I have mixed emotions concerning Abbott’s retirement. On one hand he can be credited for advancing the USD brand in many areas. One area stands, however, as a glaring exception. That is the area of sexual harassment/assault on campus.
For example, there is a current USD faculty member that was investigated for sexual harassment in 1999. The accusations were credible, not denied by the accused and corroborating witnesses were available as reported in The Volante in September 1999. But he was allowed to retain his position because the harassment occurred in a Vermillion restaurant, where the female USD student/victim was a waitress.
He reportedly told her that he would not leave a tip because her breasts were too small. Since gaining tenure, he has added to his illustrious resume arrests for drunk driving — his second offense (2007) — spending 10 days in jail, simple assault (2005), domestic violence simple assault (2005), child abuse (2005) and disorderly conduct (2005).
Separately, accusations of sexual harassment were brought against a prominent USD department chairman. While he was forced to give up his chairmanship, he retained his well paid tenured faculty position (This was also abundantly covered by The Volante in the Fall of 1997), routinely interacting with female students, until years later he was forced to retire because he engaged in sex with a USD graduate student.
Facts are stubborn things — anyone can examine the news coverage of these incidents in the USD library’s microfilms of The Volante, Vermillion Plain Talk and The Yankton Press & Dakotan.
Recently, two USD football players have been arrested for sexual assault. Although suspended from the football team, they are allowed to continue to attend classes. Thus, they continue to interact with female students on campus. The university’s discussed the damage this incident did to USD’s reputation — little was said about the victim or other student’s safety concerns. Common sense and public safety dictates the suspension of any student accused and pending adjudication for a violent sexual crime.
These were and are glaring failures of the top university leadership. There should be a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment and assault in the public university system. Had these men been employed in private business they would have been terminated/repudiated forthwith, as recent events illustrate. Failing to hold perpetrators responsible sends the chilling message to victims that their claims and their word is less important than the university’s concern for its reputation.
Dr. Aaron Robert Woodard
USD SGA President 1994-1995
USD BA 1995
USD MA 1998
Ph.D. Trinity Saint David University-United Kingdom 2010
16 years higher education professorial teaching experience