconduct. To that end, we currently communicate our policies to all new employees—faculty and staff—and to students beginning with first-year orientation. Additionally, our Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion conducts required training sessions throughout the year on Oberlin’s policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct that faculty and staff are required to complete.
Oberlin takes seriously its duty to clearly communicate our expectations to all new employees and students. All first-year students receive training through two mandatory workshops on college policies, consent, and bystander intervention while all student athletes and coaches receive yearly training per the NCAA rules.
Our policies regarding relationships between employees and students are clear. The sexual misconduct policy explicitly prohibits sexual relationships between employees and students, including relationships that are consensual, because of the potential negative impact on individuals as well as on the college’s learning and working community.
I believe strongly that as a community, we can have no greater goal than to ensure that Oberlin’s educational environment is safe, fair, equitable, and inclusive to the highest ethical and academic standards, and that it is free of all forms of discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct and violence. While each of the allegations I have mentioned has its distinctive set of facts, they are a reminder that we must continue to be vigilant in our work to ensure that everyone at this great institution lives up to the sacred trust between teacher and student that is the cornerstone of our academic mission.
To ensure that our sexual misconduct policies are robust and being enforced, our Title IX coordinator will build on the past decade’s efforts to enhance Oberlin’s policies and procedures by leading this year a group of faculty, staff and students in a review that will: (1) make recommendations for the improving the sexual misconduct policy; and (2) make recommendations regarding improved training and compliance.
To inform these recommendations, the group will conduct focus groups to reexamine our policies, discuss proposed policy revisions, and review the recommendations from departmental climate assessments. I also have asked the Dean of Arts & Sciences and the Dean of the Conservatory and other senior leadership to work with faculty governing bodies to have a more robust conversation about these issues on campus and to make the employee training even more accessible. As a member of our community, you can also support this work by encouraging and reporting concerns if they arise (Anonymous reports and concerns can be forwarded to go.oberlin.edu/ReportNow).
We must do this work as a community—to hold ourselves and our colleagues up to the appropriate standards and to encourage reporting to the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion if we are aware of a potential policy violation. The institution must continue to respond thoughtfully and expeditiously when allegations are raised. And we must continue working to create a community where this behavior does not occur.
All of us at Oberlin remain committed to a fair, unbiased and exhaustive search for the facts. And we insist that all members of the Oberlin community—especially those who wield power and influence—live up to the highest standards of integrity.
Carmen Twillie Ambar
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