Students expressed their concerns for safety and transparency at a Town hall meeting on Tuesday at Montgomery Ross Fisher Building. The meeting was organized by Student Organization, a group within the School of Social Work that provides a working relationship between students, faculty and administration.
The concerns stem from the administration's response, or lack thereof, after a Ph.D. student was allegedly sexually harassed by Dr. Erick Guerrero in January of 2017. The student, Karissa Fenwick, 34, says the university found her claims to be truthful based on evidence but did not remove Dr. Guerrero from teaching or having contact with other students.
It was not until she filed a formal lawsuit against Dr. Guerrero and the university that changes were made. "Nothing would have happened [if] she had not come forward," Robin Petering, a fifth-year doctoral student, said.
Professor Ron Astor informed students that the "faculty is on [their] side" as they work to implement a task force that will be responsible for cultivating new policies and guidelines for behavior and administration response to sexual misconduct and harassment.
Provost Michael Quick also attended a portion of the meeting and assured students he is lobbying the university administration to enable USC to be the leading edge in preventing sexual harassment.
"We have to get this right. We must continue to work to make it right and to earn your trust," Quick expressed to the students, "We have to do a better job across the [entire] university."
Dean Marilyn Flynn reassured students that Dr. Guerrero will not be teaching for the remainder of this school year and the following two years. She also ensured that he will not be advising any graduate students at USC, nor will he have communication with graduate students who have enlisted in his research projects. For now, a project coordinator will be working with them.
Despite Dean Flynn's efforts to keep Dr. Guerrero from further contact with students, under the current university policy, he still has the right to visit and come to campus for meetings as a tenured professor.
Students in attendance at the meeting expressed troubling feelings in regard to the absence of a dismissal for Dr. Guerrero. "We don't feel safe on campus right now," says Kate Sullivan, a fifth-year doctoral student.
Dean Flynn says she does not have the authority to dismiss Dr. Guerrero because he is a tenured professor. That decision is up to the Provost and Academic Senate.
Students felt most concerned with the fact that they did not know about these allegations until just recently. One student even mentioned she works on Dr. Guerrero's research team and discovered the news via social media.
Professor Astor said, "The faculty is just as unaware of situations as students are."
The task force will be holding its first meeting on Wednesday, and they look to respond to all student concerns submitted to the online forum set up by the administration as quickly as possible.