Petition calls for UCO Interim Assistant Dean to be permanently removed
An online petition created by a former University of Central Oklahoma student is calling for the removal of Interim Assistant Dean, Kato Buss, after sexual harassment allegations.
Last month, six women filed a lawsuit against UCO alleging their former theater professor sexually harassed them for years.
The petition was created around the same time by Alyssa Moon, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance. Moon is not a part of the lawsuit but says she felt like she needed to do something to alert incoming freshmen.
“I feel they have a right to know what kind of person UCO is allowing to teach them,” Moon said.
As of this publication, the change.org petition has garnered 1,003 signatures to remove Buss from his position.
“I know all of the people involved. I’ve lived with them, performed with them and still never knew what was going on behind closed doors,” Moon said.
Buss is an associate professor and has served as the chairperson of UCO’s Department of Theatre Arts. Buss was recently promoted to interim assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts and Design despite a student reporting an allegation in 2017, according to court documents. However, Buss is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The documents filed to the court state: “Buss continues to teach, direct productions, contact students outside of class. Far from disciplining him, UCO has emboldened him, allowed him continued access to young women and even rewarded him with promotions.”
UCO confirmed that Buss is still employed by the university. The university’s faculty website still lists Buss as interim assistant dean.
When asked for comment regarding the lawsuit, Adrienne Nobles, vice president of communications and public affairs for UCO, said: “UCO takes every allegation of sexual harassment seriously including the ones set out in the pending lawsuit regarding this faculty member. However, we are unable to provide any details or provide any specific response regarding this matter while the litigation is pending.”
The six women are being represented by Sheila Haddock from the Zalkin Law Firm, whose office is based out of San Diego. Haddock has not responded to a request for comment from The Vista.
Haddock specializes in issues relating to Title IX, Title VII and other prohibited harassment and discrimination, according to the law firm’s website.
During litigation, UCO is represented by the university president’s general counsel as well as the state attorney general’s office. Any lawsuit settlements the university faces are paid with general university funds, according to Nobles.
According to the lawsuit, UCO did not consider one of the women’s reports as a Title IX complaint. Instead, plaintiffs claim former deputy Title IX coordinator, Adrienne Martinez, called the reported incidents “managerial concerns more appropriately handled by Employee Relations.”
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights states: ”When an educational institution knows or reasonably should know of possible sex-based harassment, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.”
The department adds: “If an investigation reveals that the harassment created a hostile environment, the educational institution must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”
Martinez stopped serving as the deputy Title IX coordinator and director of student Conduct in May 2019. Paul Goertemiller filled the position in September 2019 and served as the coordinator until recently. UCO is currently searching for a replacement.
According to Nobles, three deputy Title IX coordinators are managing cases as the university looks for a replacement. The coordinators are Erika Cerda, assistant vice president for talent management; Sheridan Leake, compliance coordinator; and Jeremy Rogers, director of athletic compliance.
The documents state in November 2020, Cerda, named in the lawsuit as UCO’s director of employee relations, proposed two plaintiffs file an “informal HR process” rather than a formal Title IX process.
In December, a letter was sent to two plaintiffs stating an “informal resolution” was pursued and “relative sanctions” were placed against Buss. The documents go on to state UCO considered the matter resolved and closed, but that Cerda did not disclose details on the sanctions.
The civil case was filed in the United States District Court in the Western District of Oklahoma, which is a federal court.UCO-Theatre-Complaint
On April 27, UCO President Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar sent out an email announcing the university had finished the annual process of developing the budget for the coming fiscal year. In the email, President Neuhold-Ravikumar announced 18 vacated or temporarily filled full-time faculty positions and 11 regular staff positions would be eliminated.
The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation for alleged damages such as emotional distress, humiliation, and embarrassment along with litigation and attorney’s fees.