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Sex Harassment Inquiry Methods Need Evaluation, CSUN Chief Says

October 02, 1988|CARLOS V. LOZANO | Times Staff Writer

Cal State Northridge President James Cleary, who has been criticized by some faculty members for his handling of a sexual harassment complaint, said campus procedures to investigate such allegations may need to be re-evaluated.

The charges of sexual harassment arose from a lawsuit filed last month by two lecturers against a geography professor who acknowledged exposing himself to the women but dismissed his actions as "a locker room prank."

Cleary said Friday that he wished he had been notified about the complaint filed by Christine Rodrigue and Carolyn McGovern-Bowen, two former geography department lecturers who now teach urban studies classes at CSUN.

The complaint was filed with a university investigative committee in April. But Cleary said he did not learn about it until June when the two women wrote letters to his office.

Darrick Danta, who told the committee that he exposed himself to the women two or three times inside campus offices in late 1985, was promoted to tenured professor in May. The promotion took effect at the start of the school year in September.

Several faculty members in the CSUN geography department questioned whether the case had been handled properly, and criticized Cleary for having reacted too slowly to the allegations.

"The president has allowed this to deteriorate to the point that the geography department has to take a great deal of heat," said David Hornbeck, a professor and 17-year member of the department.

"We've got a good faculty here. The department of geography is being tainted by this whole mess," Hornbeck said. "I put full responsibility in his lap."

Robert Gohstand, another professor, agreed. "There is plenty wrong with the way the administration has handled it."

The investigative committee, which handles sexual harassment charges, did not report the case to Cleary. But the committee recommended that Danta apologize to the two women, attend one or more psychotherapy sessions and read university procedures regarding sexual harassment. The women said the recommendations were not strong enough.

No Disciplinary Action

Jeanette Mann, head of the university's Office of Affirmative Action Programs and one of three people who investigated the charges, said Cleary was not notified because the panel decided that the incidents did not warrant disciplinary action.

Mann said that in not informing Cleary about the charges the committee simply followed guidelines that say the university president need not be informed if no disciplinary action is warranted. The guidelines had been recommended by the faculty senate and approved by Cleary in February, she said.

"I should have been notified," said Cleary, adding that the charges were the first test of the 7-month-old procedures. "We are reviewing those procedures right now."

Cleary said he learned about the case when he received letters from Rodrigue and McGovern-Bowen. Shortly thereafter, he asked Earl Weiss, the special assistant to the president, to conduct a second investigation.

On Thursday, Cleary ordered that the investigation continue after he received a preliminary report from Weiss that, he said, included new information, which e declined to reveal.

Geography department faculty members wondered why they were never contacted by investigators during either of the inquiries.

"I feel very strongly that we should have been contacted because of the bearing this has on the reputation of the department," said Antonia Hussey, one of two women professors in the department. "We'd like to see this thing be cleared up."

"The faculty should have been contacted," Gohstand said. "There is very little indication that anybody is investigating anything."

Said Cleary: "I don't understand their concerns, because what we're trying to do is abide by the principle of due process. It's kind of baseless--the charge that the administration hasn't handled it. The administration hasn't been in it until now.

"As soon as we learned that these allegations were made, that's the precise time that Earl Weiss began his investigation," he said.

"It is unfair to blame the president for something he didn't know about," Mann said.

Although saying they did not approve of Danta's actions, some teachers praised him as "among the hardest working faculty in the department."

"It was a stupid thing to do," Danta said Friday. "I consider what I did to be wrong but minor. I thought it was a joke."

Danta, 33, said he thinks the lawsuit was filed because of professional jealousy. He said he was promoted while Rodrigue, 35, and McGovern-Bowen, 38, were fired from their part-time positions in the geography department.

Both women, who have since been hired as lecturers in the university's urban studies program, denied that the lawsuit was motivated by jealousy. "I don't think that he understands what he did was wrong, that he crossed the line," Rodrigue said.

The lawsuit was filed in Van Nuys Superior Court Sept. 14, and names Danta, geography department chairman I-Shou Wang and the university as defendants. The lecturers claim that they were unfairly fired from the geography department July 6 because of their complaint against Danta, as well as a grievance they filed last fall over excessive workloads.

Both women are seeking unspecified damages and tenured teaching positions.

"We were forced to file suit," Rodrigue said. "We appealed directly to the president for three months . . . and basically we received nothing from him. It is the responsibility of the university to check this out and take appropriate action. They didn't."

Rodrigue and McGovern-Bowen claim that Danta exposed his genitals to them on several occasions between January, 1986 and January, 1987. Danta claims the incidents occurred in late 1985.

Both women said they did not complain earlier because they feared jeopardizing their careers and professional reputations.

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