A University of Georgia psychology professor accused of violating the University policy against sexual harassment intends to resign because of his “disgust” with the way the investigative process was handled.
Richard Suplita, a professor of behavioral and brain sciences who has worked at UGA for 14 years, was notified Oct. 15 that an Equal Opportunity Office investigation found he had violated the Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy.
The investigator recommended his termination from the University.
Nearly two months before the investigation began, Suplita began dating a third-year neuroscience Ph.D. student who was a teaching assistant for his class during the summer semester.
Suplita and his girlfriend went to his supervisor on July 28 to confirm there would be no issues if the two began a dating relationship. He said his supervisor gave them both her approval.
The following evening, after the last class of the summer had ended, the two posted their relationship status on Facebook.
“I put this up on public status. I certainly wasn’t trying to hide it from anyone,” Suplita said. “I clearly thought that we had been given the unequivocal green light.”
However, the EOO thought differently.
Suplita was notified Sept. 26 that he was being investigated for violating the NDAH.
The section of the NDAH policy relating to “Consensual Relationships in Regard to Sexual Harassment” states the University “prohibits all faculty and staff, including graduate assistants, from pursuing or engaging in dating or sexual relationships with any student whom they currently supervise, teach or evaluate in any way.”
It also states any employee who “supervises, evaluates or in any other way directly affects the terms and conditions of another employee must immediately disclose the existence of a dating or sexual relationship to his/her immediate supervisor.”
Suplita said he was supposedly being investigated based on a student complaint filed Sept. 23 to an advisor that certain comments he had made had made the student “uncomfortable.”
The EOO investigator found no evidence to substantiate that claim, Suplita said, but did find evidence that he had violated the section of the NDAH policy that states no supervisor can date a subordinate.
The EOO and the UGA Public Affairs Division told The Red & Black they cannot comment on any investigations and cannot confirm that an investigation took place.
“In general, investigative files are closed until 10 days after all appeals are exhausted,” said Tom Jackson, UGA Vice President for Public Affairs.
Suplita said the EOO found that because he had changed his relationship status before final grades were submitted, he violated the policy.
But the way the policy is currently written, Suplita said, it was not clear that he was in violation.
“The policy needs to stipulate, I think, that all relationships between primary instructions and teaching assistants are inherently supervisors, if that’s what they’re going to enforce,” he said.
The most recent revisions to the NDAH policy were made in September, in part to “clarify roles, responsibilities, and processes,” according to an ArchNews email.
Suplita said while he is in support of UGA’s NDAH policy and the EOO, he does not feel the investigative process was fairly handled.
He said he was not allowed to have a lawyer defend him or to know the evidence that was brought against him.
“The procedural due process is not being followed by the EOO office,” Suplita said.
Suplita said he has “every intention” of resigning based on his “exasperation and disgust” with the EOO investigation. He has until Oct. 29 to appeal the decision, but he said he does not intend to.
“I can’t imagine staying here after this. I would just be so uncomfortable,” Suplita said. “But I don’t want other people in the future to end up in the same type of situation.”
Suplita said the policy itself is in fact a good one.
“Real harassment goes on, real discrimination goes on, and they need to be very vigilant of that and have a good, strong system in place for dealing with that,” he said.
However, Suplita said he hopes to see the policy or investigative process changed so that no UGA employee has to go through unfair treatment in the future.
“This is one of those situations where the policy is being abused to hurt people and not help anybody,” he said.