Waiting to See Punishment

After learning that a faculty member at San Jose State was found by the university to have inappropriately touched a student, many want to know why he's still teaching.

June 3, 2013

Students at San Jose State University want to know why a faculty member who -- according to a university report -- admitted to kissing and touching a student is still teaching.

More than 600 supporters have signed a petition on change.org demanding the "immediate removal" of a part-time faculty member at San Jose State University.

The petition was in response to an NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit news segment that aired in May. A female student, who wished to remain anonymous, told NBC that Jeffry Mathis — a part-time lecturer in the kinesiology department — sexually assaulted her.

After a police investigation, no charges were filed. NBC Bay Area obtained a copy of a confidential investigation report written by the university. The report said that although evidence of assault couldn't be found, Mathis admitted to "kissing and touching the [student] sexually although stating it was consensual."

Mathis did not comment to NBC on whether or not he was disciplined by university officials.

Now some students are demanding the university to take action. "Our call to action is to at least reopen the investigation," said senior Sasha Bassett, who started the online petition with other San Jose State students who created the group Students for the Accountability of Jeffry Mathis.

Bassett said the first time she heard about the incident was from the NBC news segment.

According to the NBC investigation, the anonymous student said she scheduled a meeting with Mathis in August to discuss a D+ grade he had given her in a class the prior semester. The student told NBC reporters that Mathis told her she had received the grade because she had plagiarized part of her final paper.

The student told NBC reporters that this is what followed: "He kept coming closer to me and my body completely shut down. He continued to touch me and try to talk about the ways that I could better my grade."

"Then he straddled me and sat on me," she said, "and put his hands up my shirt and under my sweater and was rubbing me."

Within hours of the incident, the student said, she called the university police department and filed an incident report. After Mathis was investigated for false imprisonment and sexual battery, no charges were filed, according to NBC Bay Area.

In an e-mail response to Inside Higher Ed, Mathis did not comment on the allegations or the petition, but referred questions to the California Faculty Association. Jonathan Karpf, who serves on the California Faculty Association Board of Directors as associate vice president, said in an email that he is not able to speak "about an open faculty rights case that is in the process of being adjudicated." He provided no further details on the case.

Students say they are bothered by the apparent inaction of the university after a finding that an instructor admitted to touching a student, and was accused of worse. "I believe that whether or not he’s guilty is besides the issue. It’s that the university didn’t really investigate it," Bassett said.

According to NBC Bay Area, despite Mathis’s admittance to "consensual" kissing and touching, the San Jose State report stated "there is insufficient evidence against [Mathis] to substantiate the claim of sexual harassment and sexual assault.” The report continues, “Whether or not their actions were consensual in this instance, his position is one of power over the students in his classroom” and he has a “duty not to allow situations to develop where a student could feel compelled to ‘consent’ to activities they would not otherwise agree to in order to be successful in his class.”

It concludes that Mathis “did violate his professional responsibility not to exploit the situation he found himself in and become intimate” with the student.

Bassett said the fact that Mathis admitted to having sexual contact with the student and that the report was not made known to the students outraged her. "This is one extremely actionable case that they could have resolved really easily when the professor admitted that he had done something wrong, and there were no repercussions whatsoever," Bassett said.

Mathis’s having kissed the student directly violated policies listed in the Handbook for Faculty Members at San Jose State University, Bassett said. The handbook states, "As a faculty member, you are in a position of power, and must be very sure that none of your own behaviors are considered to be harassing." And goes on to say that “faculty members must exhibit and uphold the highest scholarly and ethical standards of their disciplines; they do not instruct, advise, or supervise students with whom they have personal or professional conflicts of interest."

A university spokeswoman, Patricia Harris, said she could not comment on personnel matters specific to the case. But she released this statement: "SJSU cares about and is firmly committed to providing a safe environment for everyone in the campus community. We strive to implement timely and appropriate actions to protect our community members, including promptly, carefully and thoroughly investigating all complaints, followed by appropriate responses and actions. If there is any reason to believe a crime has occurred or safety is at risk, the University Police Department is contacted and, as appropriate, the matter is referred to the Santa Clara County District Attorney."

Bassett said she has received no e-mails from any university officials about the incident. "The university has adopted a hush policy," Bassett said.


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