UGA bars professor from campus amid sexual misconduct investigation

The University of Georgia has barred a longtime math professor from campus as investigators review several sexual misconduct complaints against him.

The university said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Friday that its Equal Opportunity Office is investigating allegations against the professor, William Kazez, who's been a faculty member at UGA for about three decades. It also presented a campus police report from one woman who accused him of sexual harassment.

At least seven women — students and faculty members — have come forward in recent months with complaints going back several years of unwanted touching, groping and sex acts by Kazez, according to Lisa Anderson, a Decatur attorney representing two of the women who said she's working with the others. She said the claims from women at the University of Georgia go back at least to 2014.

The university said it would not discuss the specifics of its probe, but stressed it will vigorously investigate and “impose sanctions on faculty and employees found to have engaged in sexual misconduct.”

“Professor Kazez has been barred from campus and is not teaching while the investigation is underway,” the statement said.

An attorney representing Kazez said in an email Friday evening to the AJC that Kazez denies “acting unlawfully” towards the students and said he has not had any prior Equal Opportunity Office complaints against him in his UGA career.

“Dr. Kazez has empathy for the accusers, however, some of their assertions have changed over time, and others could not have happened as alleged,” said the attorney, Janet E. Hill.

“At this point, no violations have been proven. The University of Georgia has a process to investigate allegations such as these which is designed to protect the rights of the accusers and the accused. Dr. Kazez looks forward to resolving this matter through the established legal processes rather than in the court of public opinion.”

Anderson, though, said the allegations against Kazez are some of the most egregious she’s heard. The women have been undergraduate, graduate students and faculty, she said.

Anderson, executive director of Atlanta Women for Equality, who has represented several women throughout the state in recent years who’ve accused college students or faculty of misconduct, said Kazez used his influence over the women, particularly the graduate students, to coerce them to engage in sexual encounters with him.

“This should not have happened in the first place. Now it has to stop,” Anderson said. “Kazez must never again be in a position where he can use his position of authority, respect and trust to hurt women and, on a broader scale, cripple our education system.

The University System of Georgia’s sexual harassment policy prohibits unwelcome sexual advancements, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. The University of Georgia is part of the University System of Georgia.

The University System also has a policy prohibiting employees from engaging in sexual contact or amorous relationships with any student or system employee who the individual supervises, teaches, or evaluates in any way. That policy prohibits employees from having a romantic or sexual relationship with any student or system employee whose terms or conditions of education or employment the individual could directly affect. Violators can be fired.

The university on April 26 told the AJC in response to an open records request that any information concerning an investigation of Kazez “would currently be exempt from disclosure.”

But on Friday afternoon, the university provided the AJC a campus police report filed March 18 by a woman against Kazez. The newspaper does not identify alleged sexual harassment or assault survivors without their consent.

The woman, a graduate student, said the alleged misconduct began in September 2017. The woman said she was in her office with Kazez when he began to touch her breasts, but she did not stop him, according to the police report. The woman said in another incident, Kazez touched her buttocks and she tried to move away from him. The woman said she and Kazez had sexual intercourse at least six times "and she said she was never physically forced nor was she told there would be consequences for having/not having sex with Kazez," the report said. The woman said she told Kazez in January she wanted the sexual encounters to end, the report said. Kazez asked the woman to meet him in late February, but she refused, saying she would only do so with her lawyer present, the report said.

The woman asked university police for an escort to all of her classes, the report said. Police declined the request, but advised her to call if Kazez contacted her and threatened her or if she felt in danger.

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In December 2017, the University of Georgia received a complaint in an email from a woman who said Kazez once touched her inappropriately three decades ago when she was an undergraduate student and he was a post-doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology. The woman, Laura Anderson, no relation to Lisa, said she came forward with her claim in the wake of #MeToo movement as more women across the country who had been sexually assaulted or harassed began sharing their stories.

Laura Anderson said Kazez invited her to come to his apartment to study one evening. He repeatedly asked to give her a massage. She said she initially declined but later let him do so, hoping to appease him. Laura Anderson told the University of Georgia in her email that Kazez touched her between her legs and “I extricated myself from the situation as fast as I could, and I gave him no further opportunities for such behavior. It was a disgusting experience.”

The University of Georgia sent Laura Anderson a reply two days after her email thanking Anderson for sharing the information but said there had been no reports of inappropriate behavior by Kazez.

Laura Anderson said in an interview this week with the AJC she did not report the incident when it happened because "it was 1988." About 15% of the students at Caltech at the time were women, she said. 

“There was no consciousness that women were out here,” she said.

Laura Anderson, who teaches math at a university in New York, believes Kazez should be fired. She’s worried that Kazez could harm female students.

“When you are a grad student, your whole career depends on faculty being happy with you,” she explained.

Laura Anderson, aware of the current investigation, said of it all “it’s been nagging in the back of my mind all this time.”