Years of Harassment
North Carolina State University not only failed to punish a sexually harassing professor, but the university promoted him, even as the number of victims grew, according to a ruling last week by the North Carolina Industrial Commission.
The commission ordered the university to pay $300,000 to two of those who filed complaints against Shuaib Ahmad, who was at the university from 1987-97, rising from assistant to full professor of civil engineering, and who also directed construction projects at a new campus the university was building. According to the commission's ruling, senior North Carolina State administrators became aware of harassment incidents -- and largely ignored them. The commission noted that the university first became aware of the harassment before Ahmad earned tenure -- and so missed an opportunity to dismiss him, which was called for under university regulations.
Calling the university "negligent," the commission said that N.C. State had "a pattern of ignoring sexual misconduct and threatening behavior. Twice the university promoted Dr. Ahmad after it knew of his alleged sexual harassment."
Ahmad could not be reached for comment.
Deborah Griffith, a spokeswoman for the university, said that North Carolina State plans to appeal the ruling and, as a result, can't comment on the case. But she added that "we have strict sexual harassment policies in place at N.C. State, and we strenuously enforce those policies whenever incidents are reported."
The state commission found otherwise. Among its findings:
- Early in his career at the university, Ahmad told a woman who was director of communications at the engineering college that he could read palms and when she agreed to let him do so, he grabbed one of her breasts.
- When the woman was advised to report the incident, she was told to report the incident to the university's sexual harassment officer. But the woman whose breast was touched did not have confidence in that officer because she had previously belittled reports of a "peeping Tom" on the campus by saying that he "wouldn't hurt anybody."
- When the first woman did not want to deal with the sexual harassment officer, other university officials -- including two subsequent deans, one of whom was soon named chancellor -- never investigated the incident.
- A student who was a research assistant for Ahmad was touched by him in "inappropriate ways." The commission found that he, at various points, pinned her against a wall, rubbed her leg, put his hand underneath her shorts, smelled her, pinned her against a computer screen, and offered her an "aphrodisiac nut." The student was so upset that she refused to take a course Ahmad offered, effectively blocking her progress on one curricular path.
- The student reported the incident and was surprised to find that officials were already aware of other reports against the professor.
- Another student reported an incident in which she had agreed to go to lunch with Ahmad, and that instead of driving her back to the university after lunch, he drove to a nearby lake where he said that they needed to take a walk and that he then tried to rub her body, unbutton her top, and put his hand on her breast, even as she shouted "This is not OK."
The commission found that the pattern continued, and that the students and employees who were harassed had numerous problems and greatly increased stress after the incidents. Those who reported the incidents received little assistance, the commission found, and Ahmad was permitted to continue to work, and to harass others.
At least eight women were harassed after the university had evidence of the problem, the commission found.