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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Another case of sexual harassment and institutional inaction--this time at Ohio State University. And it's anthropology again. [[Update Dec 5, 2019: Grimstead is resigning]]

Deanna Grimstead
On August 24, 2015, Christina Cunningham of Ohio State University's Office of Human Resources submitted a six-page "case report" to the university's executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the college's chief human resources officer. The title was: "Allegations of violation of the Sexual Harassment policy against Dr. Deanna Grimstead."

Grimstead is a zooarchaeologist and evolutionary ecologist in OSU's anthropology department. She is apparently also a talented and popular instructor of undergraduate students, winning the 2017-2018 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award.

The case report described an investigation into complaints by an individual referred to as "Student #1"--who was a graduate student in the department at the time--that Grimstead had "made physical contact" with her in a way "that was described as inappropriate and unwanted." During the investigation, Grimstead denied the allegations against her, but was unable to come up with what the investigator considered a plausible reason for why false accusations might have been made. Moreover, the report refers to the reluctance with which Student #1 participated in this formal proceeding, pointing out that this student did not initiate the complaint herself.

Cunningham's conclusion, stated on the last page of the report, was that "[b]ased on the preponderance standard of evidence it is more likely than not that Dr. Grimstead engaged in unwelcome physical conduct of a sexual nature in violation of the university's Sexual Harassment Policy..." Cunningham further concluded that there was "sufficient evidence" of a violation, and dictated six "Action Steps" to be taken. They included moving on to a formal disciplinary proceeding against Grimstead; suspension of her teaching duties while the proceeding went ahead; and a ban on contact with students while the case was ongoing; and a prohibition on taking any retaliatory action against anyone connected with the case.

However, according to multiple witnesses, the case concerning Grimstead has not been resolved after several years. Moreover, according to some of these sources, most of the faculty have been kept in the dark about what is going on. Grimstead is still in the department, and still teaching students. Thus the anthropology department Web site has her tentatively down to teach four courses in the fall 2019 semester. Meanwhile, a second and more recent investigation, involving another student, is currently under way, based on additional and credible allegations of harassment.

In my own reporting on this case, I spoke to Student #1, as well as a former graduate student I will refer to as Student #2. Student #2 also relates that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by Grimstead; the second investigation of Grimstead, based on these allegations and allegations concerning other students as well, was reportedly conducted in 2017-2018, and completed late last year. No action has yet been taken on its conclusions, however.

The department chair at the time of the 2015 events, Clark Spencer Larsen, reportedly took no action of his own; he has told me that he cannot comment on the case. (Full disclosure: I have known Larsen for many years and have written about his research, as well as solicited his comments on the research of others.) The current department chair, Kristen Gremillion, has not responded to requests for comment.

In the case report, Student #1 is described as telling the investigator that Grimstead behaved "in a flirtatious and inappropriate manner at times." More than once, Student #1 said, Grimstead told her, "You should just sleep with me." Student #1 went on to describe an incident when she and Grimstead were sitting together at a table with other colleagues. "...Dr. Grimstead touched the complainant's breasts over the complainant's shirt four times," the report states. Student #1 told her to stop, but "Dr. Grimstead continued to engage in the unwanted touching." Finally, Grimstead put her hand under the table and touched Student #1's vagina over her clothing, the report relates. At that point Student #1, upset, left the table.

In her interview with me, Student #1 confirmed the details in the case report. She emphasized that she had never intended to file a complaint, but felt forced to cooperate with the investigation after another individual she had told about the incidents reported them to human resources (under the principle of a "duty to report.") Student #1 adds that during the investigation and after, Larsen, the department chair, had no contact with her at all. "He seemed very reluctant to deal with it," she told me. As for why she is willing to talk to a reporter now, she says, "I don't want other students to experience what I went through."

Student #2 is also a former graduate student in the anthropology department. She told me that Grimstead's harassment behavior was well known among students there, and that there was a "whisper network" of perhaps seven or eight students who kept in touch about her allegedly repetitive conduct. Student #2 says that Grimstead would "directly proposition me," telling her she should leave her boyfriend of the time and take up with her. She also was told by others that Grimstead would make comments about her appearance behind her back, "how hot I was." Student #2 says that the harassment continued until she found a way to distance herself from Grimstead (I am deleting some details to protect the privacy and anonymity of the students.)

In one incident during the spring 2015 semester, much discussed by students in the department, Grimstead was teaching an undergraduate class when one graduate student happened to be walking by. Grimstead reportedly stumbled out of the classroom and into the hallway, evidently severely inebriated. According to a graduate student who tried to help her and eventually called emergency services, Grimstead admitted to drinking both whiskey and taking oxycontin at the same time (according to this student, Grimstead had recently had an operation and was taking oxycontin for the pain.) The student says that Grimstead was out for about a week after this episode, but then returned to teaching. (While Grimstead told the investigator that she had used a prescription drug while teaching, she denied that this incident took place.)

As for why the department and the university appear to have done little about Grimstead nor seriously tried to curtail her behavior, sources who spoke to me about that issue said they could only speculate. One possibility, they said, is that Grimstead is very public and vocal about suffering from bipolar disorder, and that the university may be afraid to take action against her for fear of being sued for medical or disability discrimination. My own experience in reporting on #MeToo cases suggests another possibility, which is that the department and OSU have sought above all to protect their reputations. As many readers will know, OSU is currently in the middle of another scandal involving severe misconduct about which it did nothing for many years.

And, as it turns out, the lead investigator on the case involving Student #2, Jonathan Parry, was accused by another student of bias against her when he was handling her case against the director of the Center for Automotive Research, Giorgio Rizzoni--yet another episode that raised questions about how seriously OSU handles sexual misconduct complaints.

Unfortunately, with their silence, leaders of the anthropology department and the OSU administration have encouraged such speculations. If there is another explanation, they can end the speculation by breaking their silence and opting for transparency, as all institutions should in such situations. Most importantly, on the face of it, OSU's anthropology faculty appear to have passively accepted the university's insistence on secrecy in these investigations for five years or more, and failed in their duty to protect the graduate students who have been targeted by Grimstead. This passivity may well be responsible for Grimstead continuing her abusive behavior well after the 2015 findings against her.

Students #1 and #2 both told me they thought Grimstead should be dismissed from the university. As Student #2 put it: "I firmly believe that she is not fit to interact with students and that she is a danger to the people with whom she works. It is unacceptable that she is still employed with the university and that OSU should be held accountable for endangering the lives of students and faculty."

I have reached out twice to Deanna Grimstead, asking for comment and for her side of the story. So far she has not responded. If she does, or if other details or developments emerge in this case, I will update this report whenever necessary.


Update July 18, 2019: As should have been implied above, the case involving Student #2 was formally investigated by OSU's Office of Human Resources, and I have now obtained access to the Case Report. It is dated October 23, 2018, and the investigation was carried out by Jonathan Parry of HR (mentioned also above in a troubling context.) This investigation actually involved allegations concerning three students. Parry concluded that the allegations concerning the other two were not sufficiently corroborated, but he did find that in the case of Student #2 "there is sufficient evidence that Prof. Grimstead violated the university's Sexual Misconduct policy 1.15 that was in effect at the time of the alleged behavior."

Although Grimstead denied all of the allegations against her, Parry concluded that her credibility was seriously compromised by the existence of both email evidence and corroborating witnesses for certain alleged incidents. As one example, she denied showing up at a Halloween party at which students were present wearing a "risque" costume, despite testimony from at least two witnesses that she in fact had done so. (As before, I am being sparing with the details to protect the privacy of the students and their identities.)

During this investigation, as in the previous episode described above, Grimstead asserted that the allegations against her were motivated in part by anti-LGBTQ bias on the part of some of the students. Nevertheless, Parry did not appear to accept that explanation when making his findings, and the students involved have denied any such attitudes in their discussions with me.

The Case Report also revealed some additional details about the earlier, 2015 Title IX investigation I described above. Parry noted that previous investigation, and the findings against Grimstead at that time. Parry states that after those findings were finalized, she was subject to a faculty disciplinary process, "which included a review and recommendations by a faculty investigative committee." This faculty committee--which may not have included any of the anthropology faculty--recommended that Grimstead not be fired. It appears the anthropology faculty were mostly kept in the dark about the allegations, however; some sources have told me that the anthropology faculty were never told the detailed accusations concerning Grimstead and might also have given her the benefit of the doubt. (The department chair at that time, Clark Larsen, declined to speak to me about the matter.)

Parry quotes from the faculty committee as follows: "We found no clear and convincing evidence that Dr. Grimstead had engaged in a pattern of bad or predatory behavior. We therefore focused only on...one incident of April 2014. While we agree that the behavior of  Dr. Grimstead that night was flagrant and egregious, there are too many mental health issues for us to be able too confidently concluded that the behavior was willful."

It now appears that, with two investigations finding that Grimstead engaged in misconduct, the "pattern" the disciplinary committee was seeking is clearly demonstrated. In concluding his Case Report, Parry mandated that another disciplinary proceeding against Grimstead should begin. As I write, that process appears to be currently under way; however, Grimstead is still tentatively scheduled to teach several courses this coming fall semester.

A student speaks.

To add to the above, a graduate student in the OSU anthropology department, Nikki Weiss, has sent me the following statement to be published here. What I find really striking is that over all the years that Grimstead has been harassing students, and through two Title IX investigations, not one member of the OSU anthropology faculty emerged as an advocate for the students. They had to do it all themselves. Let's hope that changes at long last.

"I served as Graduate Teaching Fellow during the 2018-2019 academic year for the Department of Anthropology at Ohio State. As GTF, I mentored 25 Graduate Teaching Associates in the department. Establishing this dialogue between myself and other graduate students gave me greater insight into certain struggles my peers faced, and I soon became aware of numerous incidents regarding Grimstead’s behavior. As these incidents alarmed me and made me fear for the safety of both undergraduate and graduate students, I sought out multiple meetings with the chair of the Department of Anthropology. No action that I am aware of was taken by the department to address my concerns. I met with the interim executive dean and vice provost of the College of Arts and Sciences. No action that I am aware of was taken by the university to address my concerns. I began voicing my concerns during fall 2018. It is now summer 2019, and no action that I am aware of has been taken. I do not believe the university has adequately protected its students in this case. Furthermore, I have little faith that future incidents will be handled any better. I am speaking out to urge the university to address these concerns, and – just as importantly – to overhaul the way in which similar cases are handled in the future. The safety and lives of Ohio State students depend on it."


Update August 10, 2019:

At long last, Ohio State has officially acknowledged that Deanna Grimstead is currently subject to a university disciplinary proceeding as a result of sexual misconduct findings against her in a Title IX investigation. This is the second such investigation into Grimstead's behavior, and both of them resulted in referrals for faculty disciplinary action. In the first case, as described above, she was allowed to keep her job; the second case is pending. Also, as I indicate above, I am in possession of both case reports via sources close to the situation.

However, a number of weeks ago I made a public records request for the second investigative report in an attempt to get the university on the record about these matters, about which it previously had declined to comment. That request has finally been granted and I now have a redacted version of the report. Although it is now a public record, I think that my original description of it above suffices to provide the necessary details and so I will not reproduce any more of it here.

In sending it to me, Chris Davey, OSU's Associate Vice President for University Communications, provided the following statement. It appears that pending the outcome of the disciplinary proceeding, Grimstead is only being allowed to teach online courses. If I had to guess at this point, I would speculate that the university is working its way towards terminating Grimstead's employment, after having allowed her to have continued contact with students these past four years since the original Title IX findings. If that does happen, it will be thanks to a brave group of current and former graduate students in the OSU anthropology department, who finally took action when their university and anthropology faculty would not. It is very unfortunate that the most vulnerable young researchers have to take matters into their own hands and cannot rely on senior, tenured colleagues and university administrators to protect them.

Michael: This is in response to your public records request. Please see attached. Personally identifiable student information has been redacted in accordance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA") 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99. When made aware of these allegations, Ohio State launched a thorough HR investigation, which has concluded. The matter is currently proceeding through the faculty disciplinary process according to the university’s faculty rules. Deanna Grimstead is assigned to teach online this semester.

Chris Davey


Update Dec 5, 2019: Grimstead has finally agreed to resign. Here is the announcement from the current department chair. It's just a shame it took so many years for OSU to do the right thing.

All,

Deanna Grimstead has submitted a letter of resignation from the university effective January 1, 2020.  I have accepted her resignation.

Kris Gremillion

Kristen J. Gremillion
Professor and ChairCollege of the Arts and Sciences Department of Anthropology



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