Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sexual Harassment Allegations--Ex-Iowa Journalism Boss Quits at Georgia

Graduates of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication are buzzing about what has happened to John Soloski, a former director of the school.

Soloski has made the news for all the wrong reasons at the University of Georgia.

The University of Iowa News Services today released the following story. I received it from an Iowa graduate:

Former UI Journalism Director Resigns (Savannah Business Report, June 29)

"The dean of the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication resigned Tuesday following allegations that he sexually harassed a female staff member. John Soloski denied allegations leveled by the staffer, but said the toll of the job on his health had become too great. Soloski's resignation will be effective Thursday. He said he had reached an agreement with the university to retain a position as a tenured faculty member in the journalism college. Soloski had been dean of the college for four years, beginning in 2001. He came to UGA from the UNIVERSITY OF IOWA, where he was director of that university's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is regarded as an authority on media and libel law, and has co-authored books on those subjects and the newspaper industry."

[NOTE: Soloski received an M.A. in journalism and a Ph. D. in mass communication from the University of Iowa. He was director of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa from 1996-2001. He was editor of Journalism and Communication Monographs from 1994-2002. He is a member of the editorial boards of Newspaper Research Journal, Mass Communication Review, Communication Law and Policy and Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism.]

This story on Soloski was carried by the Associated Press:

UGA Dean Resigns Amid Sexual Harassment Complaint
Employee Leveled Accusation

POSTED: 10:17 a.m. EDT June 29, 2005

ATHENS -- The dean of the University of Georgia's journalism school is resigning amid allegations of sexual harassment.

But in his resignation letter, John Soloski said his resignation is not an admission of guilt.

"I want to stress that in no way should this letter be construed to mean that I have violated any University policy or procedure," Soloski wrote in a letter to UGA Provost Arnett Mace dated Monday. "It is simply about me being tired and needing to refocus my life on my own well-being."

The sexual harassment complaint was filed by a former employee at UGA's journalism school. The employee has since transferred to another job at the university.

In his letter to Mace, Soloski, who became a dean in 2001, said he had been thinking about stepping down for some time but that the sexual harassment accusation did play a role in the decision.

"There comes a time when a job demands too much," he wrote. "The complaint I reported to the general counsel's office alleging a violation of University policy by me, a charge which I categorically and emphatically deny, has made me reconsider my decision to stay on as dean through my fifth year."

Soloski's resignation took effect Thursday, but he will remain at the school as a tenured full professor, according to Soloski's letter. Under an agreement negotiated when he came to UGA, Soloski will receive his dean's salary through June 30, 2006.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Here's a story in the Athens Banner-Herald this morning:

Investigation at UGA cites dean's comments
Harassment probe

By Jennifer Moore

The dean of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication made comments that a reasonable person could have interpreted as sexual advances, in violation of the University of Georgia's non-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, according to an internal investigation.

The investigation, conducted through the university's office of legal affairs, found that Dean John Soloski's comments created "a hostile or offensive working environment," though the findings did not indicate that Soloski intended the comments as sexual.

A female staff member filed a claim in May alleging that Soloski sexually harassed and retaliated against her. The fact that Soloski was the woman's supervisor makes the situation "more significant for the university than if this were peer-to-peer harassment," the investigation findings said.

As a result of the investigation's findings, Soloski must take sexual harassment training from the university by January 1, 2006.

Soloski, who announced Tuesday that he will resign his deanship effective today, denies any wrongdoing and said Wednesday that he will appeal the findings of the investigation.

The investigation did not allow Soloski the rights he would have in a judicial process, he said, denying him the opportunity to "mount any type of defense."

The letter from legal affairs tells Soloski that "it is important to understand that one may violate the policy without having the intent to make a sexual advance."

But, it said, "In this case, the evidence suggests that it was reasonable, given the totality of circumstances, for the complainant to believe that sexual advances were being directed towards her."

Soloski said the report does not take into consideration his intent and relies solely on the accusation, "which is a bit difficult to defend."

The incident in question, Soloski said, happened in Atlanta as he was leaving a black-tie university fund-raising event to meet a woman for a dinner date.

As he was leaving, he said, he saw a woman he had worked with for three years, someone he considers a friend, "wearing a very attractive dress and she is a very attractive woman."

He commented on her dress, but "did not mean it in any sexual way," he said.

Soloski also asked the woman if she was alone because he was concerned for her safety, he said.

At the time, the woman did not act offended or reply, Soloski said.

"I did not mean the comment in any way but as a compliment," he said, and if she had told him she was offended, he would have apologized, explained what he meant and stopped making comments about her appearance.

Soloski said Wednesday he was surprised at the investigation findings and that he knows he has not done anything wrong.

Though Soloski must attend sexual harassment training, he will not face any further disciplinary action because he has already resigned his deanship, Provost Arnett Mace wrote in a formal letter of reprimand.

Soloski announced his resignation Tuesday, telling Mace in his resignation letter that the job "is simply not worth the toll it is exacting from me."

Because of an exit agreement he signed in 2001, Soloski will retain his dean's salary for a year as he takes time to return to research and to the classroom in August 2006 with a salary no less than the highest-paid full professor in the college.

Other colleges have named Soloski as a finalist for their journalism deanships, he said, but he told Mace he would withdraw his name if UGA would renovate the fourth floor of the journalism building for the Grady College and if he received a "modest increase" in his salary. Soloski got his requests, he said, so he withdrew his name
from outside dean searches and intended to stop looking for other jobs.

Soloski said Wednesday he is not sure what courses he will teach, though he has spent much of his career as a professor. He is co-author of two books on libel law and has written articles on media law, media ownership, communications policy and news reporting.

Soloski was the fifth dean in the history of the Grady College.

Mace said he will name an interim dean "very soon" and expects to name members for a national search committee by the end of July.

Though Grady College faculty said they were surprised to hear about the sexual harassment charge against Soloski, not all were happy with his management style.

"I think he has a great vision of what he wants," said David Hazinski, but "I think he is not collaborative. I have heard the word autocratic used."

But because Soloski worked independently to develop and lead the school, his departure will have a profound effect, Hazinski said.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Thursday, June 30, 2005