After 20 years of intimidation and innuendo, crude comments behind closed doors and boasts of "freaky" hot tubs, a tenured professor in the College of Education quit the day before the University finally found him in violation of sexually harassing his female students.

William Neil Bender, who teaches in the Communication Sciences and Special Education Department, has faced numerous accusations of harassment spanning back to 1988, the year when many of today's freshmen and sophomores were born. According to documents obtained by The Red & Black under the state open records law, Bender tendered his resignation in September, but it will not take effect until May 6, 2008. During the interim, Bender is teaching two online courses, but "must refrain from having private and/or personal interactions with University students," according to a document from the Office of Legal Affairs.

University President Michael Adams and Provost Arnett Mace refused to comment.

The end of Bender's term came to a head in the summer of 2007, as allegations of a sexual relationship with one of his married former students were brought to the University's attention. An "angry" husband contacted Anne Bothe, department head of Communication Sciences and Special Education, and complained Bender had an inappropriate relationship with his wife, according to an e-mail between Bothe and Kimberly Ballard-Washington, former associate director for Legal Affairs.

According to handwritten notes about the case, Bender and his former student had a "sexual relationship over (a) 3-6 month period" and "she had a crush" on him while he was her adviser. The notes suggest the two had an "amorous relationship" with "kissing," and Bender gave the woman "life coaching on her marital issues."

In another e-mail, the student contacted Bothe in defense of Bender.

"He (Bender) became a cherished friend of mine," the graduate student wrote in an e-mail. "That I cherished the friendship too much became a problem for me ... That this advisor should be hurt because of my husband's discomfort with my feelings for this advisor, causes me great pain."

It marked the second time during the summer that Bender faced harassment allegations, as two other women contacted Bothe about the professor. According to e-mails, the women were unsure of issuing formal complaints out of fear of jeopardizing their academic careers.

"I do want to talk to the attorney, but I feel that I need to be completely away from Dr. Bender before I do," one of the women wrote on July 17, 2007, forwarded from Bothe to Ballard-Washington.

According to e-mails, Bothe encouraged the student to speak with Ballard-Washington. But the student expressed her fears in an Aug. 16, 2007, e-mail.

"I'm out. I'm too far sucked into the program to talk to anyone," the student wrote. "I see no way of speaking with her and protecting my educational program."

And in another e-mail, she notes, "Some have told me that if he finds out I said anything then he could ruin my education plans. I can't take that chance; I've worked so hard and don't want to be put in that situation ... I'll just have to manage the situation myself."

The student decided to meet with Ballard-Washington. In an Aug. 23, 2007 e-mail from the student to Ballard-Washington, the student wrote, "I am looking forward to our meeting this afternoon."

Bothe and Ballard-Washington drew connections between the husband's allegations and the women's accusations.

"Amazingly, the things that these two current girls are complaining about are what this guy describes as 'how it started with' his wife, he is confirming their story even though he has no idea that they exist," Bothe wrote in an e-mail to Ballard-Washington.

In a telephone interview Monday, Bothe said she became aware of the allegations against Bender during the summer of 2007. She said she has been the department head for about 18 months. Ballard-Washington said Tuesday she didn't have the Bender case file in front of her and referred all questions to the University's Office of Legal Affairs.

Efforts to reach Bender for comment were unsuccessful.

Hot tubs and bodily fluids

It was a busy year of accusations against Bender in 2006, as well.

According to handwritten notes, one student accused Bender of sexually harassing her as she applied for admission to the program. During her interview with Bender, the woman said he invited her to dinner with him and his wife. Bender arrived at the restaurant before his wife arrived, and the student said he asked her questions, including "how's your marriage," "are you a good mother" and "are you a good lover?"

When the student returned to Athens to register for classes, she ate with Bender again. According to the notes, Bender told her, "I bet you're wild when you get drunk," and invited her to his lake house.

"Bring a bathing suit; go out on the lake. We have a hot tub," the student said Bender told her. "We do freaky things."

The next day, she was concerned and said that her "advisor's making inappropriate comments."

Another student complained Bender harassed her in the fall of 2006. She said he told her she looked great and invited her to his lake house, according to handwritten notes.

At a dinner at the end of the semester, the student said Bender poured a pitcher of beer and said, "OK, now show me your tits."

According to the notes, the student said Bender's comments were specifically directed at her. The student also accused Bender of telling her an inappropriate joke and asking her to repeat it.

According to the notes, the student remembered Bender's joke as saying, "What's the best form of birth control? (Make) your cum taste like chocolate."

And in another handwritten note, without any time reference, it states Bender walked past one woman and "slapped (her) on the ass, and said this is my bitch."

Back to the early 1990s

In 1991, a student and her husband met with Cheri Hoy, former department head of Special Education and now the Associate Dean for Faculty, Administration and Finance, to discuss the student's allegations against Bender. The student accused Bender of treating her with extreme disrespect after she declined his invitation to move in with him, according to a transcript of the meeting with Hoy and the student.

The student said before her first class with Bender, she and some classmates were discussing commuting situations. Bender asked her if she had a place to stay in Athens. When she said no, Bender told her she could stay with him.

After the student declined, she said Bender reacted negatively toward her.

"He did not solicit me in any way that was overtly identifiable as sexual harassment. He did harass me," the student told Hoy. "He did use his position of authority in a very punitive way."

Hoy noted the woman was the third student to withdraw from the class and said three is a large number of withdrawals from a required doctoral level course.

"Dr. Bender exemplifies everything I don't want to be as a teacher in higher education," the student said.

She said two other students were being treated poorly by Bender but chose not to report his actions. Following the transcript of the interview, comments about Bender's teaching abilities were listed.

"My issue with him is bad, bad, poor misuse of power and I don't want anybody that is going to teach that way," one student said.

"He comes on real strong," another student complained. "I didn't feel comfortable."

Division of the Morally Impaired

In 1991, Hoy and George Hynd, then chair of the Division for Exceptional Children, issued a memo addressing faculty members' behavior at a Council for Exceptional Children convention in Atlanta. According to the memo, the party, hosted by a group that called themselves the Division of the Morally Impaired, "the organizational effort behind it clearly established a situation where students could feel sexually harassed by faculty and colleagues of faculty at UGA."

According to documents, Bender was involved with the party. In a meeting between Hoy and a special education student, the student told Hoy "only two faculty (Phil McLaughlin and William Bender were drunk and out of control - very drunk.)"

The first set of allegations about Bender came in 1989. A female student met with Hoy, Special Education Professor John Langone and Program Specialist Connie Morse on July 24, 1989, to discuss the complaints.

According to notes, the student "indicated that Dr. Bender is in the practice of asking undergraduates out on dates."

She said other students had similar complaints but did not want to address their issues. The student said Bender asked her on a date. After she said no, the student said Bender asked if he could come over to her house.

Though Bender told her he and his wife were getting a divorce, the student reported Bender told her later that "he and his wife were getting along better but that she (Bender's wife) wasn't horney (sic) enough for him."

The student said Bender called another student at her home and then went there "without being invited and without warning." He then told that student "she shouldn't get married and he would be available after his divorce and that she should wait for him."

During the interview with Bender's student, she said another student went to lunch with Bender. The student reported he asked her "how good she was in bed," "what other people said about how she was in bed" and "told her she looked like she would be good in bed."

After the interview, Hoy met on July 25, 1989, with Richard Talbott, who is no longer at the University, to discuss what should be done. They decided to meet with Bender and concluded if he continues this behavior "a formal complaint for process for dismissal will be filed."

As a result of these reports, Hoy and Langone met with Bender to address the complaints. They made suggestions about how Bender could prevent the appearance of impropriety. According to a letter sent to Bender about the meeting with him, they told Bender to keep his office door open when meeting with students and avoid personal contact with undergraduates.

Hoy refused to comment.

A policy in place

Elizabeth Bailey, associate director for Legal Affairs, said the University enacted its present Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy in 2002, but one has been in place for decades.

"If somebody comes forward to a position of authority, then they must follow the policy," Bailey said.

If the authority figure does not follow the policy, Bailey said the University will take action against the person found in violation. She said the policy is "educational," and the University probably would send the individual a letter.

Bailey said the severity of the punishment for those who violate the University's policy varies. She said punishments include training, suspension, demotion and employment termination.

"Sometimes people don't think," Bailey said.

In those cases, the training is useful.

"I think we've done a pretty good job with the policy," Bailey said.

In the case of William Bender, the policy took hold - two decades later.

Prior to receiving the letter from the Office of Legal Affairs in September 2007, Bender asked to continue teaching online classes for five and a half years. If he were allowed to teach for those additional years, Bender would have taught at the University for 25 years and would be eligible for the University's group retirement plan.

But that didn't happen.

"What am I allowed to say, if anything, to warn a new female faculty member, a young woman who just finished her own PhD, who I fear (based only on a couple of little things that I, admittedly, might be overinterpreting (sic), but I bet I'm right) is about to be the next victim?" Bothe wrote to Ballard-Washington in August.

"Or, to look at it the other way around, could I end up in trouble if I FAIL to warn her, given the decades of accusations?"

Want to read more? Check out the Bender documents.

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