Free Press

University of Kentucky Takes Student Paper to Court Over Reporting on Sexual-Assault Complaints Against Professor

When does institutional protection of student-victim privacy cross the line into censorship?

|

MegRobertsonNY/Flickr

At the University of Kentucky (UK), a legal battle between campus administrators and student journalists centers on how much privacy is owed to students who've accused a professor of sexual misconduct. The University contends that a campus paper publishing even minimal details about the case represents an unconscionable imposition on victims' privacy and creates a "chilling effect" that discourages future victims from coming forward. Student staffers of the Kentucky Kernel say the school is simply trying to cover-up occurrences that might reflect poorly on U.K.

At the heart of this struggle is Title IX, the federal statute prohibiting sex discrimination in education. The University claims it must zealously guard all information related to campus sexual-misconduct complaints in order to avoid triggering legal and economic sanctions under Title IX. It's a perfect illustration of the weird tension between the U.S. Department of Education's efforts to enforce federal anti-discrimination law and the incentives for campus administrators to act reasonably.

Obviously, a professor accused of harassing and assaulting students is of interest to the campus community and relevant for a campus paper to report on. But UK clims that to meet its federal obligation to create a safe and sexism-free campus, the school must carefully guard almost all details about campus sexual-assaults, even if that means fighting student journalists in state court.

In a campus-wide email, University President Eli Capilouto even accused student paper Kernel of creating a chilling effect that stopped sexual-assault victims from coming forward since it started publishing information about James Harwood, a former UK entomology professor who had resigned amid accusations that he sexually harassed and groped students. The campus Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center "had 59 clients between July and October," Capilouto noted in his email. "In the same period this year, the number dropped to 38. The decline in the number of clients at the VIP Center underscores the chilling impact that news reports are having on the willingness of victim-survivors to come forward."

But it's "not clear that the difference in yearly numbers can be attributed to a particular cause," McClatchy DC reported. "There was a similar dip between fall 2013 and fall 2014," with 59 VIP-center clients from July-October '13 and just 31 clients the following fall. And according to the Herald-Leader, the VIP Center received just eight clients from November 2013 through the rest of the 2013-14 school year. In other words, there's plenty of fluctuation in accusation numbers from semester to semester, and no particular reason to believe that the Kernel publishing minimal details of complaints against Harwood served to stifle student reports.

The paper claims that Harwood's student accusers want the story to go public. The two women who had filed official complaints against Harwood "say UK is protecting the professor at the expense of his victims, other students, and the public," the Kernel reported. Because Harwood resigned before a full investigation into his conduct could be completed, "Harwood could be allowed to continue working at another university without the full results of the investigation following him."

The feud between UK leadership and the student paper over Harwood's case began last March, when the Kernel sought to obtain copies of "the Title IX complaints filed by the two female students, any reprimands and any commendations, Harwood's personnel file, and any documents detailing the University of Kentucky's investigation into allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or allegations of alcohol abuse committed by Harwood." The University responded by providing the Kernel redacted records from Human Resources and the College of Agriculture related to Harwood, including his separation agreement and resignation letter, but said the law prohibited disclosure of even redacted documents related to the Title IX complaints or investigation.

Unsatisfied, the Kernel submitted another request, which the school again denied. The paper then appealed to the state Attorney General (AG), Andy Beshear, who asked to examine UK's Harwood case files to determine what could be redacted and what could be shared. But UK refused to show the files to even Beshears, saying this too was a student-privacy violation. Beshear held in August that UK had failed to meet its burden of proof and must—in a solution the school called "woefully inadequate"—make minimally redacted records available for Kernel staff to view and copy immediately. Instead, the school appealed to a state circuit court.

In an October 24 brief supporting that appeal, UK stated that if the court "concludes that the University is wrong and the correct interpretation of the Open Records Act is that the University is required to disclose materials protected by sexual assault survivors' fundamental privacy rights and federal privacy laws, then [the court] must address the constitutionality of the Open Records Act."

"We are asking the courts in Kentucky to re-affirm what courts across the country and the federal Office for Civil Rights have said is necessary for the protection of victim-survivors," Capilouto wrote in his campus-wide email last week. The UK President explained that a few days prior, the school's Board of Trustees had "continued its conversation about our legal obligations under Title IX to protect the confidentiality and privacy of victim-survivors of sexual assault and interpersonal violence" and remained "unwavering" in its commitment to protect their confidentiality and privacy.

"We believe strongly in our moral and ethical obligation to protect the privacy of victim/survivors," Capilouto explained. "And we believe strongly the law mandates that we do so. The U.S. Constitution, federal Title IX law, the federal Violence Against Women Act, the decisions of federal appellate courts as well as the highest courts of two states, the federal Office for Civil Rights, and (until recently) the Attorney General of Kentucky all require us to protect the privacy rights of student victim-survivors."

But Capilouto oversimplifies the situation. It's true that laws require more identity-protection for people bringing accusations of sex crimes than they do for, say, robbery victims. But at stake in this case is how much protection is required. The student journalists, and the Attorney General, say that redacting the names and identifying details (such as address, school major, etc.) from Title IX-investigation files before letting press view them should be sufficient. The school maintains that providing any information beyond confirmation that complaints had been made would be a violation of student privacy and leave UK liable under Title IX.

In August, as UK appealed the AG's decision, the Kernel obtained a redacted copy of Harwood-related files anyway, from a "a confidential source connected to the case." The paper reported that the seven-month investigation into Harwood, conducted by UK's Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity, "covered about three years of allegations made against the professor," including sexual harassment and sexual assault. Complainants officially included two female students, with two more students providing testimony to add further examples of Harwood's alleged misconduct. All of the accusers studied or worked in Harwood's department between 2012 and 2015.

One of the complainants, a former student of Harwood's, said that during a 2013 conference, the professor had drinks and dinner with some students, during which time he repeatedly grabbed her butt, breasts, and crotch. Another student who was present vouched for these claims. Harwood, however, claimed that both students were lying because he had been critical of their research, according to the Kernel.

The other complainant was also a former student of Harwood's. She told campus investigators that, at a 2012 conference, Harwood had put his arm around with his hand near her breast and whispered, "You don't want to know how bad I can be at these meetings."

In addition, "the investigation recorded witness testimony of two other students who said they and one other student were inappropriately touched by Harwood on the night in which the first victim went out with a group from the department," the Kernel reported. "Though they did not at the time want to file a complaint, two of the students testified about their own unwelcome and nonconsensual incidents with Harwood that night, as well as what they saw him do to another student who did not testify." These allegations included him rubbing the chests and grabbing the butts of male students, trying to force students to dance together, pressuring students to drink more alcohol, and urinating on the side of a building.

Harwood was charged by the school's Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual harassment. A Title IX coordinator concluded that there was "enough evidence for a reasonable person to believe the alleged behavior occurred and this matter should be presented to the Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board," according to the Kernel. Harwood, however, resigned before such a hearing could take place.

Yet whether Harwood is guilty—and, if so, whether the conduct in question rises to the level of sexual assault—is practically irrelevant to the fight between UK and the Kernel. The point isn't that the University should provide the info because Harwood is dangerous, or because he's not, but so that people can read the relevant facts and draw their own conclusions. That UK argues such a thing would violate federal anti-discrimination law just serves as another great example of the secretive, Kafka-eque, "Kangaroo court" aspect of Title IX investigations, where even talking about Title IX complaints can in itself be a violation of Title IX.

NEXT: The Mexican Town That Kicked Out the Cartels—and Told the Police and Political Parties to Get Lost Too

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. James Harwood, a former UK entomology professor who had resigned amid accusations that he sexually harassed and groped students

    He was just bugging them a little.

    *calibrates gaze collection device*

    1. Student newspapers are filled with gadflies.

      1. Sound like someone has a bug up their ass

        1. What jokers you three bee.

          1. Start working from home! Great job for students…Making more income $97 a hour from computer at home. My sisters friend has been earning 20k for a months and she works about 15 hour a working week. I make 12k last month, it is in real easy and meaningful , here you can checking..
            Go this web site… http://www.Trends88.Com

  2. [A] former UK entomology professor who had resigned amid accusations that he sexually harassed and groped students.

    I guess they really bugged him to resign because he allegedly insectually harrassed those students. I guess it takes a hive mind to expel such threats from the colony of acadaemia.

    1. The bedbugs of bolshevism or the cockroaches of cultural Marxism or the aphids of Allinskyism. They are all Title IX ticks who suck the blood out of their hosts.

  3. When does institutional protection of student-victim privacy cross the line into censorship?

    When the agreed upon contract, voluntarily signed by both parties, says it does…in a world where only private schools exist.

    See how easy libertarianism is?

  4. At the heart of this struggle is Title IX,

    Well, I would have said the 1A.

    But even Title IX is just a symptom of a much deeper root cause.

    1. Damn straight, Counselor. And like any root, it has branched out and ramified all over the place, simultaneously conflicting and conflating all sorts of issues, be they biological, medical, social, and/or legal.

      I see no way to rip this out at the roots, honestly.

      1. Doc, the elixir is EXTREME EXTIRPATION for educational emancipation.

    2. The first amendment doesn’t require universities to fess up to campus newspapers. It’s not like the uni is trying to coerce them against publishing.

  5. Did I mention the morning links were late! I’m good at jokes! What a clever and topical thing to say!

    Except… they weren’t and the people crying about it are retards.

      1. AM is a little bit desperate today.

        1. Got me confused with your wife.

          Send her my way. Again.

      2. Oh stop with that shit, lying fuck, you don’t use reasonable and you see everything I post.

        You just hate how true you know it is.

    1. I’m glad you’re easily enough amused to still be here. There’s water somewhere, but it’s Somali tap water, so I wouldn’t drink it if I were you.

      1. Explains your posts.

        1. Well, I type something in this text field here, then I hit “submit” and the website submits, displaying my characters until the server dies.

          1. Stop crying retards|11.1.16 @ 1:08PM|#

            Explains

            Drink less of that somali water and you wont fail so hard next time, fuckboy.

              1. Well, you type something in this text field here, then you hit “submit” and the website submits, displaying your characters until the server dies.

              2. UnCivilServant|11.1.16 @ 1:17PM|#

                Really? get you riled up.

                Damn fuckboy, you’re obviously very upset, you were in such a hurry you couldn’t even be bothered with capitalization or punctuation

                I obviously hit a nerve in pointing out your failure.

                1. I drop letrs to anny you, but you fail to ntice it. Stil get you frothing like fool.

                  1. Really? get you riled up.

                    1. Well, you type something in this text field here, then you hit “submit” and the website submits, displaying your characters until the server dies.

                    2. Aww, the troll broke its brain.

                      Welp, that was fun while it lasted.

                    3. Really? get you riled up.

                    4. Awww what a shame, it really looks like fuckboy ran and hid.

                      He must have realized how stupid the excuses he was making for his obvious butthurt were.

                  2. “I drop letrs to anny you, but you fail to ntice it”

                    So by your own admission you’re a failure.

                    You tried to tell me, and you admit you failed.

                    Go cry now fuckboy.

                2. Do you retards even know that they are crying?

                  1. You seem to be.

                3. I have just discovered — moments ago — that you exist and already you grow tiresome.

  6. I suppose I should add the required remark about the availability of the real-world justice system, though in reality if the professor were charged in court, the case would probably have been resolved with a plea rather than a trial by jury with all the safeguards.

  7. he University contends that a campus paper publishing even minimal details about the case represents an unconscionable imposition on victims‘ privacy

    the accused, however – yeah, go ahead and post his photo and his class-schedule and quote some of his most offensive tweets, and stuff.

    1. Query – if the accusation has not yet been proven, how can it be said for certain that the accuser is in fact, a victim?

      1. You must be a member of the cisheteropatriarchy.

        1. yeah, one of dem guyz

      2. It’s like you don’t Mattress Girl or Jackie Coakley. At all, UCS. You missed the, “All victims deserved to be believed!” memo.

        Besides, identities are now fluid, from what I am told, and are NEVER to be questioned or put to scrutiny. Who are you to tell someone they cannot self-identify as a victim and who are you to question that irrefutable status?

      3. Its the terminology of sexual assault. Even “UVA Jackie” is routinely described as a ‘victim’ despite her story having been completely debunked.

        Everyone who claims sexual-victimhood is granted it …even if/after their claims are proven false. It seems a bit like gender identity. Failing to cater to it means you’re “denying people their “lived experiences”, or some such subjectivist-relativist twaddle.

        1. Hell, Reason keeps up the charade that Jackie Coakley is a victim by continuing to use her nom de victim rather than her full name.

          1. continuing to use her nom de victim

            meh.

            I don’t make as much of that as others have. Its sort of like “ISIS” – once a label gains a certain amount of popular traction in the press, you might as well just stick with it as shorthand.

            If Reason were being like Obama, and had their own term which differed from the rest of the press (eg..”ISIL”), i’d agree they were being silly – but just rolling with the same standard-practice as everyone else seems to make sense.

            You can debate how false-accusers should be subsequently treated; i think as a general matter its worth having a ‘editorial policy’ on. But as for the specifics of the UVA thing, i think the actual “bad guys” in the story are Erdley, Rolling Stone, etc., and that there’s little point to dwelling on the lies of crazy-jackie, which would have never have had any significance at all were they not dishonestly amplified by a segment of the media that desperately wants to pump a political narrative about “Rape Culture”.

            1. never stick your dick in crazy

      4. “The victim” is a synonym these days for “the accuser,” evidently in the virtuous world of virtue. Ms. E. N. B. (who is virtuous), asks, “When does institutional protection of student-victim privacy cross the line into censorship?” The correct response is, “Your question is virtuous (a synonym these days for tiresomely sophomoric). It should read, When does institutional protection of the accuser’s privacy cross the line into censorship? And the answer is, if the accuser has moral agency, as soon as any protection at all is attempted. If you’re like the virtuous scribblers who kneejerk use the word ‘victim’ and consider the accuser dimwitted or female or otherwise compromised moral-agency-wise, then institutionally protect away till the cows come home.”

        And why didn’t the virtuous Robby cover this story?

      5. They are not “victims,” damn you! They are SURVIVORS! Get the terminology correct or else!

      6. “Query – if the accusation has not yet been proven, how can it be said for certain that the accuser is in fact, a victim?”

        Because otherwise there would be a chilling effect on the concept of “victim blaming”.

  8. I sorta skimmed it for an answer but didn’t see it — was the professor charged in the Title IX system, or in the general criminal system? There’s mention of him resigning before the investigation was complete which stops the investigation, implying it was not a criminal charge. Just another reason to keep Title IX out of sexual assault and handle it like all other crimes.

    1. As I surmised from skimming … another Title IX fiasco. If they had used the real criminal justice system (and I use that adjective loosely), most of these problems would never have arisen.

    2. People are fired for offenses they are not prosecuted for all the time.

  9. The paper claims that Harwood’s student accusers want the story to go public.

    Who reads the paper anymore. This is what the social medias the kids nowadays love so much is for.

  10. If this is all supposed to be confidential, isn’t the complaint with whoever divulged the information to the press?

    Sexual harrassment is an internal, Title IX matter.

    Sexual assault is a criminal, police matter.

    3 years of allegations. Wow. Was there no one in position to tell him to knock it off after the first month?

    1. Groping is criminal, so why wasn’t it ever referred to the criminal justice system?

      Why are Title IX administrators engaged in a pattern of denying criminal prosecution of sexual assaults?

      1. If you’re hugging someone because you’re both on the football team and your team just won, that’s one thing.

        If you’re fondling the breasts of one of your students without asking, because you figure it’s a perk of the job, that would seem to me to be an assault.

        When touching someone is OK or not OK can be a delicate matter, but sometimes it’s fairly clear.

        (I don’t know what the circumstances were in this guy’s case – it would be interesting if it went in front of a jury and the whole thing were sorted out, but that would be unlikely to happen, even if he were criminally charged, due to the plea-bargain thing)

        1. keep your hands off my tits!

      2. Let’s say you’ve got movers at your house helping you move. One of the movers grabs your wife’s butt in plain view. You tell the supervisor, and the offending mover is fired.

        Are you required by law to go through the hassle of reporting the matter to the police, or can you just be satisfied that he lost his job over it?

        1. ida broke mofo’s leg.

      3. “Groping is criminal, so why wasn’t it ever referred to the criminal justice system?

        Why are Title IX administrators engaged in a pattern of denying criminal prosecution of sexual assaults?”

        Because finding him “not guilty” would have a chilling effect on Victim-Survivor-Heroes.

  11. There’s a SugarFree story in here begging to be written.

    1. Is the school or the paper the lovecraftian horror? Or it is both?

      1. Yes.

  12. One of the complainants, a former student of Harwood’s, said that during a 2013 conference, the professor had drinks and dinner with some students, during which time he repeatedly grabbed her butt, breasts, and crotch. Another student who was present vouched for these claims. Harwood, however, claimed that both students were lying because he had been critical of their research, according to the Kernel.

    That’s a lot of crotch grabs.

    1. what is the equivalence between research criticism & crotch grabs? 2 for 1?

  13. “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance, except that:” (a bunch of legalese about exemption military academies, religious schools, and (I cannot believe this!) schools with a history of single sex (not gender) admissions.)
    So where in this does a drunken fool fit?!
    Does not the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity failing to report criminal activity constitute conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the accused? You know, due process, confronting accusers, all that old fashioned justice stuff?

    1. that shit is sooo last century!

  14. i’m just really hoping this undermines the basketball team somehow….

  15. (1) “Victim-survivor” – I propose “Victim-Survivor-Hero”.

    (2) Someone got hit by the IX Rape Shield. Not entirely clear who, because they made the thing gigantic, swing it wildly, and it’s very shiny.

    (3) What about the chilling effect of false acccusations, and the accused person’s right to privacy?

    (4) “These allegations included him rubbing the chests and grabbing the butts of male students (…).” Who didn’t file a complaint.

    (5) “trying to force students to dance together,” Pointing his rifle at them, laughing maniacally, and playing particularly bad music.

  16. Given how often it’s used as a tool by petty tyrants to either hassle others, or to duck scrutiny, is anybody else starting to think that maybe Title IX should be renamed “Catch-22”?

  17. like Dawn replied I’m shocked that someone able to profit $8730 in a few weeks on the
    internet . you can try this out>>>>>>>>>>> http://tinyurl.com/h5r9tme

  18. Watch Now….!!! Recomended Streaming Online :
    If This Sound Good For You
    Latest Update More HD Quality Movie Available Here:
    ? ? ? http://bit.ly/2eA9W4k ? ? ?
    Happy & Enjoy to Watch For Free

  19. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    …….. http://www.jobprofit9.com

  20. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    …….. http://www.jobprofit9.com

  21. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    …….. http://www.jobprofit9.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.