Florida State University campus. Credit: Diane Rado.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story about sexual harassment and misconduct allegations between a professor and female students and faculty during a period of more than 30 years at Florida State University. The professor resigned last year.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida State University has launched a university-wide effort to address handling of sexual harassment cases, adopting new rules after a widely-known Askew School of Public Administration and Policy professor — Richard Feiock — was accused of sexually harassing students and faculty for more than a 30-year period.
Feiock, who resigned last year, helped the university obtain millions of dollars in grant money to help the school, but left a stain that has sent officials scrambling to create new rules to address situations where faculty members sexually harass students – or each other.
A newly formed task force has been studying ways to better handle allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct at the entire university. It expects to complete a report in early January.
Last month, the Askew School faculty unanimously adopted a new set of rules making it clear that faculty and staff must avoid manipulation, coercion or exploitation of students, especially acts involving monetary, ego, sexual, religious and ethnic discrimination. They ban staff and faculty from dating students and having a romantic or sexual relationship while they are teaching or supervising that student.
The new rules forbid sexual harassment in the form of unwanted sexual attention and note the “power imbalance’’ between students and faculty. Faculty members are also on notice that they should not send messages to students that could make them feel uncomfortable or any message not directly related to work duties.
The rules also say supervisors at the Askew School should not ask students out to have drinks or to meet them alone for meals or other activities off campus.
Several of the women who accused Feiock of sexually harassing them said he frequently asked students and some faculty members to join him at local bars and restaurants, according to FSU investigative reports obtained by the Florida Phoenix. Some students accused Feiock of consuming too many alcoholic beverages at these gatherings, the reports said.
Former FSU President John Thrasher immediately banned Feiock from campus when the accusations against him surfaced in January 2020. Feiock was allowed to quietly resign in March 2020, a day before he was scheduled to appear before university investigators and answer questions. His resignation was effective July 31, 2020.
Complaints against Feiock dated back to 1988, the year he joined the faculty. The Florida Phoenix earlier wrote extensively about the complaints, which included sexually suggestive emails and pictures, including a picture of what investigators believe was Feiock’s penis, according to records.
A spokesman said new FSU president Richard McCullough, who came recently from Harvard University, is familiar with the Feiock case, which was resolved before McCullough became president in August.
“President McCullough is committed to fostering a campus culture that is safe, respectful and free of all forms of sexual harassment and misconduct,’’ said FSU Communications Director Dennis Schnittker. “He has no tolerance for this behavior and is confident FSU has the proper prevention and intervention policies and procedures in place.’’
Dr. Frances Berry, a long time professor and supervisor at the Askew School, is a member of the new university wide task force and handled some of the complaints about Feiock. Berry said McCullough has already asked for a copy of the upcoming report.
Asked what former Gov. Reubin Askew, the namesake of the school, would think of the situation, Berry said: “He would be very disheartened and probably find it hard to understand how it could happen.”
Askew was a straitlaced official who didn’t even allow alcohol to be served at the governor’s mansion. After leaving the governor’s office in 1979, Askew joined the faculty of the school and remained a teacher with an office on campus until his death in 2014.
In addition to the action being taken at FSU, more than 300 university professors, editors of professional journals and top scholars in political science and public affairs have signed on to a circulating petition that asks the major professional journals and associations to revoke Feiock’s memberships.
The National Academy of Public Administration removed Feiock as a Fellow of the Academy and FSU officials say he has resigned from several other associations. The petition circulated among university professors and former colleagues included a news story about the sexual harassment complaints against him published by the Florida Phoenix earlier this year.
Many of those who signed the petition are former FSU graduates now teaching at universities all over the world. Others are current members of the FSU faculty who worked beside Feiock until he resigned.
Dr. Sarah Young, who teaches at the University of North Georgia, said those who signed the petition included a “who’s who of public affairs academia and many former FSU students and faculty members.’’ Some had been star students of Feiock, said Young, who completed her PhD at FSU. The group includes professors at most major universities in the United States as well as universities in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, Korea and Morocco.
Young and Dr. Kimberly K. Wiley of the University of Florida, recently co-authored a report on sexual misconduct among college professors. Their work blames some of the problems on the unbalanced student-professor power and the absence of checks and balances that lets misconduct proliferate.
“Public affairs education programs are still plagued with professors who abuse their positions of power to coerce students into sexual relationships and face little to no recourse,’’ the two faculty members noted. “Higher education systems are designed to support a culture of complicity and complacency around sexual misconduct.’’
“Here in the Ivory Tower, it does not feel like there has been much progress,’’ they said.
“Even when sexual misconduct is found, too many universities allow professors guilty of sexual misconduct to quietly disappear with little fanfare,” they note. “Just the fear of retaliation makes it less likely a student will report a professor who can determine grades and much of their future.’’
Correction: Gov. Reubin Askew left the governor’s office in 1979. An earlier version of the story used an incorrect date.
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