Biology professor accused of sexually harassing a student, retires

Hannah Lee, Editor-in-Chief

Gregory Ahearn, the UNF professor that was under investigation on alleged sexual harassment claims, has retired, according to university officials.

According to Public Relations Director Joanna Norris, Ahearn retired on Nov. 26.

The investigation started after a student made claims that Ahearn was engaging in inappropriate activity of a sexual nature and made sexist comments toward a female student.

Professor Gregory Ahearn. Courtesy of the University of North Florida

On Sept. 20, Ahearn was given notice that he had these allegations against him and that he would be placed on leave during the investigation. The investigation found that while Ahearn did not sexually harass students, his unwelcome comments and inappropriate behavior have caused several students to change labs and cancel academic-related trips.

Spinnaker reached out to Ahearn for comment but has not received one at the time of publishing. This article will be updated if that changes.

The allegations that started the investigation, according to the investigative report, was that Ahearn reportedly stared at a female students’ breasts and butt on several occasions and remarked that she “got around” after saying hello to other professors in his presence., and asked if she was going to be a stripper.

According to the report, after she told Ahearn about an interview, he asked if she was going to become a stripper.

“After all, that’s why I teach you all physiology, so you can all become strippers,” Ahearn allegedly said in the investigation report.

These comments occurred allegedly on Sept. 11. The student told her academic advisor on Sept. 12.

Ahearn said that he did not recall the conversation and that those comments would be out of character for him. He also said that he does not leer at students and that, because of his age, he does not have an interest in students.

In addition to the original allegations, others were brought up during the investigation.

According to a graduate female student, Ahearn invited his students to his house for a dinner party.

“Hi Ladies!

I am writing to you all to invite each of you to a dinner party that my wife and I would like to have to start off the new school year and to welcome [redacted name] to the lab.

Our party will be held at our house on Saturday, 8 September 2018, at around 5:00 pm (bring your swim suit for a dip in our pool before dinner!!).”

A student allegedly asked if she could bring her boyfriend. Ahearn allegedly texted back that boyfriends were not invited. According to the investigation report, Ahearn is the only one among his peers who has employed only female students since 2012.

Another finding in the investigation was that despite the 2012 Written Reprimand that banned Ahearn from traveling with his students, he still continued to do so. Ahearn admitted to traveling with students in 2016 and 2018.

Ahearn said that the instances of travel with students in 2016 were fine because the written reprimand’s restrictions were to travel to “conferences or other commitments.” In 2018, UNF President John Delaney approved of Ahearn traveling because he thought that the travel ban would only be in effect for five years.

One other student also complained that she missed a conference because she felt uncomfortable traveling with Ahearn. According to the student, Ahearn allegedly told her a story that when he was in New Orleans, a woman grabbed him by his genitals. The student felt uncomfortable with the story and, after she heard about incidents in the past regarding Ahearn, the student decided to cancel a trip in 2019 to a conference.

The last incident regarding Ahearn was during the investigation itself. Ahearn was told not to contact students during his investigation, starting on Sept. 20. The investigation report found that Ahearn emailed students on Oct. 15, 17, 25, 30 and Nov. 3.

Sexual Harassment, according to the University’s Sexual Misconduct Regulation, is defined as the following:

“‘Sexual Harassment’ means unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, or other verbal (including written and electronic communications are not protected as freedom of speech) or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • Submission to such conduct or request is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of a student’s status in a course, program, or activity; or of academic achievement; or
  • Submission to such conduct or request is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, salary increase, position advancement, or other employment-related benefits; or
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct or request by an individual is used as the basis for an academic decision or employment decision affecting such individuals; or
  • Such conduct is sufficiently serious (i.e., severe, persistent or pervasive) to deny or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the University’s educational programs or activities or such conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of, or have the purpose and effect of substantially interfering with, a faculty or staff member’s employment by creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

The investigation concluded with the recommendations to address Ahearn’s misconduct and to prevent sexual harassment in light of his previously documented “poor judgment and misconduct,” as well as his unauthorized contact with students during the investigation.

2018 Investigation and Report

On Nov. 26, Ahearn sent Interim Provost Pamela Chally his resignation letter. In his letter he talks about all of his accomplishments at UNF from being the Biology Department Chair to being awarded the John A. Delaney Presidential Professorship.

Ahearn Resignation Letter

Spinnaker will update this story as more information becomes available.

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