ETSU professors who filed sexual harassment complaints relieved, question past action

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – Two East Tennessee State University professors who filed sexual harassment complaints against a tenured music professor are “relieved” the university’s president fired Dr. David Champouillon, according to their advisor Bart Rowlett.

The Kingsport attorney said the two feel “justified” by the outcome of the case involving their colleague.

“I would say relieved would be a good word to use,” Rowlett said. “They feel like they were given the opportunity to be heard, that their allegations were taken seriously.”

Now that Dr. Champouillon is no longer employed by ETSU, Rowlett says the two music professors are ready to dedicate all of their energy to their careers at the university without distraction.

“They’re looking forward,” he said. “I just think at this time they’re ready to put the matter behind them and move on.”

Although Rowlett says his clients applaud the university’s efforts to fully investigate their sexual harassment concerns starting last fall, he says they’re still left wondering “what if?”

“Both of my clients would’ve liked to have not had to gone through the process and would’ve, I’m sure, preferred that the situation had been better addressed in the past, which would have potentially negated the need for them to make complaints,” he said. “I would say that they feel if the university had perhaps maybe taken stronger action in the past, then the conduct that they endured may have not occurred.”

Our Community Watchdog investigation revealed ETSU struck a deal with Dr. Champouillon in 2010 after allegations involving his use of profanity, his treatment of students and comments about a community member. The university let him keep his job, but warned repeat conduct would result in termination.

Almost two years later, ETSU counseled him for intimidating behavior toward a colleague, according to university records.

By 2014, university records show one of the two professors first notified administrators of inappropriate sexual comments and harassment, but did not file a formal complaint, because she said she was afraid of retaliation. She addressed her concerns in 2015 too informally, according to university records.

ETSU counseled Dr. Champouillon again for his behavior in 2015 and then one more time in April 2016, according to university records.

The two faculty members filed formal sexual harassment complaints in September 2016.

Dr. Brian Noland took over as ETSU president in January 2012, after the settlement, but before most of the other documented problems. He says he’s not at liberty to talk about details of the case, because he expects Dr. Champouillon will appeal his termination decision.

Is the university going to do anything differently in the future to prevent anything like this from happening?” we asked him.

“I think we have pretty aggressive training exercises across campus, we work through elements of professional development at the beginning of every academic year, but as with any institution with 2,600 faculty and staff and almost 15,000 students, there are things that, for better or for worse, occur. This is a case that has a long history. I have not been present at the institution for the entirety of the history, but based upon the history that came forward in this case, there was a lot of work that went into the review, there were multiple committees that met and reviewed the charges that were brought forward against this faculty member and ultimately, I issued my decision…based upon my review of that activity and the totality of the issues that were contained therein.”

Dr. Noland says the university is committed to listening to its employees when they have concerns.

“We hope we have created a culture on campus that is open and if anyone sees anything that draws concern, be it concern from harassment, concern for waste, fraud or abuse, that they step forward and make their concerns known,” he said.

At the least, Rowlett hopes this situation inspires others who feel like they’re victims of harassment to come forward, no matter where they work. He says it all starts with educating yourself on your employer’s harassment reporting policy, getting legal help when needed and then following through.

“If the complaint is never made known, then the employer can’t even make an attempt to address it,” Rowlett said.

Dr. Champouillon’s attorney Jim Culp confirmed today his client plans on appealing his termination. Culp said he will formally file an appeal with ETSU’s Board of Trustees Thursday. Culp and Dr. Champouillon have maintained he has never harassed anyone and have denied the allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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