In May, University of Georgia Professor John Seaman was suspended without pay for two weeks following a sexual harassment accusation from a former research associate. A UGA Equal Opportunity Office Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy Report found ample evidence that Seaman made unwanted sexual comments and advances to the accuser. Besides the suspension, Seaman is also “prohibited from initiating one-on-one interactions outside of work with any employee whom he supervises” and “from verbally commenting on or otherwise outwardly expressing his views about the physical appearance of women in his workplace,” according to the report.
Considering the seriousness of the offense, this punishment feels rather light. The university must begin holding is staff and faculty more accountable for their actions. Failing to do so will perpetuate an unjust environment that allows for UGA employees to leverage their power for personal gain at the expense of others.
The EOO report concludes that Seaman likely acted inappropriately toward the accuser multiple times, including telling her to wear a skirt more often, incidentally touching her while speaking to her and trying to kiss her while outside a bar. It’s hard to say this was a small infraction or a simple misunderstanding.
And it’s not just this case, either. Seaman has a history of sexual harassment and inappropriate office behavior. He asked a research professional he supervised to go on a date during the fall 2017 semester. He also pursued relationships with other employees in 2017 and 2018. This establishes a clear pattern of ignoring EOO guidelines.
This isn’t the only time UGA has failed to provide effective oversight of its employees. According to the Athens Banner-Herald, Sallyanne Barrow, a former accountant at UGA, alleged she was fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on fraud. Barrow had told university officials she believed former UGA alumni office executive director Deborah Dietzler had defrauded more than $160,000 in September 2013. Barrow was fired by December of the following year.
And, for a decade, a Greek Life administrative assistant named Lasina Evans stole money managed by the Greek Life Office before she committed suicide in June of this year, amassing $1.3 million. Evans was so successful at embezzling because then University of Georgia Director of Greek Life Claudia Shamp and Assistant Greek Life Director Elizabeth Pittard gave Evans too much control and signed blank checks without question. Evans’ theft was only discovered after UGA Miracle realized it did not have enough money to give to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The university has reimbursed the impacted organizations, but allowing such blatant theft for over a decade is simply inexcusable.
As an institution of higher learning that should be serving the needs of Georgia, UGA needs to ensure an environment that is inviting and fair to everyone. Instead, the university has routinely ignored gross abuses of power. UGA must begin taking oversight more seriously to avoid these scandals as much as possible.
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, Lasina Evans was said to have committed suicide in July when she actually committed suicide in June. This has since been corrected. The Red & Black regrets these errors.