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Thursday, April 4, 2019

University of Alaska, Anchorage Chancellor Upholds #MeToo Charges Against Archaeologist David Yesner and Bans Him From the University of Alaska System

David Yesner
On April 1, the Chancellor of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, Cathy Sandeen, issued her final decision on the Title IX investigation of archaeologist David Yesner. According to the investigation, students at UAA had suffered decades of harassment (and in at least one case, assault) at the hands of Yesner. From time to time the students made efforts to report the abuse, but were discouraged from taking it any further.

Until, that is, Yesner retired from UAA and requested emeritus status. That was the final straw for nine students, who filed a series of complaints and asked that the emeritus request be denied. The university administration was reportedly slow to act at first, but that seems to have changed once Sandeen became Chancellor. Students and faculty credit her with taking decisive action once the facts were clear.

Yesner declined to participate in the investigation or defend himself, and he has not appealed the findings of guilty as charged. In a letter dated April 1, Sandeen detailed her decision, which includes a total ban for Yesner from all University of Alaska property and activity (see below.)

I am in possession of the letter. Although the names of the nine victims/survivors are redacted, I am only going to excerpt the key parts below so there is reduced possibility that they might be identified.

The letter begins with a SUMMARY OF FINDINGS. Yesner was found guilty of four counts of "sex discrimination and sexual harassment" against eight victims, and "sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault" against a ninth woman. In addition, Yesner's "conduct in its totality was sufficiently severe, pervasive, and persistent and was both subjectively and objectively offensive as to deny or limit the female students' and staffs' ability to perform their jobs or engage in university programs."

Yesner was also found guilty of possessing exploitative photos of female students, and violated university regulations against possessing "obscene material" on his university computer (pornographic photos and videos.)

In all, Sandeen upheld eight counts of misconduct against Yesner.

In the section marked SANCTIONS, Sandeen outlines what sources at UAA tell me are the maximum penalties that she was allowed to impose. These include a permanent ban from "all property owned, controlled, or used by the University of Alaska System" and from "programs or activities of any kind." In bold face, Sandeen states: "Appearance in any such locations may result in arrest and prosecution for criminal trespass..." and that this ban will be circulated to the University of Alaska community.

In a subsequent section, Sandeen bans Yesner from any kind of association with the University of Alaska, including programs or activities conducted by third parties in which university students are involved, including, of course, any anthropological digs.

Speaking for myself, as a reporter who has followed this case for many months, I hope this severe punishment will serve as a warning to any other academics inclined to abuse or harass their students. The days when such conduct will be tolerated are thankfully nearing an end, thanks to the brave students and faculty who blew the whistle on Yesner after so many years of predatory misconduct.


Addendum: Although the university itself declined to provide me a copy of this letter, citing Title IX confidentiality restrictions, it did provide me with the following additional information:

"At this time, the university is conducting a supplemental investigation to pin down the details of past reports, and will hold employees accountable if they failed to take appropriate action. In addition, Chancellor Sandeen has asked the University of Alaska's Chief Human Resources Officer Keli McGee to focus on how we foster a culture where complaints are welcomed and responded to appropriately."

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