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Pastides responds after USC professor sued for sexual harassment pulled from online classes

USC Russell House gamecock on road (copy)

University of South Carolina professors sued for sexual harassment are being pulled from teaching online classes in spring 2022 as the school continues to reform how it handles reporting and investigation of sex-based assault and harassment claims. File/John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — Less than a day after the University of South Carolina pulled back a professor being sued for sexual harassment from online teaching duties, interim President Harris Pastides reiterated the school's ongoing efforts to reform how it handles reporting and investigation of sex-based assault and harassment claims.

The presidential message follows community outrage after when it was reported that art professor David Voros would be allowed to teach online classes at the university.

Voros has been sued by staff and students who say he sexually harassed and retaliated against them in 2017 and that the university, which was at that time under Pastides' leadership, mishandled their claims. Two of those lawsuits remain active.

In response to the public outcry, interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Joel Samuels and interim Provost Stephen Cutler, determined it was not tenable to have Voros teaching in any form, USC spokesman Jeff Stensland said.

The same applied to a theater professor, Robert Richmond, who a female student said sexually harassed her in 2017. Richmond's legal last name is Bourne.

"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," Samuels wrote to students and staff on Oct. 12. "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.

"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."

Then, in a campuswide message on Oct. 13, Pastides went on to update the campus about the status of previously announced initiatives, including the search for the head of the newly created Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, who when hired will report directly to the president.

He said that office also will have additional personnel, including an intake and outreach coordinator, an education and prevention coordinator, investigators, people trained to help find solutions for those who do not wish to make a formal complaint and a case database manager.

A new, mandatory online training module will start Oct. 18, for all faculty, staff and new employees, "so they better understand how to recognize interpersonal violence," Pastides said, with refresher trainings planned on a biennial basis.

He also announced a new, streamlined reporting form for harassment and violence.

"The university is committed to continual improvements that will better support survivors, hold offenders accountable and empower individuals to make a difference," Pastides went on to write. "Every member of the University of South Carolina community deserves to feel secure on campus, and we must continually strive to create an environment that is, and feels, safe and welcoming to all."

Still, a group of students and staff do not want Voros or Richmond to remain employed by the university in any capacity and a protest is planned Oct. 14 on campus to continue the call for their firing.

Reach Jessica Holdman at jholdman@postandcourier.com. Follow her @jmholdman on Twitter.

Jessica Holdman is a business reporter for The Post & Courier covering Columbia. Prior to moving to South Carolina, she reported on business in North Dakota for The Bismarck Tribune and has previously written for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash.