UT Students Demand Firing of Professors with Sexual Misconduct Violations

University of Texas at Austin students have led several protests after two professors were disciplined for sexual misconduct violations but weren't fired.
Published: December 2, 2019

Students at the University of Texas at Austin are demanding the firing of professors who have been disciplined for engaging in sexual misconduct.

Several protests have been held in the last two months after investigations conducted by the university found two professors violated sexual misconduct policies in 2017 and 2018, reports Dallas News. The professors were punished but allowed to return to teaching.

On Nov. 20, a group of students organized a sit-in demanding more accountability and transparency from school leaders, including the release of a list of all professors with sexual misconduct violations.

The following day, another group of students disrupted a class being led by philosophy and integrative biology professor Sahotra Sarkar. An investigation determined Sarkar made inappropriate comments to students, including inviting them to go swimming or pose nude, according to Dallas News.

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Sarkar was suspended from teaching for the Spring 2017 semester, placed on half-time leave without pay and restricted from advising students.

Similarly, during the Fall 2018 semester, English professor Coleman Hutchison was barred from teaching two undergraduate classes and supervising graduate students by himself.

In Oct. 2017, it was discovered Hutchison made sexual comments to students and failed to disclose a relationship with a graduate student that occurred from Nov. 2011 to Feb. 2012, according to The Statesman.

Hutchison was also removed from consideration for promotion to full professor and from appointment to any administrative or leadership positions for two years, Dallas News reports. He returned to the classroom this fall.

David Lake, a law professor at Stetson University in Florida, told Dallas News that historically, consequences for sexual misconduct have not kept professors from returning to the classroom.

In fact, Jerry Carbo, an employment law expert and professor at Pennsylvania’s Shippensburg University, said UT’s penalties against Sarkar and Hutchison were “pretty severe” and tougher than responses typically seen at private universities or colleges.

UT officials told The Dallas Morning News that they do not plan to fire Sarkar or Hutchison.

“The university actively monitors their transition back into their teaching roles and checks to see if new complaints are submitted,”  UT spokeswoman Shilpa Bakre said in an email. “Should new allegations of any kind surface, once reported, new investigations will be launched.”

Amanda Brown, a UT student who stopped attending Sarkar’s class until his teaching assistant started providing separate lectures for those who felt uncomfortable with him, told Dallas News she attended one of the sit-ins to promote systemic change against sexual misconduct.

“If we don’t say anything, how are we going to stop it from happening in the future?” she said.

A petition has also been circulating campus, demanding more transparency regarding the university’s Title IX and sexual misconduct procedures. The petition has over a thousand signatures.

UT officials said they hear students’ demands and are currently working to roll out improved sexual misconduct reporting by January, reports KVUE.

“We are focused on creating an environment conducive to a constructive dialogue surrounding issues of misconduct,” said Bakre.

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