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Crossing the Line
The University of Georgia on Friday demoted an associate provost for institutional diversity amid an investigation into whether he shared a hotel suite with a graduate student during a trip to a conference in Washington.
Keith Parker, who lost his administrative position but kept a faculty job in the sociology department, has been at Georgia for two years. An article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday reported on documents that the newspaper had obtained indicating that two women -- one a student and one an associate vice president at the university -- had earlier complained about Parker touching them inappropriately, and that the university had spoken with him about the complaints, but not punished him.
Parker did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article.
The removal of the associate provost comes in a period of several high-profile allegations of sexual harassment at the university. Last month, the university started an investigation of its chief of police, who was accused by one of his officers of using slurs and viewing nude photographs of women while on duty.
In June, John Soloski quit as journalism dean at Georgia, following an investigation into comments he made to an employee. Soloski, who denies that the comments constituted harassment, said Saturday that the university was applying "inconsistent rules" for harassment allegations, forcing him to quit over comments while failing to punish Parker for incidents in which he had touched people.
Tom Jackson, a spokesman for the university, said that the investigation into Parker's Washington trip was "still in progress," and it was not clear whether harassment took place. But he said that Georgia officials knew enough to have questions about Parker's "professional judgment" and so removed him from his administrative post.
Jackson said that in both previous cases, Parker "said he was just being friendly in conversation and the females were saying that it was undesired touching."
According to the documents quoted in the Atlanta paper, in one incident an student told officials that Parker kissed her hand, told her she had set "his heart aflutter," and asked her to lunch. The other allegation, by a fellow administrator, said that in a faculty parking lot, Parker held her hand, touched her shoulder, touched her cheek and invited her to dinner in Atlanta.
According to the university documents, Parker received verbal warnings after those incidents, but no punishment.
Soloski said that the contrast between his case and Parker's was striking. The accusations against Soloski concern comments he made to an employee who did not report directly to him. He is alleged to have commented on her eye color and to have said that a dress showed off her assets. Soloski said such comments were not inappropriate in context (the eye color comment, he said, followed a chat about Lasik surgery and the dress comment was at a dinner for Georgia employees and alumni supporters, not in the office).
"I'm concerned about a standard for sexual harassment that doesn't exist," Soloski said. "Somebody can interpret something that one says is sexual harassment and it becomes harassment, and then you have someone who is literally groping people and he just gets warnings."
Soloski, who has tenure as a professor at Georgia, is appealing the findings about him.
Jackson, the Georgia spokesman, said it was too simplistic to compare the cases. "Each case has to stand on its own facts and own merits," he said. Asked about the significance of having three prominent cases involving harassment in such a short time period, Jackson said that the cases demonstrated that the university was "determined to act decisively based upon a finding of fact."
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