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Professor resigns after sexual-harassment finding

By Jennifer Smola • Aug 21, 2017 at 6:32 PM

An Ohio University English professor accused of sexually harassing several students has resigned.

Andrew Escobedo's resignation will be effective Nov. 1, according to a statement from Ohio University President Duane Nellis.

His resignation comes months after two students reported sexual misconduct to the Office of University Equity and Civil Rights Compliance. Investigators with that office found that the evidence supported the finding that Escobedo, 50, sexually harassed them.

The complaints stemmed from events at an end-of-semester gathering at two Athens bars in December 2015, according to documents outlining the findings of the investigation. The women accused Escobedo of touching their bodies in a sexual manner without their consent and making verbal statements of a sexual nature to at least one of the students. Both were enrolled in one of Escobedo's courses at the time and said they feared that refusing his advances would hurt their grades and educational opportunities.

Following those initial complaints, additional women reported misconduct by Escobedo. One said Escobedo "inappropriately touched" her at a local bar in 2003 when she was a student enrolled in one of his classes. Another reported Escobedo put his hand in "inappropriate places" at an Athens restaurant while she was out with friends in 2005.

The two women who reported the December 2015 misconduct also have filed a civil rights complaint in federal court in Columbus against Escobedo, Ohio University and the former chair of its English Department. The suit alleges the university was deliberately indifferent to Escobedo's past misconduct, "fostering a safe space for sexual misconduct." Though the university has sought to dismiss the complaint, the case continues.

The university could use this opportunity to set an example for change within higher education, said Michael Fradin, the attorney representing the two women in the federal case.

"Although Andrew Escobedo's depature makes the Athens campus a safer space, the university's stubborn insistence that it holds no blame is very dangerous," Fradin said. "As long as the university sticks with this denial, the campus will remain an unsafe space for women."

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A Faculty Senate hearing on whether to revoke Escobedo's tenure had been scheduled to begin Sept. 1, but he has waived his right to that hearing as part of his resignation, according to Nellis' statement.

In his statement, Nellis said the university does not typically comment on resignations, but he felt compelled to notify the community, given the university's Equity and Civil Rights compliance investigation.

"Brave women and other people in our community stepped forward to bring intolerable behavior to light," Nellis said. "The healing process I envision is not one that will dim this light but rather intensify our efforts to ensure our community is a safe place to learn and work."

Escobedo alleged the complaints filed against him were the result of a conspiracy by several faculty members who sought to label him as a "sexual predator" and get him fired, according to the memorandum outlining the findings of the university's investigation.

In a statement given through his attorneys Monday, Escobedo said he maintains the claims made against him were not fair or true, and that findings of the university's civil rights investigation were flawed.

"Ohio University's administration made it clear to me and my lawyers that they planned to fire me no matter what the faculty hearing determined," he said in his statement. Thus, I believe that my resignation is in the best interest of my family and my finances at this time, and that continuing to fight what appears to be a foregone conclusion is not."

An Ohio University spokeswoman declined to comment beyond Nellis' statement.

In other OU news:

OUS named 19th fastest-growing institution in U.S.

Ohio University has again been named the 19th fastest-growing institution in the United States by the The Chronicle of Higher Education, a Washington D.C.-based publication and a leading source of news and information for college and university faculty and administrators.

This latest recognition marks the third consecutive year that The Chronicle has identified Ohio University as one of the nation’s fastest-growing public doctoral institutions.

Additionally, OHIO was the only university to be ranked within the state of Ohio; it was also one of only two Midwest colleges to be listed this year.

“As I am discovering myself in the early months of my presidency, Ohio University is a very special place. This continued recognition for the third straight year proves that more and more people are also arriving at this same realization,” said Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis. “During a time when students have a wide variety of universities they can choose from, I believe the reason Ohio University continues to rise to the top is because we are one of the few institutions offering such a strong level of academic excellence at such an affordable price.”

The Chronicle’s rankings were based on a comparison of student enrollment growth between 2005 and 2015.

During this period, Ohio University’s total enrollment* grew from 20,461 students in the fall of 2005 to 29,157 in the fall of 2015, an increase of nearly 43 percent.

Senior Vice Provost for Strategic Enrollment Management Craig Cornell said that Ohio University’s record enrollment growth during the past few years can be attributed to a number of efforts, including the University’s Strategic Enrollment Management Plan and its continued focus on enhancing student access through cost predictability, transparency and affordability.

One of OHIO’s flagship efforts for improving student affordability is its guaranteed tuition model – The OHIO Guarantee. The Guarantee provides increased financial predictability to students and parents, maintains the value of financial aid and offers an incentive for students to earn a degree in four years.

OHIO has also established the OHIO Signature Awards Program, a set of scholarships and grants designed to optimally balance both support for financial need and recognition of the achievements and contributions of the new, incoming freshman class. The OHIO Signature Awards program provided institutional merit and need-based funding to 81 percent of the incoming freshman class on the Athens Campus in 2016-17.

“These efforts and more have enabled us to do something that’s quite unique within the higher education landscape,” said Cornell. “We’ve not only improved our enrollments in terms of student quality and diversity, but we’ve experienced growth in first-generation and Appalachian regional students as well.”

Cornell added that OHIO’s collaborative approach to its strategic development process, which included input from the Board of Trustees, numerous deans, faculty, administration, staff and more, has played an integral role in enrollment growth.

“The innovations that are occurring, both inside and outside of the classroom, were significant drivers to this recognition,” Cornell said. “The development of online learning opportunities, our academic program enhancements, the expansion of our Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, the OHIO Guarantee and our financial aid growth are all ways in which OHIO has been able to enhance student access while also maintaining its core mission of educational excellence.”

* * *

Governor appoints Steve Casciani to Ohio University Board of Trustees

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has appointed Steve Casciani, a Columbus-based venture capitalist and energy entrepreneur, to the Ohio University Board of Trustees.

Casciani’s term began August 18, 2017; it will end May 13, 2026. He fills the expired term of former OHIO Trustee David A. Wolfort.

Casciani created Border Energy in 2003, which grew to serve as a provider of natural gas and electricity services to more than 80,000 industrial, commercial and residential customers in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan prior to its sale in 2014. He later founded Grace Light Capital to invest in small start-ups in Central Ohio and international social business ventures.

Casciani currently serves on the Development Board of National Church Residences. Additionally, he is a board member of Messenger International, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he and his family have traveled extensively in Southeast Asia and the Middle East in an effort to support social and faith-based philanthropic efforts nationally and internationally. Casciani has also served on the Board of Directors of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio.

"We are very excited to welcome Steve to the board,” said Ohio University Board of Trustees Chair Janetta King. “We look forward to his expertise and insight as our board works in partnership with President Nellis and University administration to successfully guide this amazing institution into its third century.”

Casciani, a graduate of the University of Michigan, and his wife of 24 years, Lisa, live in Powell, Ohio with their son, Chase.

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©2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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