Ohio University Provost Chaden Djalali in a letter to professor Sunggyu Lee informed him on Dec. 10 that he has recommended Lee’s department at OU begin detenuring and dismissal proceedings against him, after a university Title IX investigation substantiated three students’ claims of misconduct against the professor.
That investigation found that Sunggyu Lee, the Russ Ohio Research Scholar in Coal Syngas Utilization in OU’s Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department, more likely than not violated university policies relating to harassment, retaliation and retaliatory harassment with regard to three students.
That investigation – conducted by OU’s Office for Equity and Civil Rights Compliance – also found that two of the three students’ claims of sexual harassment by hostile environment were “unsubstantiated.”
Lee, through Columbus attorney Julie Davis, said over the weekend he believes he has been “falsely accused.”
“In my long and distinguished career at Ohio University and several other institutions, I have been dedicated to support the work of my students, and I never been accused of any misconduct,” Lee wrote in an email Saturday. “There are many Ohio University students and graduates who stand by me, but the university’s ECRC Investigator Sara Trower… conducted a one-sided, biased investigation and made limited and erroneous findings in favor of three disgruntled students.”
Because of a seemingly new university policy that prevents the release of its Title IX reports of investigation, further details on the investigation into the alleged misconduct by Lee are unavailable. (See companion story on page 1 and below.)
Barbara Nalazek, deputy legal counsel for the university, said in a Dec. 10 email that the university could not provide the ECRC office’s “Memorandum of Findings” investigation report into Lee or other professors’ cases, citing federal FERPA protections for student information (she did add that the Memorandum of Findings in Lee’s case was published on Aug. 3 of this year).
Nalazek said that she was only in a position to provide “names of respondents and the outcome of ECRC’s review of the allegations filed against each respondent.”
In Lee’s case, the university released the following information:
“Dr. (Sunggyu) KB Lee was accused by two students of behavior that violated Policy 03.004, sexual harassment by hostile environment, and Policy 40.001, harassment,” Nalazek said. “A third student accused Dr. Lee of retaliation in violation of Policy 40.001 and retaliatory harassment in violation of Policy 03.004. After an investigation, ECRC substantiated the claims of harassment, retaliation, and retaliatory harassment. ECRC found the sexual harassment by hostile environment claims to be unsubstantiated. His case was referred to the UPEC.”
THE UPEC – THE UNIVERSITY professional ethics committee at OU – is a group of professors who, per university policy, is charged with considering the level of discipline that a professor accused of misconduct should be given, if any. In Lee’s case, that group found that the university should consider discipline up to detenuring and dismissal, although again, the university declined to provide the UPEC report, citing FERPA.
The university did provide Djalali’s letter to Lee, dated Dec. 10, which explains that he, the OU provost, had accepted the UPEC group’s finding that was issued on Nov. 12.
“I accept the UPEC’s determination that your conduct presents adequate cause to recommend that your department initiate loss of tenure and/or dismissal proceedings,” Djalali said. “Therefore I am forwarding the UPEC’s report to your academic department for further consideration.”
Lee said that he believes the student accusers in his case took advantage of “the university administration’s fear of sexual-misconduct claims” and made false accusations to “benefit themselves.”
“I believe that the university UPEC Committee did not do its job and that the university process will properly conclude that I should not be dismissed,” Lee said.
Without the university’s report of investigation into Lee’s alleged misconduct, it’s not clear what the students even reported to OU’s ECRC office with regard to Lee; what witnesses were interviewed and evidence was considered; how long the investigation lasted; or even when the alleged misconduct occurred.
In previous situations like this, including the prominent case of former OU English professor Andrew Escobedo who left the university as the university was set to consider firing him, the university did provide The NEWS with record of the memorandum of findings from the ECRC/Title IX investigation, with student names redacted.
The next step in this process likely will occur when Lee appeals the provost’s recommendation to OU Faculty Senate’s professional relations committee, which will make a recommendation to OU President Duane Nellis on discipline for Lee. Then Nellis will make the final decision, which can be appealed.