UCO asks judge to throw out sexual harassment civil case
The University of Central Oklahoma is fighting back in federal court against a lawsuit brought on by six former theatre students who allege their former theatre professor sexually harassed them for years.
A UCO professor, who claims her job was threatened by the university, was also added as a plaintiff.
UCO has asked a judge to throw out the civil case.
The allegations are against Kato Buss, the interim assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts and Design.
Amidst the allegations, Buss still maintains his title of interim assistant dean, but he is not listed as an instructor for any courses on UCO’s self-guided enrollment and registration website.
In the documents, a UCO professor claimed the university purposefully demoted her from a program head position out of retaliation for her involvement in the claims against Buss. UCO denied these claims in separate court documents.
The plaintiffs responded to UCO’s dismissal request and stated that UCO’s motion should be denied.Womens-Response-to-UCO-Response
UCO stated in court documents filed in response to the plaintiffs’ complaints that the women’s claims “fail as a matter of law.”
In its response, UCO said the plaintiffs’ complaints are “long on story-telling devices, conjecture and supposition, but woefully thin on substantive facts.”UCO-Response-to-Lawsuit
UCO professor Emily Heugatter claimed in court documents that she was demoted for her involvement in the allegations, but UCO denied this claim. At one point, Heugatter functioned as a go-between for Buss and a student who filed a Title IX complaint against him.
UCO admitted in court documents that Buss did have a relationship with one of the plaintiffs in 2017, but UCO denied knowing about it at the time, stating the plaintiff tried to hide the relationship.
Current theatre students have said they feel like UCO isn’t listening to their concerns.
“We just wanted some kind of accountability for being left completely in the dark for three months. Especially after we had friends leave the university because they didn’t feel safe or comfortable continuing and we had a professor leave. We just really were lost and we didn’t get any kind of road back to even a slight sense of normalcy,” said Kate Adams, a UCO senior and theatre performance major.
Adams said at least 10 theatre students left the university after the allegations against Buss arose.
“A lot of people who left don’t regret leaving necessarily, but they’re sad that they left because they may have stayed or that may have changed their decision had they known that Dr. Buss wasn’t going to be involved in anything this semester,” Adams said.
Adams said UCO brought them together for a majors meeting to address student’s concerns about the allegations against Buss, but said students still feel like they’re in the dark.
“After the majors meeting it just felt like we still didn’t have any answers. There wasn’t any trust built back from the school and really within our department because they can’t say anything and they may have gone about the wrong way of letting us know they can’t say anything, waiting until the majors meeting which was a good half a week into the semester,” Adams said.
Miranda LoPresti, a former UCO theatre performance major, said: “I pretty much stopped attending after the news broke and nothing was said.”
LoPresti added, “I pretty much said I’m not funding an administration that refuses to take any sort of accountability and who refuses to respect those who are paying for them which would be the students through their tuition.”
She went on to say, “the frustrating part came from the fact that faculty posting on the UCO theatre page would continue to post as if nothing were happening. They’d be posting things about how the fringe festival was happening. They were posting about auditions that were being held.”
LoPresti said issues of sexual misconduct are all too common in theatre.
“On top of that, because of the nature of theatre, it’s a very vulnerable position to be in,” she said.
“Even within things like Broadway this is a problem. Every year we receive news that some director, some choreographer, has been mishandling their conduct,” said LoPresti.
An online petition was created in May calling for the “permanent removal” of Buss. As of this publication, the petition has received 1,119 signatures.
Adams also took on her own form of silent protesting at the majors meeting by creating a shirt that said “stop protecting abusers.”
“I was thinking what can I personally do as a student that is using my voice but not in any way being disruptive of a new school year and new freshman who have no idea what’s going on,” said Adams.
Adams said there are no concrete plans for students to protest against the university, but said it can’t be ruled out.
“I’m sure that if we don’t have any kind of answers there will be some form of outcry because we deserve those answers. Not just because we’re students and we deserve to know what our university is planning as far as dealing with abusers. We have the right to know because it’s our department. It was our house, really, where this happened, so we as people who are living and giving such vulnerability to this department deserve to know what’s going on,” Adams said.
When asked for comment, Adrienne Nobles, vice president of communications and public affairs for UCO, stated: “To students who have expressed concerns, we hear you, we acknowledge your concerns and they are being considered; however, due to active litigation we cannot comment further or provide details.”
UCentral News reached out to Kato Buss four weeks ago. Buss has not yet responded to that request.