Kernel obtains withheld records; victims say UK trying to protect professor in sexual assault case

Marjorie Kirk

Two of the victims at the heart of a sexual assault and harassment case against an associate professor are angry and say UK is protecting the professor at the expense of his victims, other students and the public.

The Kentucky Kernel has obtained the documents UK refused to release after the Kentucky Attorney General ruled they should be public. A confidential source connected to the case released records to the Kernel with names and identifiers redacted. It is the Kernel’s policy not to identify victims of sexual assault without their permission. 

Those records — 122 pages in all — contained details about an investigation of Associate Professor of Entomology James Harwood that spanned seven months and covered about three years of allegations made against the professor. The report was signed by Martha L. Alexander, UK’s deputy Title IX coordinator, and also sent to UK’s dean of the College of Agriculture, associate general counsel, and UK’s Title IX coordinator.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton and UK’s General Counsel Bill Thro said they could not confirm the authenticity of the documents.

The Kernel called, emailed and left messages for Harwood, but he could not be reached for comment.

The investigation, conducted by UK’s Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity, resulted in a number of findings in the report, including:

  • Harwood was accused of sexual assault, in addition to sexual harassment as was previously reported by the Kernel, which had relied on limited information from UK.
  • There were two complainants, and five total victims, who reported instances of sexual assault or sexual harassment to the university
  •  The victims included men and women who worked in Harwood’s department
  • The two complainants reported they were sexually assaulted during conferences related to their work or studies at UK
  •  The complainants came forward only when they found out there were more victims
  •  The incidents spanned about 3 years, between 2012 and 2015, when one of the victims came forward and the investigation began

A spokesman for the victims, who is not being named because it could identify them, first approached the Kernel in March to discuss the case. 

The victims were unhappy that Harwood could be allowed to continue working at another university without the full results of the investigation following him.

The university denied the Kernel’s open records request for all of the documents pertaining to the investigation, which led to former Editor-in-Chief Will Wright’s appeal to Attorney General Andy Beshear.

On Monday the attorney general released his decision that the records were in fact public and should be released by the university with names and identifiers redacted. UK had also denied the attorney general’s office access to the records.

That same day, President Eli Capilouto announced in an email to campus that UK would appeal the attorney general’s decision by bringing a lawsuit against the Kernel.

On Wednesday, the victims’ spokesperson met with the Kernel again to convey their displeasure with the President’s email.

“I don’t fully understand and the victims don’t understand why confidentiality of the victims is cited as a reason these things can’t be released, since it seems like there are obvious ways to go around it,” the victims’ spokesperson said. “The victims were surprised they were not contacted (before the president’s email was sent). They only heard about it when they saw an article about it.”

The spokesperson also said the victims were upset that UK and Capilouto called the investigation preliminary and therefore not public record.

“It feels like UK is trying to protect what went on here and to protect James. Why not have complete transparency in this?” the spokesperson said. “UK should be interested in protecting not just the students at UK. (UK) should also be in the interest of protecting students at other universities where James may end up and repeat this behavior.”

Because the investigation had ended, the documents should not have been kept from the public, the spokesperson said. The victims want the documents regarding the investigation to be public record with names and identifiers redacted.

The Kernel now has the investigative report, its appendix and the investigation’s conclusion. UK had made public only the conclusion of the case, separate from the conclusions in its investigation report.

The investigation concluded, “There is enough evidence for a reasonable person to believe the alleged behavior occurred and this matter should be presented to the Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board,” a university board appointed by the president that decides on punishment in such cases.

Before the case could reach such a hearing, Harwood resigned in February using a provision in the university’s administrative regulations. The provision is called the Informal Resolution Option, part of the university’s Procedures for Addressing and Resolving Allegations of Sexual Violence, Stalking, Domestic Violence, and Dating Violence.

The resignation allowed him to forego a hearing, and the agreement he made with the university gave him pay and benefits until Aug. 31.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the policy allowing resignation instead of a hearing mirrors federal Title IX guidelines.

“The institution has made the decision to follow those guidelines as have most institutions of higher learning in the country,” Blanton said.

In accordance with those UK procedures, Harwood’s resignation closed the case and prevents the victims who filed complaints against him from having the option to appeal the decision.

The investigation provided details from each of the victims. Following are some of the allegations:

Complainant 1 — 2013: “It’s not whatever. You were way out of line the other night.”

The victim identified in the report as Complainant 1 was Harwood’s student, who had attended a conference in 2013 with him and another student, identified as Student A in the report.

Over the course of their trip, the report said Harwood had made the victim feel uncomfortable with advances she said were unwelcome.

On one night of their trip, Harwood had drinks and dinner with the two students, during which he grabbed the victim’s buttocks, breast and crotch repeatedly.

Student A was present for the alleged assault, and said the victim’s facial expressions and demeanor made it clear that Harwood’s advances were not welcome. 

When Harwood left them that night — around midnight, the report said — the victim sat on a roadside curb and cried before she and the other student went back to their rooms.

The victim communicated with Harwood via email the next day to say she did not want him to attend her presentation at the conference. He replied, “Ok, whatever.”

She responded, “It’s not whatever. You were way out of line the other night. If you can’t understand why I don’t want you in the audience at my talk then we are going to have a serious problem.”

The report said Harwood denied the victim’s claims during the investigation. He accused the victim of lying because Harwood was one of the people critiquing her dissertation and he suspected it did not go well.

The report said the victim disproved this with testimony, photographic evidence and time-stamped email correspondence showing Harwood with the students that night at the time of the incidents, and that she began to pursue the investigation after she defended her dissertation.

She said she reported the assault and harassment after she had concluded her work because she believed Harwood would not be able to retaliate against her at that point.

She decided to report the incidents when she heard Harwood had inappropriately touched another female student the report said.

Harwood also said the student who defended the victim’s claims about the night at the conference was only supporting her claim because Harwood had been questioning his research. 

Both the student witness and another person in the lab involved in the research effectively refuted Harwood’s claim, the report said.

Through time-stamped emails, investigators concluded that the student whose testimony supported the victim’s accusations was not made aware of the fact that his research was being questioned until well after the investigation began, and that in any case issues in his research were minor accounting mistakes.

Regarding the first victim, the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity charged Harwood with two violations of university policies: sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

Complainant 2 — 2012: “You don’t want to know how bad I can be at these meetings.”

The victim identified as Complainant 2 said she barely knew Harwood when he approached her at a University of Kentucky mixer during a separate conference in 2012. 

Another student who she was having drinks with at the time, identified as Student I, witnessed the encounter.

They said Harwood put his arm around her back with his hand near her breast before leaning in to whisper in her ear.

“You don’t want to know how bad I can be at these meetings,” the victim reported that he said. She said that the encounter was not welcome. 

When asked during the investigation why she did not come forward sooner, the victim said she had created waves in the department by changing advisers and “did not want to become known as someone who causes trouble.”

Harwood responded to the second victim’s allegations by saying she had made them only because the two complainants were close friends.

When asked about her relationship to the other victim during the investigation, the second victim said they were not friends and did not like each other at all prior to July 2015, when they reported the allegations.

In this case, too, the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity found that there was enough evidence to believe the accusations. Harwood was charged with two more violations of university policy: sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Between the cases of Complainant 1 and Complainant 2, Harwood was charged by the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual harassment.

More Victims — 2015: “The environment in the lab (was) ‘inappropriately sexually charged.’”

The investigation recorded witness testimony of two other students who said they and one other student were inappropriately touched by Harwood on the night in which the first victim went out with a group from the department to celebrate defending her dissertation.

This was the night the first victim said was part of what prompted her to come forward with her complaint.

Though they did not at the time want to file a complaint, two of the students testified about their own unwelcome and nonconsensual incidents with Harwood that night, as well as what they saw him do to another student who did not testify.

Their testimonies of that night indicated that Harwood touched three male students, identified as Student H, Student B and one unnamed student in the report.

Student H had been responsible for driving Harwood and the unnamed student from dinner to the bar that night. On the way Student H said that Harwood, “made ‘weird sexual innuendos,’” and “insinuated that he was, ‘getting some on the side.’”

Student H said that when they arrived at the bar Harwood “was staring at Complainant 1’s chest, making sexual innuendos about her, and almost drooling while staring at her.”

Student H said that Harwood tried to get him and another student to dance, and touched him “suggestively.” The student said it was unwelcome and made him uncomfortable.

Student H also reported that Harwood was stroking the chest of the unnamed male student he had driven to the bar that night and called him handsome.

Another student who gave testimony of the night and shared his own unwanted incident with the professor was identified as Student B.

In his report he described the environment in Harwood’s lab as “inappropriately sexually charged.”

That same night, he said that Harwood “ordered” the group to drink copious amounts of alcohol, and “pressured those who didn’t want to drink to do so.”

He said he noticed the first female victim’s discomfort when Harwood sat next to her and tried to talk to her, and that when a female student got up to leave the bar Harwood followed her out.

Believing Harwood would try to be inappropriate with the female student, Student B followed and ended up restraining Harwood.  

While he had Harwood restrained, Student B said that Harwood grabbed and squeezed his buttocks.

The report said that when members of the group suggested that Harwood go home for the evening, he refused and urinated on the building.

Because the instances in which they were touched were not reported as an official complaint, the investigation into the two complainants does not say that the university ever pursued an investigation into or leveled charges against Harwood for behavior that night.

The IEEO concluded that the evidence brought forward in testimony supports the allegation that Harwood, “has created an environment in which his students are expected to drink heavily at social events.”

This, however, is not a violation of university policy, and therefore he received no charge.

In all the investigation uncovered five students, four of whom testified they were touched in what they felt was an unwelcomed and inappropriate manner by Harwood. Only two of the students’ testimonies were used to bring charges against Harwood.

None of Harwood’s charges ever went to a hearing, and because of the policy that let him resign instead, the charges are likely never to be considered formally by the university.