Whatcom County judge approves release of sexual harassment report regarding Western professor
A university report finding a Western professor responsible for sexual harassment against a student will be made available after a Whatcom County judge approved its release.
The judge’s ruling was made at a hearing in Whatcom County Superior Court on Friday, Feb. 8. The hearing was prompted after the professor in the report filed a motion with the court to block its release.
Ultimately, the judge denied the professor’s motion. Western’s Assistant Attorney General Melissa Nelson said the report should be released within a week, once approval is received from the court.
The report found that a professor working in the department of communication sciences and disorders had engaged in a three-month relationship with a graduate student.
After the relationship ended, the student filed a complaint with Western’s Equal Opportunity Office. The student said the relationship had deprived them of educational opportunities, including the ability to complete their thesis. The EOO responded by conducting an investigation.
The investigation became the subject of a public records request after the student publication the AS Review made a routine request for EOO investigations.
In response to the request, the professor filed a motion with the Whatcom County Superior Court on Jan. 25 requesting that the investigation not be released.
At a hearing, the professor’s attorney, Richard Hughes, said the report shouldn’t be released because the EOO did not have the authority to investigate the complaint. He also expressed doubt about the office’s finding of sexual harassment because the relationship was consensual.
Judge Charles Snyder said he believed the EOO had investigated the complaint under the scope of its authority and found that the university had came to its conclusion appropriately.
“I don’t think it’s this court’s duty to reassess every investigation done by the university. The university does their investigation, they come to their conclusions [and] they make their decisions,” Snyder said. “If it involves discipline of a professor, it is a matter of subject to the public disclosure act because as the cases say, that’s a matter of significant public interest.”
Snyder did request that some unsubstantiated information be redacted before the report is released.
During the hearing, Nelson said that the issue of whether there was a problem with the investigation was a separate issue from the release of the public records request. She said the hearing was neither the time nor the place to debate that.
“It is what the university investigated and the public has a right to know what the university investigated,” Nelson said.