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USA TODAY investigation brings Humboldt Professor’s sexual assault allegations to light, one department chair who spoke out has experienced retaliation

USA TODAY released an investigative expose on a professor accused of sexual assault and how the school has continued to employ him for years.

by Liam Gwynn

Correction: The department chair who has spoken out against John Lee was not fired but was put on temporary suspension.

USA TODAY released an investigative expose on a professor and former Dean of Professional Studies accused of sexual assault and how the school has continued to employ him for years. One dean who spoke out against the school in the article has already been fired for unstated reasons.

Last week the USA TODAY published an extensive expose, unearthing sexual assault allegations against a former dean and current professor who is currently teaching in the College of Professional Studies at Cal Poly Humboldt. Since the release of the story, another dean has been fired and Lee continues to work, even if people aren’t showing up to class.

In 2015, John Lee was a dean at Cal Poly Humboldt but after an investigation organized by the school found evidence of four counts of sexual harassment, Lee was given three months of paid leave and transitioned into a tenured professor position. The two women who accused Lee were forced to work in the same department as the man who allegedly assaulted them.

One unnamed professor told the USA TODAY that Lee had groped and tried to forcibly kiss her on three occasions. Her husband corroborated the story saying that on one occasion he had to physically pull Lee off his wife. Before the sexual harassment claims were submitted, the school had already received numerous complaints about Lee, citing bullying and abusive behavior.

Lee was able to maintain a position at the school because he evoked “retreat rights” that can be found in a majority of CSU dean contracts. “Retreat rights” give deans the right to a full-time professor position if they are ever fired from their position as a dean. These contracts did not have any stipulations regarding Title IX violations. This is how Lee was able to get a teaching job paying $154,000 a year working in the same department as the two women who accused him of sexual misconduct.

School representative Grant Scott-Goforth told USA TODAY that Cal Poly Humboldt changed the contracts after John Lee’s case so that retreat rights wouldn’t apply to faculty that violate campus policies. However, USA TODAY reporter Kenny Jacoby found two contracts from administrator’s currently working at Cal Poly Humboldt, neither of which had any changes that the school claimed they made.

In a conversation with the Lumberjack, Jacoby says that he contacted the school asking about the two aforementioned contracts. The representative simply asked who gave the contracts to him and when he told them, they never responded. The Lumberjack also reached out for a response regarding the John Lee situation, but after asking about the changes in the contracts, they stopped responding.

The school’s official response to the situation has been very limited so far. They sent out an email three days before the USA TODAY story was released, attempting to reassure students and faculty that the school has resources for sexual assault survivors followed by instructions on what to do if contacted by the media.

“For media inquiries about campus policy, decisions, and similar, spokespeople are designated by News & Information. You should not speak to the media on behalf of the campus unless you have been designated to,” states the email. “This is important to maintain consistency and to ensure that questions are answered as completely as possible.”

That email is important because three days after the USA TODAY article was published, a dean who was quoted in the article speaking out against the school, was quietly relieved of his position as dean. The now-former dean, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the Lumberjack that he had already spoken to the reporter weeks prior to them sending out the notification not to talk to the media. That didn’t stop him from being demoted to a professor position, although officially, he was given no reasoning for the termination of his position.

The school has yet to address whether or not they plan on reconsidering Lee’s position. Lee still vehemently maintains his innocence and although he originally would not speak to the press, he recently issued a statement to the Lumberjack which is linked below. In this statement, Lee denies all accusations and claims the investigation conducted by the school was biased against him and didn’t provide the proper due process. Lee also claims he had evidence that was dismissed and believes the school treated him unfairly. He goes on to detail all the work he’s done for women and minorities on campus and how the pushback he received was really just because people disagree with his decisions supporting BIPOC and women.

Although the statement gets a little off-topic, he makes his stance clear, he is owning up to nothing. With the school making it so difficult for people to speak out, it’s unclear if we will ever see any change with the contracts here. However, the Lumberjack will continue to investigate this story as the situation unfolds and if anyone has any information regarding John Lee you can reach out to us at as well as the Campus Advocate Team’s 24/7 confidential line (707) 445-2881.

Official Statement give to The Lumberjack by John Lee

The allegations brought against me in 2015 are false. Like you, I condemn sexual harassment in any form. As I said back then and continue to maintain today, I did not sexually harass anyone. The allegation is simply untrue. The investigation conducted by the campus at the time was biased and flawed from the very beginning and in no way provided me due process. Evidence provided by me as well as testimony provided by others was ignored and dismissed. A few months after my appeal was denied, I was notified that my contract as dean was non-renewed. There was no cause mentioned for the non-renewal. My position was at will, so there were no legal avenues for me at the time. I had done nothing wrong, yet was told I was not to discuss the case, making it impossible for me to defend myself against the rumors I knew were spreading like wildfire.

My life’s work has been about fighting for justice and creating a better and safer world for all, but especially women and children and those who face adverse experiences or discrimination of any kind. I was hired in 2010, because my mission aligned with the changes the university under then President Rollin Richmond and Provost Bob Snyder wanted to make. One of the goals was to provide better support for our increasingly diverse student body, which included creating paid internships and increasing our recruitment of faculty of color. During my tenure, we increased student enrollment, continued to diversify our student body, and significantly increased our hiring of BIPOC and female faculty.

Most of my conflicts as dean stemmed from the push back I received from some who did not embrace these changes. I was also an outspoken critic of the well-publicized dismissal of an administrator who held to account the new administration for recruiting but not providing the supports Native American students needed to feel welcomed and thrive at Humboldt. The period before and after the non-renewal of my contract saw the dismissal and non-renewal of numerous administrators. Although there were few administrators of color at the time, most of them were either non-renewed, pushed out,
or encouraged to move on. We have seen similar trends on the faculty side and student body since.

So I have had conflicts for sure and I would be the first to admit that I have also made my share of mistakes. People who know me know I am not the person described in the USA Today article. Had other people been interviewed who were present during the time of the alleged events, a story closer to the truth could have emerged. But that was clearly not the author’s purpose. I strive to learn from my mistakes and experiences, but none have involved sexual harassment or other repugnant violations. While I do not seek conflict, I will continue to be vocal, combat injustices and work to improve the lives of those who have not been given fair access to education and life opportunities.

DISCLAIMER: We at The Lumberjack post John Lee’s statement for the benefit of the public and the community’s right to all information regarding this subject, not in agreement or support.

Extra Note: While in Lee’s statement he says “Had other people been interviewed who were present during the time of the alleged events, a story closer to the truth could have emerged. But that was clearly not the author’s purpose,” we were told by the original author Kenneth Jacoby that he had reach out to John Lee for an interview but was ultimately turned down.

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