The University Of Kentucky Is Suing Its Student Newspaper To Protect A Professor Accused Of Sexual Assault
Former University of Kentucky associate professor of entomology James Harwood was accused of sexual assault and harassment by two students in December, which he denied. He resigned from his position after the university conducted a quiet investigation, but the lenient terms of his exit prompted his alleged victims to go to the school paper, The Kentucky Kernel. Now, the University of Kentucky is suing its own student newspaper in an attempt to keep documents involving the investigation into Harwood private.
The Kernel originally requested the public records on the case and was given Harwood’s settlement documents, which didn’t say anything about the sexual assault allegations, but not the rest of the investigation files. The student paper took the case to Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, who said last month the university has to release all the investigation documents to the paper, with people’s names redacted. Clearly not wanting to do that, university officials released a statement in an email to the entire school that was later posted online stating it’s taking The Kernel to court.
In the statement, titled “The Tension of Competing Values,” UK President Eli Capilouto said: “When we make decisions about what records we share with the public, we are guided by the values we cherish, acknowledging that sometimes the values of safeguarding the privacy of members of our community and the need for transparency in the operations of public entities such as ours can be in tension with one another.”
After the decision to sue was announced last month, 122 pages of investigation documents were leaked to the paper by an anonymous source who claimed the files were internal records from the school’s Title IX department. The leaked papers explain in detail the harassment and assault allegations brought by multiple students against Harwood, though the university won’t confirm they are real. In the documents, five students from his department said the professor’s conduct made them uncomfortable and two students claimed he groped them back in 2012 and 2013.
If these documents are accurate, the university’s claim to “safeguarding the privacy” of its staff really means safeguarding the privacy of alleged sexual predators. According to the leaked files, the resignation agreement reached with Harwood allowed him to dodge a hearing with the Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board, provided him with full pay and benefits through the end of August, and means this allegations won’t be disclosed to other schools he applies to work for in the future.