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Campus Sexual Harassment Title IX

The Weaponization of Title IX at Oregon Health and Science University

By Buddy Ullman March 27, 2020 My name is Buddy Ullman. I am a retired Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon. As a faculty member at OHSU, I headed a research program in molecular parasitology for which I was continuously funded (for 34 years)

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My name is Buddy Ullman.  I am a retired Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon.  As a faculty member at OHSU, I headed a research program in molecular parasitology for which I was continuously funded (for 34 years) by the National Institutes of Health.  I was also a major contributor to the medical education program for 29 years for which I was accorded 51 teaching awards and honors.  At OHSU, I was widely perceived as a faculty leader because of my vocal advocacy for aggrieved students and faculty and for my oppositional views to some of the academic policies in the School of Medicine.

This brought me into occasional conflict with some of the Associate Deans, particularly those in the medical education program.  Politically, I am a liberal democrat and an ardent supporter of Title IX.  I also had the misfortune of being a Title IX respondent, and, per full disclosure, am an enthusiastic advocate for DeVos’s proposed new Title IX guidelines, although I have a few concerns that I conveyed to the Department of Education using the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

My Title IX Experience

My Title IX ordeal involved five investigations over three years and resulted in the destruction of my professional career and job termination.  The details of these investigations are myriad, convoluted, and complex, and therefore, I only present the skeletal outline of the adversities that I faced.  There is documentation for everything that I assert, much of which is or was in possession of the Office for Civil Rights, Seattle Branch, in the Department of Education (OCR Reference No. 10152256).  The original purpose for these investigations was to deny me access to the educational programs of the university, which seems counterintuitive to Title IX’s purpose, but these multiple inquiries eventually morphed into a mechanism to destroy my very successful, externally funded research career and to fire me.

The seminal and initial investigation for which I was respondent was a sexual harassment complaint that was launched on May 16th, 2014 by the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education, ostensibly on behalf of a first-year female medical student who had failed the medical school course that I directed and, therefore, faced a remediation examination and potential expulsion from the medical school program and who, like the Associate Dean, had ample motive to retaliate against me.  The student had falsely claimed in an email to the Associate Dean written earlier on May 16th, 2014 that I had kissed her on the forehead in my office, an expanded definition of sexual harassment to say the least, and that I had made a harassing and “pseudo-predatory” comment on a Facebook photo in which she was not pictured.  The alleged kiss was a fabrication, and the Facebook comment, although warm and affectionate as many Facebook posts are, was neither lascivious nor of a sexual nature.

The student was named the complainant by a civil rights investigator in OHSU’s Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity (AAEO) Office although she was not involved in the genesis of the AAEO complaint, i.e., this was a third-party endeavor.  By the next business day, the Associate Dean’s administrative superior, the Senior Associate Dean of Education, had weighed in and expanded the scope of the investigation, and multiple emails in my possession substantiate collusion between the Dean’s and AAEO Offices at the inception of the investigation.

I first learned about the existence of the complaint on August 14th, 2014, three months after the investigation had been initiated.  I was not informed of the specifics of the allegations at that time (or throughout the investigation, see below).  I met with the investigator for 90 minutes on September 5th, 2014, the same date that the investigation was closed (without my knowledge).  When I met with the investigator, I was, obviously, completely unprepared, and she harangued me with salacious questions and seethed with hostility.  As an aside, the sexual harassment complaint was considered by the AAEO Office, not the Title IX Office, as there was no Title IX Office at OHSU in 2014.

Below I describe the salient features of this investigation:

  • Per the previous paragraph, the complaint was initiated by a third-party surrogate.
  • There was no formal or written complaint. I did request to view the formal complaint multiple times and was not told that there was no formal complaint.
  • The scope of the complaint shifted throughout the investigation.
  • I was not permitted to have any knowledge of the allegations against me. This precluded any possibility of a realistic defense.  I only learned of the nature of the specific charges ten months after the case against me was closed.
  • Related to the previous point, not only did I not know the nature of the accusations, but the specific complaints weren’t even discussed in my presence.
  • I was not allowed to know the identities of the named complainant or the witnesses, e.g., the Associate Deans, because they wanted to make their (false) accusations under anonymity for understandable reasons and also because I would have immediately recognized the predatory and retaliatory nature of the Associate Deans’ involvement and the retaliatory intention of the student complainant’s allegations. I also only learned the names of the complainant(s) and the witnesses ten months after the case was concluded.
  • I was not given any opportunity to present evidence on my behalf, while the complainants were given four months to collect and submit evidence. The preponderance of evidence standard for substantiating any claim against me was, therefore, simplified since all the evidence considered was provided by the complainant side.
  • I was not offered an occasion to bring forth witnesses of which I would have had thousands. The complainant side had four witnesses: the two Associate Deans and the complainant’s two best friends/housemates, each of whom had come up with their own allegations, one preposterous, one untruthful.
  • Witness testimony was taken over the telephone, precluding any assessment of witness demeanor.
  • All exculpatory evidence collected by the AAEO investigator was withheld from me.
  • The presumed inculpatory evidence that was shown to me was did not involve wrongdoing and was, without exception, absurd.
  • The Closure Memo, effectively the investigative report, that summarized the investigator’s findings and ultimately informed the investigator’s conclusions was not afforded to me for analysis. I only became aware of the Closure Memo’s existence ten months after the case against me was concluded, and it was replete with falsehoods, fabrications, distortions, exaggerations, and mistakes and lacked context throughout.  There was no opportunity afforded to rebut The Closure Memo.
  • I was not informed in a timely matter about any aspect of the investigation against me. Every step of the investigation took me by surprise.
  • I was muzzled throughout the proceedings (and presumably afterwards). This gag order (or orders) prevented me from recruiting witnesses, getting help within the institution, and organizing a defense.
  • I was continually threatened with job loss throughout the process. This was intimidating to say the least.
  • The outcome of the so-called “investigation” was, obviously, predetermined and not evidence-based.

I received a summary of the investigator’s findings, designated the Letter of Closure (different from the Closure Memo) on November 25, 2014.  The Letter of Closure was farcical and suffered from all the failings of the Closure Memo (see point 12 above).  The investigator, who fundamentally functioned as a prosecutor, concluded that I had engaged in sexual harassment of female medical students (apparently for the entire 29 years during which I taught).  This was the first time, six months after the case against me had been instigated, that I had any inkling that my case was even about sexual harassment.

This revelation was flabbergasting since there had never been any sexual harassment, and categorically no behavior of a sexual nature on my part while a member of the OHSU for 32 years.  The investigator also found that I had engaged in gender discrimination and inappropriate, unprofessional, and disrespectful behavior toward female medical students in order to ensure that I had been found in violation of almost every single institutional policy that supports Title IX including the institutional Code of Conduct, which I apparently violated multiple times with abandon.  There was also no gender discrimination and no inappropriate, unprofessional, or disrespectful behavior toward female medical students, or for that matter toward anybody else.

The Dean of the School of Medicine, stated in his Letter of Caution to me, also dated November 25, 2014, that I had “violated OHSU’s Code of Conduct (Section G), the Equal Opportunity Policy (No. 03-05-030), and the Sexual Harassment Policy (No. 03-05-035) through unwelcome hugging, wrist-grabbing, as well as cheek and forehead kissing of female students.”  There was no unwelcome hugging, wrist-grabbing, cheek kissing, or forehead kissing of female students, however, and these conclusions were all news to me because no unwelcome behaviors were ever alleged in my presence during the investigation.  All the conclusions by the AAEO investigator and Dean were made-up.  I was, of course, punished, and there was never any effort on the part of the institution to stop, interfere with, or modify any of my behavior, as outlined by institutional policies and federal statute.

The investigation was a sham, neither fair, impartial, nor reliable, and it was most certainly not well-intentioned.  Not only had the investigator functioned as a prosecutor throughout the inquiry, but she also served the roles of detective, plaintiff (it was she who made the sexual harassment accusation), judge, jury, and executioner.  Because I was innocent of all “transgressions” (there is not one iota of truth to any of the investigator’s or Dean’s conclusions), I believe that the administration, acting maliciously, basically hijacked Title IX in order to retaliate against me for my activities and views that the administration didn’t like.  The assortment of shortcomings in the AAEO investigation that I identified above was not an accident.  Title IX was employed as a weapon, a strategic one that the Dean’s Office later employed to clobber other faculty.

Devos’ new proposed guidelines for Title IX enforcement on college/university campuses address every single one of the investigative shortcomings in my case, and, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I support the DeVos regulations with enthusiasm, although with a few caveats.  The new regulations do not, however, address the intrinsic competence and integrity of the investigators nor the ability of “bad actors” to endeavor to manipulate the outcome of Title IX proceedings.

My subsequent request for an appeal was denied, but I was granted an internal grievance procedure that was distorted almost beyond recognition and stage-managed by OHSU’s general counsel, a person who also had a prominent role in the original AAEO investigation described above.  The grievance panel concluded that due process considerations had not been violated because I could have presented a defense after my case was closed (to whom?!?!) and that I didn’t need to have been informed about the specifics of the allegations because I should have been able to figure them out by the line of questioning, even though the alleged misconduct never occurred!!

I then appealed to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Seattle branch.  The OCR took the case, investigated OHSU’s AAEO office, and apparently compelled substantial changes (the AAEO Director was subsequently fired), but concluded that OHSU had adhered sufficiently to the Obama-era Title IX guidelines and thus, took no further action on my OCR complaint.  The OCR decision was terribly disappointing and left me exposed to retribution, which was forthcoming.

Once the OCR had completed its review of OHSU’s AAEO Office and Title IX compliance, the administration, blasting through any OCR whistleblower protections, retaliated against me repeatedly.  The administration filed at least five more frivolous charges against me, most of which were Title IX related but on which the Title IX Office punted (this is called deliberate indifference), and launched two new sham investigations, the fourth and fifth overall, for which the outcomes were, predictably, preordained.  The first of these latter two investigations concluded that I violated the institutional Code of Conduct in multiple ways because, according to the investigator, I used the word “Yuck” in an email to a colleague/friend, while the second resolved that I had engaged in retaliation, which I most certainly did not.

The administration continued to retaliate me in other ways as well.  I was banished from the medical school classroom on three separate occasions, thereby denying me access to the institution’s educational activities, made the subject of a nasty, disparaging email sent by the aforementioned Associate Deans to the entire medical student body in response to a satirical vignette that I was asked to give at the Medical Student Follies, and then placed on administrative leave, exiled from campus although I was no safety threat to anybody, and had my email disabled and my access to my work computer switched off.  These actions effectively terminated my 47-year career in biomedical research.

Furthermore, when the Dean of the School of Medicine and the Vice President of Human Resources placed me on administrative leave and deported me from campus, not only did they not tell me why (I asked) but they told me that they themselves didn’t even know all the reasons why!!  I was fired several months later, while on administrative leave, after the last (and fifth) investigation against me concluded.  I am now retired and hope, through my experience, that I can bring some wisdom to the Title IX guideline debate and to other Title IX victims.

I refrained from a lawsuit for a myriad of reasons.  First, I am not litigious and don’t crave money.  Second, I am 69 years old and was close to retirement anyway and didn’t want to be at the university any longer because of the way I was (mis)treated.  Third, I signed a termination agreement, clearly under duress, that would provide me with a salary equivalent and insurance for another nine months if I promised not to sue them.  Fourth, I already had had two expensive lawyers:  the first whom I hired for the first investigation was unhelpful and wanted me to roll over and play dead; and the second whom I consulted during the fifth investigation and who really gave appropriate advice and thought it would be best for me to retire and not go through yet another investigation.  Fifth, I am a pensioner on a fixed income, and I would be taking on a ~$3,000,000,000 corrupt organization with effectively unlimited resources.  Sixth, OHSU would have fought me tooth and nail since the entire administration all the way up to the top of the university was locked in on me and would have been implicated in wrongdoing.  And finally, I was exhausted.  After three years of continuous harassment and discrimination by OHSU administrators, no way to achieve justice internally, and concerning blood pressure measurements, continuing as a faculty member at OHSU was untenable.

I am very happy to be gone and healthy again.