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HARASSMENT POLICY: Professor still teaches despite complaints; Found not in violation of UGA policies (w/documents) - The Red and Black : News

HARASSMENT POLICY: Professor still teaches despite complaints; Found not in violation of UGA policies (w/documents)

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Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 2:00 am

A superior characterized his behavior around female employees and students as “deplorable.”

He was investigated following sexual harassment complaints.

His conduct is “discreetly monitored regularly” by department heads.

And assistant professor Brett Tennent-Brown continues to teach in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

The initial allegations were levied in July 2009 against Tennent-Brown, according to documents obtained by The Red & Black. Tennent-Brown teaches more than 100 students studying large animal medicine.

The allegations maintained he had repeatedly made inappropriate comments toward females, including one text message which stated he was “getting his dick sucked.”

During the ensuing investigation by the University’s Equal Opportunity Office, many of these allegations were confirmed by witnesses and some, including the text message, were even confirmed by Tennent-Brown himself.

However, it was later determined by the EOO that the University Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy had not been violated.

In a letter addressed to Tennent-Brown outlining the findings of the investigation, Equal Opportunity Director Stephen Shi wrote the evidence reflects “certain patterns of conduct,” but is “insufficient” to establish NDAH policies had been violated.

“It was a pretty intensive investigation,” Tennent-Brown told The Red & Black Tuesday. “Everybody told their sides of the story ... I hope people would have some faith in that investigation.”

Though he said he didn’t wish to go into specifics for fear of sounding “self-serving,” Tennent-Brown did acknowledge there is more “back history” to the story than it may appear.

Despite the EOO’s findings, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine Sheila Allen told The Red & Black she still feels Tennent-Brown’s behavior was “inexcusable.”

“Regardless of the findings of the formal investigation, we thought his conduct was highly unprofessional and inexcusable,” she said. “I’ve told Dr. Tennent-Brown that and he knows that.”

The allegations against Tennent-Brown

University students are no strangers to crass remarks — but normally they’re not coming from the man standing at the front of the classroom.

The allegations brought against Tennent-Brown include several inappropriate comments.

During interviews with EOO investigators, Tennent-Brown confirmed some of the allegations had in fact taken place during his employment at the University.

These allegations include that he made the statement: “You can’t invent a test. I could invent a test to use my penis to measure the temperature, but it wouldn’t be a valid test.”

Tennent-Brown acknowledged making this statement, he but said “the comment was made in a social setting and he did not think anyone would mind,” according to the documents.

On a separate occasion, Tennent-Brown was accused of sending a text message which stated he was “getting his dick sucked.”

Tennent-Brown also acknowledged sending the message and said “it may have gone too far because it was on a school phone, but was sent in non-school context,” according to the documents.

Tennent-Brown also told EOO employees he had once told a male student to take a female employee home and “show her your meat,” according to the documents. However, Tennent-Brown said this was part of a “standing joke.”

Other accusations were raised which Tennent-Brown doesn’t recall saying.

These include saying a student would be a “pretty good fuck,” and that he “would really like to fuck [a particular female student] to death.”

In addition to these sexual comments, Tennent-Brown admitted to “repeatedly calling people ‘asshole.’”

Tennent-Brown also reportedly called a coworker a “bitch” in a “loud voice” that was “overheard by many students.”

As EOO employees conducted their investigation, “every person interviewed, including Tennent-Brown says that he can be a bit crass,” according to the documents.

After the investigation, the EOO concluded no sexual harassment violations had taken place in this instance.

“I have determined that the available evidence, while insufficient to establish that you violated the NDAH Policy’s prohibition against sexual harassment, does reflect certain patterns of conduct by you in your interaction with other female colleagues and students that warrant mention since they are contrary to a respectful and professional learning and working environment,” according to a letter from Shi to Tennent-Brown included in the documents obtained by The Red & Black.

A summary of the EOO investigation places the comments in the context of a “friendly atmosphere” that “included a good bit of banter that had some sexual overtones.”

Tennent-Brown’s career at the University and before

Hailing from New Zealand, Tennent Brown received his veterinary training in his home country at Massey University.

He worked in Sydney, Australia, and did his residency at the University of Illinois.

After a move to the University of Pennsylvania, he became a faculty member in the College of Veterinary medicine.

In 2009, he was awarded a Morris Animal Foundation grant for his proposal: “Better Understanding of Colitis.”

In fiscal year 2010, Tennent-Brown was compensated a total of $84,197.29 and received an additional travel compensation of $566.15, according to statistics provided by Georgia’s open records website.

Moving forward

Even though no sexual harassment violations were determined to have occurred in the Tennent-Brown case, Allen said she has taken the situation very seriously.

“We’ve reprimanded Dr. Tennent-Brown as severely as we could short of termination,” she told The Red & Black. “He was on notice. He had to change his behavior or he was gone.”

Since the reprimand, Allen said she has noticed a significant difference.

Fearing complainants may be slow to come forward again, her office continues to follow-up and actively make sure no misbehavior is occurring.

“There have been no episodes since that time,” she said. “His behavior has been described by employees as professional at all times.”

University student Dustin Major, who studied under Tennent-Brown, described Tennent-Brown as a “phenomenal teacher” saying “every interaction I’ve had has been professional.”

In addition to Tennent-Brown’s formal reprimand, Allen said she and department heads met in person and counselled Tennent-Brown and other University faculty.

They also held two sexual harassment training sessions which all faculty and students were required to attend.

Since taking these steps, Allen said she is comfortable having Tennent-Brown in the teaching environment and said the most important thing is to protect faculty and students while fostering a healthy work environment.

“Although it is regrettable these things were said by Tennent-Brown and these incidents did occur, I feel we have taken measures to make sure [of] no recurrence of these instances,” she said. “A positive work environment has been restored.”

HISTORY OF HARASSMENT

February 2001 — Charles C. Doyle, of the English department, is found in violation of the University’s Non-Discrimination Anti-Harassment policy, but he is not found in violation after complaints are filed in September 2002, February 2004 and November 2004.

November 2003 — Sexual harassment complaints are filed against former University professor Benjamin G. Blount, but Blount resigns before the investigation is completed.

September 2007 — The University’s Office of Legal Affairs finds William Bender, a former professor in the College of Education, in violation of the NDAH policy after numerous harassment accusations.

May 2007 — Former women’s golf coach McCorkle resigned amid a sexual harassment case initiated by his players.

March 2008 — University President Michael Adams issued a plan to create three ombudspersons by Oct. 1 to address sexual harassment issues. The plan also states that the investigation and enforcement of the NDAH policy would move from the Office of Legal Affairs to the Equal Opportunity Office

March 2008 — Mark Jensen, former assistant professor of genetics and epidemiology, resigned from the University after the Office of Legal Affairs found him in violation of the NDAH policy

July 2009 — Sexual harassment complaints are brought against Brett Tennent-Brown, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, but he is found not in violation of NDAH policy.

February 2010 — After a lawsuit, the University released a court order clearing the name of professor John Soloski, who had wrongfully been found in violation of the NDAH policy.

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