The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Lawyer: Spurned Salem State Prof Flunked co-eds

by Andrea Estes (October 26, 2000, The Boston Herald)

A Salem State political science professor tried to date two of his students and flunked them when they refused, a lawyer is charging. The women sued the professor, Adeleke Atewologun, and the school, which they say ignored not only their complaints, but earlier allegations the teacher may have been having sex with his students. ``Professor Atewologun had numerous complaints against him by students and faculty, yet no action was taken,'' charged Kathleen Daigneault, the women's lawyer. ``Salem State College has been paralyzed by this man and, through its indifference, it has failed in its duty to protect students,'' she said. Yesterday U.S. District Court Judge William Young refused to throw out Deborah Gleason's case and ordered it to trial in December. The second case, Elizabeth Gonzalez', is pending before another judge. ``This is good news,'' said Gonzalez, 27, after Young's ruling. According to Gonzalez, the professor ``began making advances'' from the first day of the foreign policy course he had urged her to take. ``He complimented me and told me how beautiful I was,'' she said. ``He commented on my legs. It was shocking. I couldn't understand how he could behave that way.'' Gonzalez says she flunked the course after rebuffing him. Gleason says she dropped out before she too could fail. Neither the professor nor the school's lawyer, Assistant Attorney General Rosemary Connolly, would comment on the charges. The professor's lawyer, Bradley MacDonald, called them ``inappropriate and inaccurate.'' But the case has sparked a sexual harassment controversy on the state-funded campus that's pitting professor against professor and raising questions about what school officials knew and when they knew it. Officials at the school said they launched an internal probe, placing the tenured professor on paid leave, as soon as they learned of the charges last year. But in depositions filed this summer, another professor picked by her colleagues to mediate disputes said school officials knew of the alleged harassment - and even alleged sexual relationships with other students - at least a year earlier. Dr. Geertje Else Wiersma, a sociology professor, said the political science department chairman told her in October 1998 that there had been serious complaints lodged before. ``I remember the day distinctly,'' said Wiersma in her deposition. ``He said `It has happened in the past . . . there were three to five.' ``There were five students in the past who alleged sexual impropriety by Dr. Atewologun including - and that's what he was very upset about - sexual intimacy,'' she said. The chairman told her he had gone immediately to the college president, Dr. Nancy Harrington, a story Harrington confirmed in her own deposition. But rather than act on the ``sordid'' history, Wiersma said, the administration actually made him a full professor, overruling a promotions committee which had recommended against it. ``To have him promoted with this record including sexual harassment allegations . . . I felt was not speaking well for the college,'' said Wiersma. Dr. Albert J. Hamilton, Salem State's academic vice president, said the school launched a probe as soon as formal complaints were filed in 1999. ``The college has had for a long time a policy against sexual harassment and discrimination and encourages the reporting of formal complaints,'' he said. ``According to that policy, two female students brought complaints to the college in 1999. Therefore, the college began its investigation in April 1999.'' If school officials were alerted to any allegations before that, he said, he wasn't aware of it. ``I'm a lawyer. I deal with evidence and not rumors or innuendo,'' said MacDonald. ``There is no evidence there were similar instances. Nobody has come forward. They (other professors) all have axes to grind. That's what you're dealing with.'' And many other professors have taken Atewologun's side. A faculty committee voted, 5-0, against stripping him of his tenure, according to one. ``Allegations float around various times about different people,'' said the professor, who asked not to be named. ``When push comes to shove they are hard to substantiate, particularly when they're disputed.'' Though officials moved to ``de-tenure'' him, she said, they never raised allegations of sexual harassment or abuse. Meanwhile, Gonzalez and Gleason say they wouldn't be in court now had the school simply apologized. ``I reached out to the chairman of the department,'' said Gonzalez. ``I trusted in him and told him what had happened. To this day, no one has done anything.''