JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – At least two years before East Tennessee State University began the termination process for tenured music professor and Director of Jazz Studies Dr. David Champouillon, administrators were aware of some of his alleged inappropriate sexual comments, according to university records.
As we reported Monday, ETSU is trying to fire Dr. Champouillon following substantiated sexual harassment complaints by two faculty members. He has denied the allegations and is fighting the proposed termination.
ETSU suspended him with pay in September, citing his past intimidating and threatening behavior, which included “counseling memoranda, police reports, disciplinary proceedings and significant complaints by your immediate supervisors, colleagues in the Department of Music, students and community members,” according to a September 27, 2016 suspension letter from the university to him.
His November 3, 2016 termination letter identified dozens of instances of inappropriate behavior dating back to at least 2009. According to the letter, ETSU has disciplined the man multiple times over the last several years for intimidating and unprofessional behavior, workplace bullying and insubordinate behavior, treatment of colleagues and treatment of students. Records show colleagues perceived his treatment of them as a threat.
Fear of retaliation is something both faculty members who filed sexual harassment complaints late last year said they worried about, according to ETSU records. In fact, both said they didn’t file formal complaints sooner, because of that fear.
Records show one of the women said she first raised concerns to the dean in May 2014.
“I told him about some of the inappropriate sexual comments that David had made to me, and explained that I was trying my best to be a productive faculty member and was devoted to my job, but that the atmosphere in the music department was toxic and dysfunctional, and that I felt David’s behavior was harassment,” she said in her complaint. “…I explained that his bullying and intimidation was ongoing, and that my complaints to my previous chair and current interim chair had not led to any change in David’s behavior. Dean (Dr. Gordon) Anderson stated that David had a history of behaving inappropriately. Dean Anderson seemed sympathetic and advised that I speak to Mary Jordan (Special Assistant to the President for Equity and Diversity), because it was her job to handle these types of situations.”
The woman said she also reported concerns to Music Department Chair Dr. Maria Niederberger in November 2014.
“I told Maria that David also made inappropriate comments about students to me,” she said in her complaint. “He has commented several times that a former student in his jazz band looked great in her instrument harness because it “enhanced her assets” (implying breasts). I told her that a student had confided to me that David was discussing…me with the students in jazz band class, telling them that he was wondering what I would be like in bed because I am athletic…I asked Maria if the university would actually do something if people field formal complaints against David? Maria stated that she thought if something could be done about David, it probably would have happened already.”
The woman even considered an anonymous formal complaint in November 2014, but opted against filing, because she was afraid Dr. Champouillon would target her efforts for tenure and promotion, according to ETSU documents.
Records show she said she also talked with Jordan in June 2015 about her concerns about ongoing sexual harassment.
“I asked her if there was any way that I could informally complain, so that I could hopefully avoid retaliation from Champouillon,” she said in her complaint. “She told me that the university was well aware of Champouillon’s inappropriate behavior, and that it had been well documented. She also stated that it was too late, and that the time to address David Champouillon’s inappropriate behavior…was before he had earned tenure. Now that he had tenure, their hands were tied….Jordan told me that they had always looked at each individual complaint against David Champouillon individually, and that they were considering the possibility of looking at them collectively.”
ETSU records show Dr. Champouillon obtained tenure in 2004.
The woman and her colleague formally complained in September 2016.
“Any time a formal complaint is made of sexual harassment or there’s been a violation of the policy we have a Title IX investigator that will review the matter,” ETSU spokesperson Joe Smith said. “You have to have a formal complaint filed in order to conduct an investigation.”
Smith said the university doesn’t talk about specific personnel investigations, but said even informal complaints receive attention.
“While a formal complaint is necessary for a formal investigation to occur, there is some informal investigation that can occur when an informal complaint is made,” he said. “However, our work is limited in those situations.”
In addition to denying the allegations, Dr. Champouillon has denied threatening colleagues.
“I hold NO sway or influence on anyone in the department,” he said in his response to the complaints. “There is no possibility of retaliation from me.”
He and his attorney Jim Culp maintain disgruntled faculty and former students aren’t telling the truth about the longtime professor.
“He has not done those things. He has not harassed anyone,” Culp said. “He’s a fine man who’s an asset to the community…There are a few who resent him deeply.”
As we reported Monday, ETSU is trying to fire Dr. Champouillon for what’s called “Capricious disregard of accepted standards of professional conduct.” That is one of only seven reasons why the university can fire a tenured professor, according to policy. Others included failure to maintain a certain level of professional excellence and ability demonstrated by other members of the faculty in the department or academic program unit of the university” and “Willful failure to perform the duties and responsibilities for which the faculty member was employed or refusal or continued failure to comply with the policies of the Board, the university or the department, or to carry out specific assignments, when such policies or assignments are reasonable and non-discriminatory.”
The internal investigation found since 2009, Dr. Champouillon has also not fulfilled all of his teaching duties.
Dr. Champouillon is not charged with any crime.
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