Professor Admits to Harassing Student, Keeps Job Anyway
Even though Jeffry Mathis, an adjunct professor in the Department of Kinesiology at San Jose State University, admitted that he had acted inappropriately towards a female undergraduate nine months ago, he has not been disciplined by the university and is still listed on the faculty. The student, who remains anonymous as she is still studying at SJSU, tells KNTV that she feels that the university has indeed “failed her.”
As the news station reports, the student had asked to meet with Mathis last August to discuss why she had received a D+ grade in his class. Mathis said that her grade was due to plagiarism; the student disputed this. But then, as the student details, this occurred:
He looked at me and touched me and said, ‘How do you want to better your grade?” He kept coming closer to me and my body completely shut down. He continued to touch me and try to talk about the ways that I could better my grade.
According to the student, Mathis continued his advances and blocked the stairs when she attempted to leave. She was able to do so, after he had made more advances. Within hours, the student filed an incident report with the university police.
Authorities investigated Mathis for false imprisonment and sexual battery. He claimed that the student had consented to his actions and denied any criminal wrongdoing; no charges were filed against him on the grounds that there was “insufficient evidence,” according to a copy of the confidential investigation report written by SJSU and obtained by KNTV. However, an email that Mathis sent the student the day after the incident (which was also obtained by KNTV) suggests a different version of events. In the email, Mathis wrote:
“I’ve been thinking about last night and I have come to the conclusion that I made a terrible mistake in how I handled that situation….I will change your grade to a B- for free, because it is the right way to handle this.”
SJSU has declined to comment about the case except to confirm that Mathis had not gone “through a formal disciplinary hearing and that the university did not discipline Mathis for what happened in his office.”
KNTV Chief Investigative Reporter, Tony Kavaleski, attempted to speak to Mathis after a class in March and was informed by the professor that “Well, unfortunately, because of what I was told by both HR and the [police department] here, I’m actually not allowed to talk about it. So, I follow directions.”
SJSU Says Professor “Did Violate His Professional Responsibility”
What seems to be insufficiently acknowledged in this case is that Mathis, as a professor, was in a position of power in relation to the student. She had gone to speak to him about her grade; as a professor, he was in charge of assigning her a grade in his class. SJSU’s investigation report indeed states that a faculty member has a “duty not to allow situations to develop where a student could feel compelled to ‘consent’ to activities they would not otherwise agree to in order to be successful in his class.”
Beth De Lima, a human resources expert interviewed by KNTV, emphasizes that the fact that Mathis has not been disciplined is “surprising, simply because we have acknowledgment by the instructor.” She also notes that, because the university has not taken any action against Mathis, it is “in essence … condoning the behavior.” SJSU is also potentially out of compliance with its own professional code of conduct policy, which states that faculty members should “assure that their evaluations of students reflect only matters relevant to the students’ academic performance” and “insure that their professional contacts with students are free from exploitation, harassment, or discrimination.”
Of the incident, the student herself says that “This is something I have to go through that I never thought I would have to go through. Especially in my college career.”
While SJSU seems to be withholding judgment about Mathis’ inappropriate behavior towards the student, it has exercised its authority in one area. The university overruled Mathis about the grade change and the student still has a D+ in the class. As other reports about sexual harassment and assault on campuses public and private in the U.S. show, American colleges and universities have a long way to go before they get truly serious about the safety and well-being of their students.
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