ASU criminology professor expands program amid allegations of ignoring complaints of sexual harassment

Nearly a year after criminology professor Scott Decker was accused of ignoring sexual harassment within his department, he has been named as a research consultant for a Department of Justice-funded felony diversion program in St. Louis and has also become the director for ASU’s new Center for Public Criminology.

Decker has been with ASU since 2006 and was director of the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice until 2014. He serves as a foundation professor and said he wanted to make the switch because he wasn’t teaching as much as he wanted when serving as director.

Between 2009 and 2014, Decker was named in two lawsuits filed against ASU because of harassment that occurred while he was serving as director of the criminal justice program.

During this time, the state of Arizona settled nine discrimination lawsuits involving ASU employees. More than one of the lawsuits involved allegations of sexual harassment on the part of faculty members.

Decker was named in two of the lawsuits because of harassment that occurred while he was serving as director of the criminal justice program. He has been accused of turning a blind eye to sexual harassment being committed by department staff, according to court documents. 

In one case Decker was approached by a student who was then pursuing her doctoral degree in criminology, about her mentor, a former criminology professor who had been acting sexually inappropriate toward her.  

Decker suggested that she change her course of study to a "more traditional" area for women and made comments saying that he thought the two had a consensual sexual relationship, according to The Arizona Republic.

Decker then assigned the student to another professor who later released her as a teaching assistant and refused to assign another faculty member to her.  

In second case, another former doctoral student started a romantic relationship with a former ASU criminology professor in 2009 but later broke up the relationship in 2010, according to court documents.

When the student ended the relationship, her professor retaliated and threatened to end her career unless they got back together, according to documents. 

The student reported feeling like Decker was also retaliating against her by assigning her to do clerical work and failing to report her complaints, according to documents. 

 “I should say that in the most recent of the cases, as was reported in the Arizona Republic, that I was severed from the lawsuit the week that it was settled,” Decker said. "That all parties agreed that the allegations against me were false, and then the case was settled."

He declined to comment on the other lawsuit.

"I wish it were different, I would very much like the opportunity," Decker said. "But the conditions of the settlement of the suit prohibit me from saying anything."

Decker said he became the first director for ASU’s new Center for Public Criminology just before the fall 2015 semester began and is the only faculty member in the department. 

While ASU declined to comment on the specifics of Decker's case, a statement from ASU explained that accusations of harassment that involve faculty and staff are handled by the Office of Equity and Inclusion. 

"The phrase 'sexual harassment' covers a broad range of conduct — from unwelcomed sexual comments to sexual assault — so discipline can range from a letter of admonishment to dismissal," the statement said. 

According to the statement, the Office of Equity and Inclusion will submit a report to the Provost, who will then determine whether it is a violation.

"If the Provost finds that a violation occurred, he typically refers the matter to the faculty member’s department chair/school director to determine the appropriate administrative action in response to the individual facts of the given matter," the statement read. "If the misconduct warrants a dismissal recommendation, the faculty member’s dean has responsibility for initiating that disciplinary action."

Critics, like Phoenix civil rights attorney Stephen Montoya, said the lawsuits are shining light on a culture of indifference toward discrimination at the school. Decker declined to comment on that as well because conditions of the settlement prohibit him from doing so. 

Montoya represented the plaintiff in the most recent case against ASU, from which Decker was ultimately dropped. Harassment at the school is a deep and systemic problem, Montoya said.

"To call them anomalies would be demonstrably false," Montoya said. "Is there a custom of it? Yes."

Although Decker stepped down as department chair following the lawsuits, he assumed the director role for the new Center for Public Criminology the next year.

Montoya said he feels Decker should not have continued to work for ASU.

"Only when the taxpayer pays does the wrongdoer get a promotion, rather than a demotion or termination," Montoya said.

Montoya said Decker's severance from the most recent lawsuit was requested by the state of Arizona on his behalf. Montoya and his client had to agree to severing Decker from the lawsuit to successfully go forward with the settlement.

Montoya said students are neglected by ASU and said the school only looks out for those who look out for the school.

"I would just like to emphasize that, in the entire process, no one really cares about the student," Montoya said. 

Although critics see a culture of indifference toward corruption at the school, some students do not see the same problems.

Some ASU students said they felt like the school was a safe place to voice concerns about harassment. 

Marketing junior Allyson Taylor said she believes the school has always put forth an effort to make students aware of their rights and how they can go about exercising them.

“I feel pretty safe,” Taylor said. “As freshmen, they always told us about the hotlines and blue towers (emergency callboxes) we could use.”

Phoenix’s Lead Equal Opportunity Specialist Ira McCullough said individuals who believe they experience sexual harassment should be aware of their rights and should act with confidence when exercising them.

People need to proactively take the first step in the process by reporting their grievance so an investigator can look into it, he said. 

“They do have the duty to report to — if they’re an employee — to their chain of command, or to their HR department if they’re a student,” McCullough said. “In order for people to take a look into it, it obviously needs to be reported.”

The Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees state universities, declined to comment on the lawsuits because it is against policy to comment on settled litigation.

Related Links:

ASU students, professors go behind bars for compelling research

ASU student researches victimization, ways to help


Reach the reporter at jwbowlin@asu.edu or follow @mrjoshuabowling on Twitter.

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