Harassment `will not be tolerated' at FSU

In the wake of a law professor's suspension, the school's dean reasserts the university's official policy.

By Gary Fineout and Leonora LaPeter

  1. Following the suspension of a veteran law school professor, the acting dean of the Florida State University law school on Monday asserted that sexual harassment would not be tolerated and urged students to come forward with any concerns or complaints.

  2. Speaking to a room of nearly 50 students, faculty and law school employees in the student lounge at B.K. Roberts Hall, Don Weidner also said he believes members of the legal profession need to treat each other in a way that "we spread dignity, rather than disservice and embarrassment."

  3. Weidner called the meeting at the urging of several female professors after FSU officials last week suspended Professor Bill McHugh while they conduct an investigation into whether he exposed himself to a student. McHugh has denied the charge.

  4. McHugh, who will still earn his $86,824 salary, was barred from any further contact with students after second-year law student Wendy Stein filed a complaint last week saying that McHugh showed her his genitalia while she was in his office.

  5. But instead of talking directly about the McHugh incident, as some students and faculty had expected, Weidner reviewed FSU's official harassment policy.

  6. "I am not here to talk about any particular faculty member," said Weidner. "It would be unfair to criticize any particular faculty member. The basic policy is that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, and no racial harassment will be tolerated."

  7. The question of whether FSU has tolerated such behavior has been at the heart of the McHugh controversy. There have been numerous official and unofficial complaints about the behavior of the 64-year-old professor, who has taught at FSU since 1973.

  8. FSU President Sandy D'Alemberte reprimanded McHugh in 1997 after a university investigation into a complaint that McHugh subjected a black female law student to racist and sexist remarks and unfair treatment. An investigator ruled the complaint was justified and recommended disciplinary action against McHugh.

  9. Weidner on Monday also steered conversation away from any particular incidents that students or employees wanted to discuss. He instead asked them to formally or informally bring their concerns to law school officials.

  10. Mara Levy, a first-year law student, said she was glad to see the policy. But she noted sexual harassment is not just a problem at FSU's College of Law.

  11. "Some people are sexually harassed here as they are elsewhere," said Levy, 27. "We need a legitimate policy, but we're not totally surrounded by (sexual harassment)."

  12. Only a few people spoke at Monday's forum. A law school library employee, who refused to give her name, urged Weidner to require faculty to adhere to a professional dress code.

  13. "If you feel uncomfortable because you had too much for lunch, you need to lock your door," the library employee said. In Stein's complaint against McHugh she said that when she first entered his office, the professor's Bermuda shorts were unsnapped.

  14. Several professors said the meeting was a good first step toward addressing a long-standing problem.

  15. "I think it was a helpful beginning to what I expect should be and will be a long dialogue," said Ann McGinley, an employment discrimination professor.

  16. Gary Fineout can be reached at 222-6729. His e-mail address is gfineout@tdo.infi.net . Leonora LaPeter can be reached at 599-2306. Her e-mail address is llapeter@taldem.com.

  17. Posted at 1:05 a.m. EDT Tuesday, June 16, 1998
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This is a page in the section entitled Why Can't Law Schools Teach Ethics? --FSU in the Web site entitled Legal Reform through Transforming the Discipline of Law into a Science .