Dr. Gregory A. Ahearn, 74, a tenured biology professor at the University of North Florida was put on leave after a former student/employee accused him of sexual harassment. Shortly afterward, Ahearn announced his retirement. Details on this allegation include Ahearn making sexist comments to a student and engaging in “inappropriate activity of a sexual nature.”
This inappropriate activity allegedly included staring at the student’s chest and rear, and asking her if she planned to become a stripper. That last comment sounds bizarre, but the student says she told Ahearn she was going for an interview, and his response after asking her if she was going to become a stripper was, “After all, that’s why I teach you all physiology, so you can all become strippers.”
The student reported the comment and behavior to her academic advisor the following day. However, this is not the first time such allegations have been made against Ahearn, a presidential professor in the department of biology.
In 2008, he was reprimanded for his behavior with a female graduate student by the university. In that case, Ahearn and the graduate student attended a biology conference in San Diego, where they shared a hotel room. He used a card issued by the university to purchase alcohol. The graduate student alleged Ahearn had engaged in “unwelcome behavior” on the trip, as well as trying to kiss her on the flight back to Florida and making inappropriate sexual comments.
In a 2012 incident with another graduate student, the woman claimed Ahearn made inappropriate comments about her body and sent her flirtatious emails and texts. As a result of these allegations, Ahearn was put on probation for five years and forbidden to attend conferences or similar meetings with students. It appears he did travel with students in 2016 before his five-year probation ended.
One student states that she decided not to go to a conference because she didn’t want to travel with Ahearn. She alleges Ahearn told her a story about a woman grabbing him by the genitals in New Orleans, and the experience made her uncomfortable.
Ahearn was also required to undergo sexual harassment training. The dean of the school’s College of Arts and Sciences warned Ahearn that his communication with students was “too casual, intimate, and have been determined as crossing the appropriate border between faculty/student and supervisor/employee relations.”
If the new allegations are valid, it’s obvious he didn’t take the training or warnings to heart.
Respected in the Biology Community
Ahearn is a well-known and well-respected figure in the biology community, and the student/employee said it was unlikely that other women he might have harassed would speak out because Ahearn was such a respected figure.
She added he wrote “great” letters of recommendation, which could also prove a factor in the reluctance of students to call him out on sexual improprieties. The woman said she reported Ahearn because she was concerned about other students in the department. Ahearn was unusual among his colleagues in that he employed only female students.
Ahearn submitted his resignation letter on November 26. He gives no reason for his resignation in the document, but states he leaves the institution “with a sense of accomplishment on many fronts.” The letter goes on to state many of those accomplishments. While the University of North Florida may have lost a distinguished academic, female students in the biology department may no longer have to worry about becoming victims of a creepy, aged professor.
If you have been subjected to improper sexual conduct in or out of the workplace, contact our sexual harassment lawyers at the Whistleblower Law Group today. We can be reached by phone at 877.858.8018, by email at [hidden email].