Webster University hired an outside investigator to review how it handled a harassment complaint brought by a student against a professor, it said late Wednesday.
The move came days after the student -- now a graduate -- took her case public, saying that the university had ignored it for a year and promoted the professor in question during that time.
A second professor also resigned in protest of how the university handled the case, and he publicly urged Webster to do better. Students and faculty members have shared their own negative experiences with the game design program, in solidarity with the woman who brought the allegations.
“Webster definitely missed an opportunity here,” said Tamsen Reed, the original complainant and a game design major. Especially as “they boast about their diversity and inclusion to all prospective students.”
Rob M. Santos, the video game programming instructor who resigned in protest, said Webster a chance "to set the standard for addressing harassment and misconduct at this pivotal turning point in the games industry and for students who represent the next generation of game creatives.” Instead, through its “self-condemning silence or outright dismissal of student complaints, Webster chose to further institutionalize misogyny and abuse before these students have even begun their careers.”
The accused professor and those who “enabled” him “perfectly mirror the cancer of games industry toxicity,” Santos said.
Gaming doesn’t have a good reputation for gender equity. Women regularly report being harassed or threatened for merely venturing into that world. And of course academe has a checkered history of welcoming women into its ranks and taking seriously their complaints of misconduct.
Reed said she waited until just two days before graduation to go public with her case, as, in her experience, “Webster doesn’t have the most transparent administration.”
And “given the power the harasser had over my degree,” she added, “I felt if I came forward, my graduation status might’ve been in jeopardy.”
According to accounts she shared on social media, the professor, Joshua Yates, talked about her in a sexual manner with multiple other students. Those students later told Reed that Yates had said she was “coming on to,” “flirting with” and possibly even trying to “seduce” him.
Yates, head of the game design program within the electronic and photographic media department, previously served as a visiting professor and was promoted last year to a tenure-track position. He allegedly also talked to the other students about Reed’s manner of dress, calling it “revealing.”
Reed said she filed a formal harassment complaint last spring, before Yates was promoted to assistant professor. In response, she said she was taken off of his class roster for an upcoming, second class with him that she needed to take to graduate, and moved to one taught by Santos, the professor who publicly resigned in protest.
Reed has publicly praised Santos as a teacher. But women’s advocates have long criticized the practice of removing a complainant from the situation in which she’s being harassed, rather than punishing the harasser. That’s because such moves can derail the woman’s studies or career and, on their own, do nothing to prevent the harasser from continuing the behavior with someone else.
Beyond that, however, Reed says she has not heard from the university about her complaint and that her emails about it have gone unanswered.
Santos said that "fair investigations" should be "thorough, swift, as well as transparently tied to meaningful consequences," with student protections "enforced decisively in the meantime."
He's publicly encouraged others to contribute their stories of working within the department. About a dozen students and faculty members already have done so. Some students corroborate Reed's report about Yates's comments. Others allege incompetence on Yates’s part as a teacher and scholar.
In addition to questioning Yates’s work ethic and expertise, Lisa Brunette, a game designer and former visiting professor in the department, wrote in a public statement that at Webster, “I never felt adequate respect was paid to my substantial experience as a writer, game designer and teacher, and I often felt like I was battling the [electronic and photographic media] boys’ network. Without me, the department is comprised of 10 men and only two women.”
Yates did not respond to a request for comment.
Reed said she hasn’t heard anything from Webster since she aired her concerns last week, other than a private invitation to meet with the office that handles harassment complaints. She said she hasn’t spoken to Yates since last year but that he “glares” at her in the halls.
Webster said in a statement that it’s “committed to respecting the privacy, integrity and safety of its students, faculty and staff and all members of the extended community,” and that it must treat complaints and investigations with “strict confidentiality.” The relevant office operates “autonomously and with the independence it deserves to investigate all complaints of sexual misconduct.”
In response to “recent inquiries” about the conduct of that office, Webster “swiftly engaged an independent third-party investigator to examine” whether the office adhered to protocol. Pending the results of the independent investigation, Webster said, it will take swift and appropriate action.