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UofSC students protest, demand firing of professors accused of sexual harassment

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 12:09 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 15, 2021 at 5:58 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Hundreds of students at the University of South Carolina protested on campus Thursday evening, demanding that the university fire faculty members accused of sexual harassment.

More than a dozen students spoke at the protest, including survivors of sexual harassment and assault. They said they are outraged with the way the university is handling claims of sexual harassment from faculty members.

“I can say that this is bigger than us, and it is an issue that is innate in our society, but we have an opportunity here to make a difference.” Bel Shields, a UofSC sophomore, said. “They are taking away my safety and comfort. They are taking away all of our safety and all of our comfort.”

Students specifically called on the university to terminate painting Professor David Voros, who has been sued three times for alleged sexual harassment.

Voros is accused of sexually harassing students and faculty, and two lawsuits against him are pending.

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Robert Bourne, a theater professor, has also faced sexual harassment allegations.

According to university spokesman Jeff Stensland, “previous Title IX complaints against professors Voros and Bourne (Richmond) were investigated in the past and it was determined that they were not in violation.”

The students say they’ve been organizing since December and will continue to protest until the university takes action.

“Until we fire all abusers,” UofSC sophomore Ally Hall said. “Until USC is a safe campus for all students and all individuals who come on it.”

In response to WIS requests for comment, the university referred to an email sent to students earlier this week from Joel Samuels, the College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean.

It reads in part, “Soon after becoming Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, I learned about concerning allegations of interpersonal misconduct by faculty and staff across the campus, including in this College. I have listened as many of you have expressed concerns about the University’s handling of these allegations. I understand the desire to see more concrete action.”

The email continues, “Therefore, in the best interest of the entire campus community, I am writing today to let you know that, with the approval of the Provost, Professor David Voros and Professor Robert Bourne will not be assigned any teaching responsibilities in the upcoming Spring semester and will remain barred from campus unless specifically authorized by Provost Cutler or me. I hope this action provides some reassurance that the concerns voiced by many in our community have been heard — both by me and by University leaders.”

Voros was previously slated to teach three online classes this upcoming spring semester.

“That email from the Dean, I’m obviously glad that Voros isn’t going to be teaching next semester but that should’ve never been an option,” Victor Ponds, a UofSC senior and event organizer, said. “And to act like him not teaching next semester is a victory like it’s a small victory but the fact is that as soon as we forget about this they’re going to try to put him back in the classroom.”

Hall said the Dean’s decision gave her a sense that there is “light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Just nice to see that there is some action taken, even if it’s not enough,” she said.

This week, UofSC’s Interim President Harris Pastides announced additional reforms to the university’s handling of sexual harassment complaints through its Title IX Task Force. In an email to the university community, Pastides said UofSC plans to fill new positions in its Title IX office and requires training for faculty and staff starting Monday, October 18 so that they can better recognize interpersonal violence. They will also streamline the system to report “sexual and gender-based harassment and violence.”

He defended the university’s handling of previous allegations of sexual harassment, but added that the university is fully committed “to ask ourselves tough questions that drive us to learn from and improve our approach to creating a campus environment that’s safe for all.”

“Several individual Title IX cases from the past have generated concern about the university’s approach to handling harassment claims,” Pastides wrote in part. “Although reviews of these Title IX complaints affirmed that internal administrative procedures for handling these cases were appropriately followed and were in compliance with laws and policies in place at the time of each investigation, we can and must do more to instill trust in our processes.”

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