Bad Breakup

Professor faces possible disciplinary action after East Tennessee State review found he harassed and retaliated against a student he once dated. He lobbied against relationship policy he may have violated.

May 17, 2018
 
Anthony Masino

An associate professor of accounting at East Tennessee State University “should be held accountable” for creating a hostile environment for a student he once dated. That’s according to an investigative report on the case forwarded this month to President Brian Noland.

The professor, Anthony Masino, continued teaching throughout the investigation, as the university determined he was not an immediate risk to students. Yet multiple student, staff and faculty witnesses reported that Masino spoke poorly of the student he dated as being a "cheater" with "mental issues" during the investigatory period. The professor dated multiple other former students, according to the report.

Masino, who denies the allegations of harassment and retaliation, plans to appeal the finding. He is within the 10-day window for doing so, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Whether or not Masino violated the campus’s policy on consensual amorous relationships was not part of the investigation under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination. But Masino also is alleged to have violated the rule, on which he weighed in as a member of the Faculty Senate -- while he was dating the student. According to university records, he described the new rule as a legal vulnerability.

Based on “credible” evidence such as time-stamped photos of Masino in bed, emails and text messages, investigators determined that Masino and the student’s romantic relationship began in September 2016, when she was still his student. But Masino says the sexual relationship did not begin until December of that year, at the end of the semester

“We have an abundance of evidence to that point, which we’ll share during the appeal, and lots of things can be doctored,” said Donald Spurrell, Masino’s lawyer.

Last year, East Tennessee State terminated another professor found to have harassed students and faculty members in the music department, including by making regular sexual comments. David Champouillon, director of jazz studies, denied the allegations against him, but a committee of faculty peers that reviewed his case recommended dismissal. Unlike Masino, Champouillon was suspended during the investigation into claims against him.

‘Nothing Wrong’ With a Relationship

According to the investigative report regarding Masino, an undergraduate student filed a complaint against him in February of this year, saying that Masino pursued her for a romantic and sexual relationship in September 2016, when she was a student enrolled in his Principles of Accounting II class. The relationship lasted more than a year, she said.

The student told investigators that she initially resisted Masino’s advances over concerns about dating her professor. But Masino allegedly told her that there was “nothing wrong” with entering into a relationship, since he had helped write the university’s policy on consensual and sexual relationships.

East Tennessee State’s consensual relationship policy prohibits relationships between an “evaluative authority and any other individual over whom that person has a form of authority,” since such a connection “implies a conflict of interest.” The evaluative authority must disclose any relationship that is a potential conflict of interest to his or his supervisor, to be resolved according to the policy. Any failure to make such a report will be investigated by the Office of Equity and Diversity.

The university’s Board of Trustees approved that specific policy in June. Joe Smith, a university spokesman, said prior policies also prohibited relationships where one party had evaluative authority over the other. But that rule was articulated in more than one university document, he said, and the Faculty Senate and campus equity and diversity staff wanted it written in one common place.

Masino, who served in the senate while the policy was under revision, spoke out against it in January 2017, according to meeting minutes. In an earlier meeting, he challenged the constitutionality of prohibiting certain kinds of relationships between adults.

“In my opinion, they are opening many doors for litigation,” Masino said that January -- as he was dating the student complainant. “The policy has many holes and cannot answer very specific questions. Legally, there are issues with the policy they have created. I have not gotten my questions directly answered. I encourage everyone to put input on the website.”

Claims of Harassment and Retaliation

Soon after the relationship ended, Masino and the student had a conversation in his office about maintaining a cordial relationship within the College of Business, she told investigators. (Masino had previously shown up to her house uninvited and called her friends, pretending to be a member of their church to gather information about her, she alleged.) Masino kissed her and invited her to stay for “more free experience,” but she left the building, she said.

In the following days, Masino allegedly flipped off the student and mouthed expletives at her on campus on two separate occasions, as well as at a local Walmart. Later, he grabbed the student by her arm outside one of her classes and led her to a faculty lounge to apologize for his behavior, telling her that her “immaturity” made her unable to understand his actions, she said.

When the student brought up Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, an extracurricular service accounting program in which she hoped to participate, Masino allegedly said that another professor would oversee her participation if she passed her exams. He also professed his love for the student and said he would marry her "tomorrow," she said.

Days later, however, Masino allegedly said that he could not participate in the service program if she did.

The student said the volatility of Masino’s behavior gave her “anxiety,” made her afraid and interfered with her studies. She also alleged that Masino spread rumors that she was “crazy” and a “cheater” within the department.

Masino, meanwhile, told investigators that the student pursued him for a relationship, but he refused to date her until after grades were in. He said he probably fell in “love” with the student “before [he] ever touched her.” He described their relationship as serious, with discussions about marriage.

After the relationship ended, Masino said, the student stalked him, allegedly breaking into his home, appearing near his children’s school and sending him photographs she’d taken of his personal financial documents. He shared police reports he’d filed against the student with investigators related to some of the alleged behavior. Yet the investigative report notes that police did not find evidence enough to take action against the student. It also says there was no evidence that student had broken in to Masino's home.

Masino admitted to “interjecting” into departmental conversations about the Title IX investigation and said that students had asked him about it.

An executive aide in the business school told investigators that Masino told her that a student who had mental health issues, with whom he’d been in a relationship, was stalking him. She said she was able to identify the student in question by that conversation and others, and that Masino also accused the student of cheating on him. A business manager in the college shared a similar account.

Masino’s chair told investigators that he was aware of another prior relationship between a student and Masino, in 2013. He also said that Masino was angry and wanted him to call the police on the student complainant when she came to a volunteer tax program day in February. He eventually told Masino to go home, however, and things went smoothly.

Another professor in the department told investigators that Masino told her he’d dated a student in her class and broke up with her over her alleged cheating. The professor said she had to tell Masino not to identify the student, but that she later realized who it was anyway. Masino also insinuated that the student cheated in the colleague’s class, the professor said.

Another witness, a former student who said she began dating Masino weeks after she finished taking his course, reported that the student complainant student showed up at Masino’s house one evening earlier this year and called her names. The police were called. A former graduate student whom Masino dated in 2016 also said he’d told her about the relationship and he'd been “cheated” on.

Spurrell, Masino's lawyer, said Masino and other members of the senate raised concerns about the dating policy because they feared it "would jeopardize sovereign immunity" and therefore be unconstitutional. Yet prohibitions against relationships between students and those who have evaluative authority over them are typical on college and university campuses. A small but growing number of institutions also have banned undergraduate-faculty dating altogether. 

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