EKU opens door to sexual misconduct investigations



Marjorie Kirk and Matt Smith 

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Eastern Kentucky University has released documents detailing sexual misconduct investigations at the university, including investigative reports of six sexual harassment investigations that occurred over the last five years.

UK is currently in litigation with the Kernel over the release of documents that pertain to the sexual misconduct investigation of former associate professor James Harwood, and claims that releasing the documents, even with redactions, would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The Kernel requested documents pertaining to employee sexual misconduct investigations of the last five years at each of Kentucky’s public universities. 

Some universities followed UK’s example and denied the release of records, many citing the ongoing litigation between the Kernel and the university as part of their reasoning. 

The documents received from EKU have been heavily redacted to omit some of the descriptions of the alleged incidents in addition to information that could identify some of the parties in the investigation. 

According to Frank LoMonte, the director of the Student Press Law Center, there is no evidence that a university has ever violated FERPA, and that since the violation would result in a forfeit of federal funding, schools would likely have to close if they were found responsible. 

LoMonte said that if an institution is able to remove students’ names and identifiers from a record then state law requires they produce the non-confidential portion to the public.

“It has been the very clear and consistent opinion of the Department of Education that once you redact the identifying information out of a record it is no longer covered by FERPA,” LoMonte said. “The fact that one university was pretty easily able to produce those records shows that it is possible to do that legally.”

Documents at EKU revealed that four of the six people investigated were found responsible for violations of the university’s Non-Discrimination, Sexual Harassment or Progressive Disciplinary Policy, and one is currently teaching at Hofstra University. 

The Kernel was able to obtain information sufficient enough to publish details of two of the cases.

Dr. Nicholas Santangelo (2012): 

In 2012, the Equal Opportunity Office received a complaint from a student at EKU who alleged that Dr. Nicholas Santangelo, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, had engaged in inappropriate and unwanted sexual conversations with her over email, according to the investigative report provided by EKU. 

The EOO seized hard drives from the professor’s laptops and reviewed his and the student’s university emails. In addition the student who filed the complaint provided screenshots from exchanges conducted on their personal accounts, which she said the accused requested they begin using. 

The investigative report said that the sexual nature of the email exchange began in early 2012 “with jokes about professors teaching for sex and money.” 

The student said that the conversation became sexually explicit to a point that she became uncomfortable and “at some point felt she could not disengage.” The investigation found that Santangelo had sent as many as 25 emails of a sexual nature to the student. 

In a meeting with investigators, Santangelo acknowledged that he “behaved unprofessionally.” He was found in violation of the Non-Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies. 

The investigation concluded before fall of 2012, the date in which Santangelo’s tenure at the university was to go into effect, and the investigation recommended the university take disciplinary action to correct the conduct and prevent any reoccurrence. 

Santangelo resigned from EKU, and joined Hofstra University in fall of 2013 as an assistant professor of biology. 

Representation for Santangelo said he would not give comment at this time, but that they will be reaching out to EKU for more information about the report. 

Curtis Christian (2012): 

In 2012, an EKU employee made a voluntary statement to EKU police alleging that Curtis Christian, a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, had sexually harassed her, according to an investigative report written by the Equal Opportunity Office. 

Though all mentions of the incident and specific details are redacted from the reports, the woman who filed the complaint said the behavior Christian would be investigated for was unwanted and unwelcome. 

The woman said that Christian asked her a question that made her, “feel uncomfortable…but did not feel like she could leave or stop the conversation because (he) was a faculty member.”

The day after the EOO received the complaint they issued a “cease and desist” notice to Christian, and within five days he tenured his resignation. 

The report said that during a meeting with investigators the day before, Christian, “indicated that he immediately knew he had done something wrong,” and, “immediately asked if he could resign.” 

The EOO discovered no evidence that he completed the online training programs for preventing sexual misconduct violations, which is required every two years for EKU employees. 

The EOO concluded that there was evidence to support a finding that Christian engaged in an unwelcome, unwanted conversation of a sexual nature, according to the report. 

The office found him responsible for violating the Non-Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies, but said his resignation was sufficient “disciplinary action to address (his) inappropriate action that is the subject of this complaint, to the extent required to correct the conduct and prevent any future reoccurrence.”  

Christian gave no comment about the investigative report. 

Editor’s note: The Kernel will continue to investigate other cases turned over by universities and update this story as documents come in.