U Kentucky sues school newspaper over Title IX documents

Graphic by Hannah Roach '17

Graphic by Hannah Roach '17

BY TESSA SCHWARZ '17 

 The University of Kentucky is suing its college newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, which reported the specifics of internal documents that dealt with accusations of sexual assault against a professor.

Associate professor of entomology James Harwood had been accused of sexually assaulting students, but according to the New York Times,  the University of Kentucky allowed him to resign quietly. According to the Kernel, Harwood resigned in February, but his agreement with the University allowed him to continued collecting his $109,000 salary until August 31. 

Under the University’s “Procedures for Allegations of Sexual Violence, Stalking, Domestic Violence and Dating Violence,” which are available on the University of Kentucky website, a respondent to an allegation of sexual assault has the right to “resolve the allegation” at a “pre-hearing meeting,” which is referred to as the “informal resolution option.” This is the option that Harwood chose, according to the Kernel, which allowed him to avoid a public hearing.

In August, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear issued a ruling asking the University to release the Harwood investigation documents relating to the public, according to the Kernel. In response to the Attorney General’s ruling, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto emailed a statement to students in which he said that the University would appeal the ruling in several ways, including by filing a lawsuit against the Kernel.

The Kernel received these documents, which total 122 pages, from an anonymous source who is “close to the case,” and published key facts in an article entitled “Kernel obtains withheld records; victims say UK trying to protect professor in sexual assault case.”

The records allege that Harwood assaulted at least five separate individuals, both men and women, at the University, from 2012 to 2015, according to the Kernel.

The survivors, whose spokesperson first asked the Kernel to report on the topic back in February, have now sided with the University in the legal case after a meeting with Capilouto. According to the Times, Capilouto has been disparaging towards the Kernel’s coverage of the allegations against Harwood. Kernel editor in chief Marjorie Kirk told the Times, “The president said that I published salacious details to gain readership…. I am incredibly insulted.”

According to its website, the Kernel was founded in 1908 and publishes bi-weekly print editions. It has been the recipient of numerous journalism awards, including the Associated Collegiate Press Pacemaker Award in 2006 and 2008, according to the ACP website.

In a hearing in the Fayette County Circuit Court on Dec 2, according to the Kernel, the University’s attorney, Joshua Salsburey, stated that the documents related to its investigation of Harwood could not be released due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Salsburey claimed that the documents are “education records,” and as such are protected by FERPA. Additionally, Salsburey said, redaction would not be enough to prevent the privacy rights of victims from being violated if the documents were released. He said there may be information that would “make it possible for the Googlers or the Facebook nerds, whatever you want to call it, to track them down and expose them.”

The Kernel’s attorney, Thomas Miller, disagreed with Salsburey’s claim that redaction would be insufficient to protect survivors, and argued that the release of the information was vital for revealing how well — or poorly — the college dealt with Title IX violations. “The only question is, can the university hide behind its inadequate investigation, behind its failure to disclose to the public that they have a predator that was going to move on to another educational institution?” 

A decision will come this month, but no matter the outcome, it is likely to be appealed.

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