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Sexual Harassment Incident Led To Ouster Of Top Academic Officer

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Dr. Han Reichgelt was ousted as the university’s top academic administrator in February 2015 after he propositioned a female professor and made sexually offensive remarks.


The abrupt departure of Reichgelt, just eight months after he was hired, has been shrouded in secrecy since he was transferred to a nine-month online teaching post in the College of Business and ordered to attend diversity training off campus.

Han Reichgelt: Top academic administrator removed from his position in Feb. 2015. Courtesy of USF St. Petersburg
Han Reichgelt: Top academic administrator
removed from his position in Feb. 2015. Courtesy of USF St. Petersburg


But records obtained by the Crow’s Nest show that Reichgelt admitted making sexual advances and engaging in unwelcome conduct toward the professor while they were attending an off-campus event in late 2014.


Shocked, the professor reported the incident to university administrators. They investigated and concluded on Jan. 14, 2015, that Reichgelt had violated the university’s policies on diversity and equal opportunity and sexual misconduct/sexual harassment.


Seven weeks later, Reichgelt resigned at the direction of Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska, who offered no public explanation for a move that stunned the campus.


USF St. Petersburg administrators remained mum on the case, saying that the university does not comment on personnel matters, until last week, when advised that the Crow’s Nest was preparing a news story on the reasons behind Reichgelt’s ouster.


In a written response to inquiries made by the Crow’s Nest, Dr. Chitra Iyer, the associate vice chancellor for administration, said that the university reacted promptly to the complaint, investigated it thoroughly and then took “prompt corrective action.”


Reichgelt resigned, with “a substantial reduction in pay,” completed the required training and continued teaching because he “is a tenured faculty member,” Iyer wrote.

Asked if the female professor was satisfied by the university’s response, Iyer responded, “We can’t speak for the complainant.”


Reichgelt, who is teaching four online business courses this semester, declined to comment, referring the newspaper to Iyer. “The matter is settled,” he said.


Records show that the female professor – whose name is blacked out in the records – and Reichgelt were socializing at a bar during an off-campus event when the incident occurred.


According to the professor, Reichgelt put his arm around her waist, tried to kiss her and asked her to have sex with him.


His invitation – which the stunned professor rebuffed – followed what she later called “overall misogynistic talk about how women have but should not have all the power when it comes to sex, how ‘rape is one thing but sexual harassment is another,’ how men are hard wired to ‘f—’ and how the hunt is every bit as pleasurable as the kill.”


She said that Reichgelt told her that “as a man, if you get the kill and get to f— the woman, that is great, but what men really want is the hunt.”


According to the professor, later that night, Reichgelt sent her a “seemingly half-hearted, drunken text apology – ‘Sorry, I probably was out of order.’”


Three weeks after the incident, the professor wrote a letter to Reichgelt that she never sent him. Instead, she shared it with university investigators.


In the letter, she described her reaction to his behavior, its effect on her emotions and its potential impact on her career.


“As a man, you may not be able to fully understand the sadness, disappointment, and disillusionment I have felt,” she wrote. “I have worked very hard to find myself where I am professionally. Like many of us in academia, I have sacrificed a lot of my life – my time, my energy, my family – for my career.


“Now, the direction my career was taking seems untenable given the irreparable damage this situation has had on our professional relationship.


“Right now,” she continued, “I do not feel comfortable in an environment to which I have dedicated my career … Beyond my general discomfort, I have to live with the fear you are angry that I reported this and, consequently, will attempt to sabotage me in small or covert ways.


“Equally, I fear that you, in an attempt to overcompensate for your wrongdoings, may lean toward granting me special favors that are not based on my merit.


“What I fear most, though, is that you will do this to someone more vulnerable than I.”


According to the records, Reichgelt had two conversations with Iyer, the university administrator who led the university’s investigation.


In her report, dated Jan. 14, 2015, Iyer recapped the professor’s allegations and her anguished assertions in the lengthy letter she wrote to Reichgelt but did not send.


Iyer also summarized two conversations with Reichgelt about the incident.


He acknowledged, Iyer wrote, that he was drunk and tried to make a pass, which the professor rebuffed. “It was stupid and I apologized … through a text message.”


Reichgelt was aware of his inappropriate behavior, Iyer wrote. He acknowledged he may have made the comments reported by the professor but “could not recall the exact words.”


According to Iyer, when asked about his comments on sexual harassment, Reichgelt said, “Look, I have issues with interactions between men and women – it is more rules-based than being spontaneous or based on relationships. There are boundaries and probing those boundaries is not allowed.”


In a written response to Iyer’s findings that he had violated university policies, Reichgelt acknowledged what he called “my highly inappropriate and regrettable behavior.”


But he also took issue with the way the investigation was conducted. He said that he was “never fully informed” that a formal complaint had been filed, and wrote that “I would have been more careful in my comments had I known that everything I said could be shared” with the professor.


Once he learned that the professor “hoped for a more sincere apology,” Reichgelt wrote, he wanted to extend one. But twice the investigator told him to wait “until the (investigative) process had run its course.”


Reichgelt also complained that Iyer had taken some of his comments out of context. He took particular exception to this quotation she attributed to him: “Look, I have issues with interactions between men and women – it is more rules based rather than being spontaneous or based on relationships.”


That comment, he said, was directed at “policies related to Title IX and how in my view they have the potential to negatively impact the spontaneous interactions between people.”


While it “is completely unrelated” to the professor’s complaint, Reichgelt wrote, “for the record I do believe that creating an environment in which mothers feel compelled to tell their sons that they need to obtain a consenting text from their partners at every stage of a sexual encounter is worrisome, just as it is worrisome that fathers of African-American and biracial sons feel compelled to have “The Talk” with their sons about how to behave when they are stopped by a police officer.”


Under the prodding of the federal government and the administration of President Barack Obama, colleges and universities around the country have stepped up their efforts to crack down on sexual harassment and assault on their campuses.


At USFSP, the policies are spelled out in university guidelines, and faculty members have been directed to stress that policy in their syllabi and conversations with students.


Training on the issue is conducted during orientation for new employees, Iyer said, and there is a training video on the university website.


For the last two years, Student Government has sponsored events to underscore the “It’s On Us” pledge to take a stand on sexual assault and violence.


Twice in recent months, USF Tampa has been embarrassed by newspaper disclosures that the university hired highly paid administrators without knowing they had faced charges of inappropriate sexual behavior in their previous jobs.


Last month, the university acknowledged it did not know that Herb Maschner had sexually harassed a 28-year-old graduate student at Idaho State University. Last week he was removed from his post as director of a new geosciences center on the Tampa campus. He remains as a professor.


In June, the university fired Samuel D. Bradley, the director of its advertising and communications department, after learning he had resigned from Texas Tech University after an investigation into his relationships with students.


In response to a question from the Crow’s Nest, Iyer said USFSP conducted a background check before hiring Reichgelt.


“We are not aware of any evidence of this type of conduct prior to hire or since this incident,” she wrote.


Information from the Tampa Bay Times was used in this report.


The Victim: She Feels ‘Sadness, Disappointment, Disillusionment’

Excerpts from a letter that the professor wrote to Dr. Han Reichgelt but never sent. Instead, she gave it to university investigators.

Han,

I hope you will receive this letter as it is intended, which is to be informative and to seek resolution to what has been, for me, an extremely difficult situation. Although your seemingly half-hearted, drunken text apology (“Sorry, I probably was out of order”) was appreciated, I must admit I was hoping (expecting) a sober and genuine apology for the way you acted ….

Of course, I have no idea what exactly you remember about that evening, which makes this writing difficult. However, I write under the assumption that you have at least some recollection of your inappropriateness – asking me what motivation I would need to go to bed with you, asking for “just you and I” to leave the bar together, trying to kiss me, putting your arm around me and squeezing my waist, asking if I wanted to “try this” and, when I declined, saying “we probably should wait until you are promoted,” and your parting comment about how you “tried hard” but that your effort was wasted.

And, this does not include your overall misogynistic talk about how women have but should not have all the power when it comes to sex, how “rape is one thing but sexual harassment is another,” how men are hard wired to “fuck” and how the hunt is every bit as pleasurable as the kill (“as a man, if you get the kill and get to fuck the woman, that is great, but what men really want is the hunt”). To say the least, your words and actions made me uncomfortable. After all, you are the Regional Vice Chancellor of USFSP ….

Despite “the evening” and despite your failure to offer a sincere apology, I desperately wanted to believe that your behavior did not really reflect who you are as a person or as a professional because I truly care about our institution. Prior to the event … I had been so excited about your and Sophia’s leadership and direction of the university. I had considered you to be an excellent Vice Chancellor. I was impressed with your transparency and the decency of your interactions with faculty and, prior to this situation, I had taken every opportunity available to me to praise you on these accounts. I genuinely respected you and probably what hurt me the most is that I thought you respected me.

In fact, naively, I thought our easy rapport and growing professional relationship was based on mutual respect, not a hidden sexual agenda. In light of what happened …, I now question my judgment of our professional relationship and of your character.

As a man, you may not be able to fully understand the sadness, disappointment, and disillusionment I have felt, but I do hope that you will try to see things from my perspective. I have worked very hard to find myself where I am professionally. Like many of us in academia, I have sacrificed a lot of my life – my time, my energy, my family – for my career. Now, the direction my career was taking seems untenable given the irreparable damage this situation has had on our professional relationship.

I am not comfortable in your presence, and I suspect you are not comfortable in mine, which makes my job … extremely difficult. Prior to making the decision to report your behavior, I was belaboring each and every interaction with you for fear that my intentions would be misperceived. Now, I am simply avoiding you altogether and it seems you are doing the same. I no longer get to enjoy the camaraderie we were developing as colleagues and that other faculty get to enjoy with you – undeniably an important part of a job that, to be successful, requires good relationships. And, while I sincerely hope things will normalize in time, right now, I do not feel comfortable in an environment to which I have dedicated my career ….

Beyond my general discomfort, I have to live with the fear you are angry that I reported this and, consequently, will attempt to sabotage me in small or covert ways. Equally, I fear that you, in an attempt to overcompensate for your wrongdoings, may lean toward granting me special favors that are not based on my merit. What I fear most, though, is that you will do this to someone more vulnerable than I.

In my genuine attempt to find a place of resolution, I leave you with one question: How do you suggest we proceed?


The Investigator: ‘There is Sufficient Information To Support The Allegation’

Excerpts from a report by Dr. Citra Iyer, who investigated the professor’s allegations.

Dr. Reichgelt was provided an opportunity to present his perspective and side of the story. When Dr. Reichgelt was asked … what he remembered …, he responded, “I tried to make a pass … and (she) said no.” When probed further whether he recalled anything else, he said, “I was drunk and I tried to … and (she) said no.” He said, “It was stupid and I apologized to (her) through a text message.”

When probed further about his conduct, he denied there is any other situation out there like this and stated that this type of incident will not happen again. In response to the question relating to concern about institutional risk as a result of his behavior, Dr. Reichgelt responded,” You tell me what I need to do. If I need to disappear, you let me know.”

…. When asked about his drinking, he said that he is not a heavy drinker. He said that he likes to socialize over drinks, but that he does not have a drinking problem.

…. When asked whether he understood how his behavior had impacted (the professor), he said he was surprised by how hard (she) was taking this. He said it was not a value judgment, but rather a reflection of his own misinterpretation of (her) reaction. He said the person who would need to evaluate the future would be him, not (her). When asked how he would respond to (the professor’s) question in the letter, which asked of him, “In my genuine attempt to find a place or resolution, I leave you with one question: How do you suggest we proceed?,” Dr. Reichgelt said he could talk to (her) and ask for forgiveness. If the decision is that it is not workable, he said he would be the “only person who has to disappear.”

ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION:

Dr. Reichgelt has admitted to making sexual advances and engaging in conduct that was unwelcome …. While Dr. Reichgelt stated that he could not recall his exact words regarding women, he acknowledged he may have made comments, such as “sexual harassment is bullshit,” and “we’ll wait till you’re promoted.”

Although this was a one-time incident, the totality of Dr. Reichgelt’s behavior during this incident was severe. Additionally, even though there is no known existing pattern of conduct by Dr. Reichgelt in this regard, there is a significant power differential between the two parties, in addition to his comments being an aggravating factor. Dr. Reichgelt is the chief academic officer for USFSP and (the professor is) in a subordinate position …

Based on the totality of the circumstance and the statements gathered, there is sufficient information to support the allegation that Dr. Reichgelt engaged in inappropriate conduct in violation of USF’s Diversity and Equal Opportunity Policy #0-007 and Sexual Misconduct/Sexual Harassment Policy #0-004.

A conclusion of cause is recommended in this matter.


The Aggressor: He Acknowledges ‘Highly Inappropriate and Regrettable Behavior’

Excerpts from Dr. Han Reichgelt’s written response to the university investigator’s findings.

… I was never fully informed that a formal complaint had been lodged against me, or the details of the subsequent process. While I fully acknowledge (the professor’s) right to file a complaint, and feel no resentment or anger towards (her) for doing so, I would have been more careful in my comments had I known that everything I said could be shared with (her) ….

The description of the process and interviews omits what I regard as important facts. For example, both in our initial conversation on December 19, and a second conversation on January 12, I was instructed not to contact (the professor). I only became aware on December 19 that (the professor) had hoped for a more sincere apology. Naively or perhaps overly optimistically, I thought that (her) acknowledgement of my text … and a professional email exchange between us on a different matter afterwards meant that we were rebuilding our professional relationship. I would have been more than willing to issue a deeper apology as soon as I became aware of (the professor’s) desire for one but the conditions imposed by the investigator made this impossible ….

In many cases, the reports of my conversations with the investigator leave out the context in which my comments were made. For example, … the investigator writes: “When asked whether he understood how his behavior impacted (the professor), he said he was surprised by how hard (she) was taking it.” The investigator fails to mention that in the same exchange I quoted from (the professor’s) letter which states … “As a man, you may not be able to fully understand the sadness, disappointment and disillusionment I have felt.” I believe that the context is relevant.

Also on page 3, the investigator reports that I am alleged to have said: “Look, I have issues with interactions between men and women – it is more rules-based rather than being spontaneous or based on relationships.” The context in which this comment was made was a conversation on policies related to Title IX and how in my view they have the potential to negatively impact the spontaneous interaction between people. Inclusion of the context, rather than merely quoting a few poorly formulated remarks out of context, would in my view have significantly altered the connotation of my remarks.

And, although it is completed unrelated to (the professor’s) complaint, for the record, I do believe that creating an environment in which mothers feel compelled to tell their sons that they need to obtain a consenting text from their partners at every stage of a sexual encounter is worrisome, just as it is worrisome that fathers of African-American and biracial sons feel compelled to have “The Talk” with their sons about how to behave when they are stopped by a police officer. However, as said, my concerns about the atmosphere that we are in danger of creating are completing irrelevant to my highly inappropriate and regrettable behavior towards (the professor).

… Finally, and most distressingly, the investigator included in her reports comments that I explicitly asked her not to include …. I was not aware that our conversations took place as part of a formal process in which all my comments could be reported. Had I known, I would not have made them.

In particular, I explicitly asked on both occasions for my comment about my willingness to step down not to be shared with (the professor), not because I will not step down should the institute decide that this is the appropriate sanction, but because I felt that sharing this comment might put pressure on (the professor) not to exercise her right to lodge a complaint against me. The fact that, according to the report, (the professor) expressed the fear that … reporting my inappropriate behavior might lead to institutional instability would seem to bear this out.

(The professor) ends her letter with the sentence “In my genuine attempt to find a place of resolution, I leave you with one question: How do you suggest we proceed?”

I share (the professor’s) desire to find a resolution but I cannot see how a resolution can be reached if we continue to follow the current process and in particular continue to prohibit direct communications between (the professor) and me.


University Reacted Promptly and Decisively, Administrator Says

Dr. Chitra Iyer, the university’s associate vice chancellor for administration, issued this response to the Crow’s Nest inquiry about the sexual harassment case against Dr. Han Reichgelt, the former regional vice chancellor for academic affairs:

USFSP takes allegations of sexual harassment seriously. Consistent with our policies and standards, as soon as we were made aware of the allegation, an investigation was initiated and measures were taken to protect the complainant. Once the facts were fully investigated, prompt corrective action was taken.

As a result of these actions, Dr. Reichgelt resigned his senior leadership position, which resulted in a substantial reduction in pay. He was also required to complete training, which was accomplished. No further violations of any USFSP policies of any kind have been alleged in regard to Dr. Reichgelt since the incident in 2014.

Crow’s Nest: Was the professor satisfied by the university’s response?

“We can’t speak for the complainant.”

CN: Was Dr. Reichgelt’s background thoroughly explored before he was hired by the university? Was there any evidence that he had engaged in this kind of behavior before?

“USFSP conducted a background check prior to hiring Dr. Reichgelt. We are not aware of any evidence of this type of conduct prior to hire or since this incident.”

CN: Dr. Reichgelt’s photo, resume and contact information are still on the College of Business website and he answers the phone number listed there. Has his nine-month appointment as an online professor been extended? If so, for how long?

“Dr. Reichgelt is a tenured faculty member.”

CN: Since the incident occurred, has the university taken additional steps to ensure that administrators, faculty and staff are aware of university policy on sexual harassment, sexual violence and other gender-based harassment?

“To prevent sexual harassment, sexual violence and gender-based harassment, faculty, staff and students receive Title IX, sexual harassment training and Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) training. This is conducted at new employee orientation for employees. The training is also available in a video format on the USFSP website.”


Key Dates in The Reichgelt Case

May 30, 2014 – The university announces the hiring of Dr. Han Reichgelt, a dean at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga., as regional vice chancellor of academic affairs – the top academic post on campus.

Late 2014 – According to a female professor, Reichgelt makes sexual advances and vulgar comments to her while they are attending an off-campus event. She rebuffs him and files a complaint with university administrators.

Dec. 19, 2014 – The university interviews Reichgelt about the incident.

Jan. 12, 2015 – The university has a follow-up interview with Reichgelt.

Jan. 14, 2015 – Dr. Chitra Iyer, the regional associate vice chancellor for administration, completes a report describing the allegations, Reichgelt’s response, and her conclusion. “There is sufficient information to support the allegation that Dr. Reichgelt engaged in inappropriate conduct” that violated the university’s policies on diversity, equal opportunity and sexual misconduct/sexual harassment, Iyer writes.

Feb. 5, 2015 – In a letter to the university, the female professor says Reichgelt’s behavior and comments “were so blatantly misogynistic, inappropriate and unlawful that I’m struggling to put this matter behind me.” She feels harmed, isolated and “extremely concerned about the short and long-term effects this will have upon my academic career, not to mention my personal well-being.”

Feb. 9 – Reichgelt acknowledges “my highly inappropriate and regrettable behavior” toward the professor. But in his written response to the university’s findings, he also complains that he was “never fully informed that a formal complaint had been lodged against me.” He was prohibited from making “a deeper apology” to the victim, he writes. And some of his comments reported by Iyer omit the context, which would have “significantly altered the connotation of my remarks.”

Feb. 27 – Without public explanation, the university announces Reichgelt’s resignation. In a letter accepting the resignation, Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska says he will be moved to a nine-month appointment in the College of Business. She also directs him to complete diversity training off-campus.

March 18 and April 28 – The Crow’s Nest files requests under Florida’s Public Records Law seeking emails to and from Wisniewska and Reichgelt in the weeks leading up to his ouster.

April 15, 2016 – After delaying for 13 months, the university releases more than 1,600 pages of emails. They show Reichgelt’s sudden departure followed a diversity complaint and that the university worked out a plan to limit publicity.  The emails shed little light on the particulars of the case.

November 2016 – Additional records obtained by the Crow’s Nest show that Reichgelt was ousted following a sexual harassment complaint from the female professor. The university says he remains at USFSP as a tenured faculty member.

Comment(1)

  1. Congratulations to the Crow’s Nest for doing what a college newspaper should do —conduct investigative reporting. News media too infrequently use freedom of information laws to unlock public records that officials try to keep confidential without justification. Here, the Crow’s Nest showed local journalists how get results and publish the information responsibly.

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