UGA professor loses tenure after public sex with student

Regents deny appeal of celebrated art teacher




ATHENS, Ga. -- The state Board of Regents has denied a University of Georgia art professor’s appeal of his tenure revocation for having public sex with a student.


UGA administrators began a rare tenure revocation process earlier this year against nationally known painter James Barsness for having sex in a public place with a student under his supervision at UGA’s Costa Rica 2012 Maymester study abroad program, which UGA administrators said was a violation of UGA’s harassment policy and other university and state Board of Regents policies.


The Board of Regents is the appointed group that sets policy for UGA and other state public colleges and universities.


A faculty committee appointed to act as a sort of jury in the case against Barsness rendered a split decision when it reported its findings to former UGA President Michael Adams in May.


All five committee members agreed Barsness had violated the UGA Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy by having sex with a student under his supervision, according to documents the university released under an open records request.


The sex was consensual, the committee concluded, though both parties “were under the influence of alcohol and/or potentially behavior-altering medication,” according to their May 2 report to Adams.


Barsness violated the UGA harassment policy, committee members agreed, but did not agree that the professor had violated other policies about academic integrity, neglect of duty and disruption of academic programs.


Committee members also did not agree on what sanctions Barsness should face. Two were in favor of tenure revocation, but three argued for lesser sanctions, noting mitigating factors such as Barsness’ “stellar reputation for teaching and research,” his previous positive record and evident remorse, and undisclosed medical issues.


But the UGA president is not bound to follow the recommendations of the faculty committee in a tenure revocation.


“I have great respect for the committee process, but I disagree with, and am disappointed in, the conclusions in this report,” Adams wrote in a May 13 letter to Barsness. “Upon review I have determined that public sex with a student under one’s direction and control in a UGA program merits termination. It is my judgment that the charges were sustained and that your employment relationship with UGA, including tenure, should be terminated as of this date.”


Regents, meeting in Atlanta, upheld Adams’ decision in a Wednesday meeting.


The tenure revocation proceeding was the second for UGA in about three years.


In 2010, administrators moved to take away comparative literature professor Dezso Benedek’s tenure.


But a faculty panel recommended against tenure revocation and Adams upheld the committee decision.


Benedek has filed suit in federal court, alleging that university officials were retaliating against him in violation of Constitutional guarantees of free speech.



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