After a journalism professor claimed he was disciplined under Title IX for singing the Beach Boys, the University of Kentucky fired back, saying its investigation revealed he had engaged in sexual misconduct during several trips to Chinese campuses.
In an op-ed published Saturday in the Lexington Herald Leader, Buck Ryan, director of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center, wrote that the University of Kentucky “has punished me in a ‘sexual misconduct’ case, in part, for singing a Beach boys tune covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
Ryan wrote the university gave him no due process, and, “as a result, I was convicted without trial of inappropriate behavior, which never occurred, with two women students. They wanted to defend me, but they were never interviewed by university officials.”
The University of Kentucky denies this account, saying it took action after other faculty who were on the trip to Jilin University unanimously reported concerns that Ryan had engaged in serious sexual misconduct.
“Professor Ryan’s piece is completely manipulative of the facts,” says Jay Blanton, a university spokesman.
An Oct. 9 letter from the Title IX office to Ryan, provided by the University of Kentucky to Heat Street, outlines some of the concerns investigated.
The letter says that while “there is no allegation of a sexual relationship,” faculty expressed concerns after seeing Ryan and a female student “walking early one morning and she was wearing one of his UK shirts.”
The letter also says: “Mr. Ryan responded only that he was helping the student with her English, they were working on something together, and that there were always students coming in and out of the suite. He saw nothing inappropriate with any of his behaviors and added that he was trying to impress upon his colleagues that ‘we are in a hypersensitive moment regarding rape on campuses.’”
Though it doesn’t mention any specific song, the university’s letter does reference Ryan singing at the closing ceremony, saying this was “of major concern and embarrassment to all those I talked to.”
The Title IX officer said the office’s investigation unearthed other, similar complaints of sexual misconduct involving Ryan at both Jilin University and Shanghai University.
“It is accurate to say that this was about much more than a song,” Blanton said, adding that the university had provided Ryan with unredacted information about the allegations against him, also interviewing him.
“The university takes these situations and these allegations very seriously,” Blanton said. “We take it seriously in terms of protection potential victims, but we also take it seriously in terms of protecting the person who’s accused. There’s a real balancing act that has to take place here to protect the rights of everyone involved. … [After a full investigation], we found these allegations to be true, and sanctions were imposed.”
The university said it had “more than a preponderance of evidence” that Ryan had violated the policy prohibiting inappropriate touching and use of sexual language. Blanton also said that the university was willing to release all documents in the case, but it needed Ryan’s approval. “He has declined,” Blanton said.
In emailed comments, Ryan said he requested that same information from the university more than a year ago, adding that the university treated it as an open-records request, which it then denied.
“Now the university is asking me to sign away my rights,” Ryan said, quoting the privacy waiver the University of Kentucky sent him. “I am not signing away a single claim I have against the university.”
Ryan also provided Heat Street with excerpts from his response to administrators, where he criticized them for offering to provide the information only now. He wrote that they also denied him due process.
“With due process, I would have been able to confront my accusers… and would also have been able to provide witnesses who could have exonerated me,” Ryan wrote to the university. “Your ‘entire investigative file’ is missing interviews with the students who were dragged into this case. As for your line about ‘certain redactions to protect the privacy rights of victims,’ the only victim in this case is me.”
After its investigation, administrators pulled funds for Ryan to travel abroad on behalf of the University of Kentucky and required the professor to attend equity and equal opportunity training.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.