Report: ODU’s response to sexual misconduct accusations against visiting professor didn’t violate the law, but university should have done more

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A report from a law firm was released this week by Old Dominion University, shedding light on an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct by a visiting professor dating back to 2010.

According to the report from law firm Nixon Peabody LLP, no “Title VII, Title IX, or any other applicable law or policy” was violated by the university, but ODU should have done more to address the allegations against former Visiting Professor Blake Bailey.

In June, ODU said it would commission an independent investigation into the allegations. The report, which looked at the accusations against Bailey and whether adequate reporting channels were available, was released Monday by the ODU Board of Visitors.

The Virginian-Pilot first reported allegations against Bailey in a lengthy investigation published June 10. In that investigation, the Pilot detailed how more than a dozen people said Bailey — who filled the Mina Hohenberg Darden Chair in Creative Writing — harassed and abused multiple women while he was at the unveristy. The Pilot also said administrators never fully addressed concerns voiced at the time.

The university initially denied it declined to address the concerns. Bailey also denied the allegations through his attorney.

In the wake of the allegations, more than 110 university staff also signed a letter announcing their support of the women making the allegations.

However, the report released Monday found that Bailey touched a professor inappropriately without her consent and engaged in “unwanted physical touching and attention toward a graduate student.” The report also found certain members of the faculty and administrators were aware of the incidents.

The university said it was making the report public — with the exception of a few redactions to protect the privacy of some victims — because it wanted to be transparent.

“The University is voluntarily making the report public to support full transparency in this matter and in recognition of the significant public interest in ensuring that Old Dominion provides a safe and welcoming environment for all individuals, and to demonstrate its commitment to combatting sexual misconduct,” the university wrote on its website Monday.

Following the release of the report Monday, the Board of Visitors released a statement in response to its findings.

“The sexual misconduct described in the report, as well as the University’s inadequate response to it at the time, are wrong and unacceptable,” said ODU Board of Visitors Rector Bruce Bradley after the report had been presented to and reviewed by the University’s Board. “Since that time, the University has taken steps to prevent activity like this occurring in the future and to ensure that if it does occur that individuals will feel empowered to report it in the knowledge that ODU will respond swiftly, appropriately, and effectively. We express our sincere regret on behalf of the University that these events happened, that members of our Monarch family experienced them, and that our response was not what it should have been.”

Regarding the University’s statement to The Virginian-Pilot, the Rector said, “President Broderick apologized for the University at the time, and we again express our regret. We are also concerned by the report’s finding that no female administrators, including the University’s assistant vice president overseeing communication, its Title IX coordinator, or anyone from the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, were involved in developing or reviewing the statement. The University has taken steps to ensure that statements to the media are properly reviewed and that the process will include women and all appropriate officials.”

Then-ODU President John R. Broderick also issued a statement in June apologizing to the women and promised he would set up a task force to review current university policies.

On Monday, ODU said while much has changed since 2010 when the incidents first took place, it was committed to doing better.

“Since becoming ODU President in July 2021, Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., has made it a priority to strengthen those practices even further. At the beginning of the current academic year, ODU’s Police Department launched the “Start by Believing” initiative to ensure that police not only investigate complaints thoroughly but, equally important, treat complainants with compassion and support and thereby encourage the reporting of misconduct,” the university said.

The university’s initiative includes a public awareness campaign on how to respond to and help those who have been sexually assaulted.

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