A June letter signed by 58 University of Oklahoma College of Fine Arts alumni urged the university to rethink sexual misconduct policies in light of sexual harassment allegations against donor and former professor James Scamehorn. Now student leaders are sending a similar message.
OU’s student congress passed a resolution Tuesday urging stronger enforcement of Title IX, a 1972 law prohibiting sex-based discrimination, including sexual harassment, at federally-funded institutions. The resolution also seeks new rules for investigations into high-profile individuals, such as donors and tenured-faculty.
“We have a great policy, but there seems to be a disconnect in what's on paper and what's being enforced,” said Elaina Fees, a junior who authored the resolution.
Fees grew concerned after OU Daily, the student newspaper, detailed multiple sexual harassment allegations against Tom Orr, who resigned as the School of Drama’s director following the Scamehorn scandal. Some of those allegations were investigated by the Office of Institutional Equity, which concluded no Title IX violation occurred, and Orr remains a faculty member. Fees also said conversations with fellow students have led her to believe the problem may be more widespread.
Prior to the OU Daily story, Dean Mary Margaret Holt of the College of Fine Arts wrote the Office of Institutional Equity will provide “training on the University’s harassment and discrimination policies to Fine Arts personnel" in an email sent to alumnus Randall White on August 19. She also said there was no evidence university officials had failed to report sexual misconduct or prevented students from doing so.
Shortly after OU Daily published its piece on Sept 17, the School of Drama’s interim director, Judith Pender, called it a “horrible smear campaign,” and recommended faculty tell students the article contained "outright lies."
Zak Houara is one of the alumni who shared his story with OU Daily and filed a complaint with the Title IX office. He claims Orr repeatedly made comments and asked questions about his sex life, among other things.
“What I did in my complaint was detail the specific interactions I had with Tom [Orr],” Houara said. “And then they sent out an email to me a few months later saying that there's not enough preponderance of evidence to say he's done anything wrong.”
Like Houara, Fees expressed disappointment with the outcome of the investigation. But she says the university can still take action. She pointed to part of OU’s Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination and Harassment policy, which reads:
“University administration has the power to take immediate, appropriate and unilateral administrative or disciplinary action deemed necessary for the welfare or safety of the University community.”
The student resolution was sent to the president’s office and other administrators. Fees hopes to see action from President James Gallogly.
“I am excited to work with this new administration,” Fees said. “Gallogly himself has said that he will listen to us. So I'm hoping that he's being truthful.”
In a statement, OU said it will review the students’ recommendations.