In December 2019, The Lantern, a student news outlet of the Ohio State University, reported that William White, a former OSU football player who also played 11 seasons in the NFL, abruptly resigned his position in lieu of termination after an investigation into sexual harassment allegations. Mr. White had been serving as Director of Community and Corporate Engagement for OSU’s College of Engineering.
An investigation commenced after a student filed a complaint on February 22, 2019, and concluded on April 30, 2019. Feb. 22 was the last day Mr. White spent in his office; however, he was paid until August 10.
University spokesperson Ben Johnson told The Lantern that Mr. White “was ‘primarily responsible for building relationships with community and corporate partners to enhance their engagement with the College of Engineering.’ White also served as an ambassador of the Alumni Association at various events and activities.”
According to the complaint, “White entered the cubicle of the unnamed female … on Feb. 22, told her to look into his eyes and kissed her on the lips.” The complainant told him to leave, but “said he attempted to kiss her again and then left the cubicle. He returned two hours later to try to kiss her again.” Mr. White’s description of the incident differed in details, but, even if true, demonstrates highly unprofessional and potentially unsettling conduct towards the complainant.
White’s version was that while he was in the complainant’s cubicle, they were engaged in some sort of staring contest and “trying not to blink.” Their faces “got close enough that their noses touched, causing them both to jump back.” White says he “then left the cubicle, and when he returned to it later, he attempted to ‘touch noses’ again as a joke.”
Compared to many university complaints, this one seems to have been handled swiftly and decisively. Since, even under the best of circumstances, colleges are finding it challenging to attract and retain female engineering students, OSU officials decided they could ill afford to have Mr. White impeding those efforts. But despite the speed of the process, there may have been a serious irregularity. The Lantern explains there was “an anonymous complaint filed April 9, which accused David Williams, dean of the College of Engineering, and Jim Smith, president and CEO of the Alumni Association, of interfering in the investigation into White.”
Williams and Smith apparently stood by White, and went so far as to accuse “the two human resources investigators of implicit bias,” making it “difficult” for them to “fairly review” the case, simply because they were white, and Mr. White is black.
While unfounded charges of racism seem to be all the rage on college campuses these days, we should demand better from university deans and alumni directors, who have reasonable standards to uphold. It’s one thing to be supportive of Mr. White, and want him to have every benefit of due process, but attacking investigators based on their skin color is beneath the dignity of a great university. And unfortunately, this tactic hints at the type of intransigence that sexual harassment plaintiffs encounter all the time in academia. For this reason and many more, anyone who brings a sexual harassment complaint against a college or university should have experienced legal counsel at their side.
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