Sexual harassment complaints reveal UNM staff targeting students | KOB 4

Sexual harassment complaints reveal UNM staff targeting students

Jen French
January 23, 2018 10:31 PM

Editor's note: 4 Investigates has chosen to not name the alleged harassers because they are not facing criminal charges.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Sexual harassment complaints filed at the University of New Mexico since 2014 reveal discipline for employees accused of harassment has been inconsistent.

After 4 Investigates reviewed nearly 700 pages of Title IX complaints, it was discovered that at least eight instructors and one former graduate academic advisor were investigated by UNM’s Office of Equal Opportunity office for alleged sexual harassment. Their departments include music, English, African American studies, mechanical engineering, media arts, finance and anthropology. Some still work for the university.

It’s not on a pop quiz, but a question that a UNM neurology professor asked a woman has been, "Have you ever pole danced?" The same instructor is accused of also stating, "You look so hot to me," according to a UNM OEO complaint filed in September 2016

A music professor accused of having sexual relations with at least two students retired before he could face any discipline. The same professor was in charge of awarding scholarships within the department. The students he is accused of having relations with were also recipients. 

An academic advisor was accused of sexually assaulting one of his advisees in his workplace after office. He was never disciplined because OEO investigators could not determine if the incident was consensual. He now works for a college in California.

A student has filed a lawsuit against a mechanical engineering staff member for allegedly restraining her and grabbing her breasts. She claims she left the department because of the incident. Another student accused him of asking for sexual favors to release a hold on her academic account. According to UNM’s online directory, he is a retired employee.

The OEO believed a finance professor was not violating UNM sexual harassment policy even though multiple students complained about his classroom jokes.

Four remaining staff members who were found in violation of UNM’s sexual harassment policy were asked to undergo an educational conference.

4 Investigates determined that since 2014, only anthropology professor Cristobal Valencia was terminated for alleged sexual harassment. His termination came after 4 Investigates questioned UNM about retaining Valencia even after initial complaints.

Valencia was accused of touching his students inappropriately, making lewd comments and telling his colleagues that he didn’t take orders from "white bitches." One student alleged to 4 Investigates that she left the university because of him.

According to Valencia’s Title IX file, the OEO office did not find him in violation of their policy in April 2016.  The university reviewed additional complaints. In January 2017, the school determined that Valencia violated UNM’s sexual harassment policy.

UNM students are disturbed by what the Title IX complaints revealed.

"That's ridiculous. That is not ok. They're instructors here and they're here to teach, not harass," student Ashley Matthews said.

"They’re trained professionals," added Benjamin Nelson-Schille, a former student. "That's not acceptable in any way shape or form." 

"That's not enough. I think they shouldn't be teachers at all,” said another student, Yareth Marquez.

4 Investigates discovered that most staff members face no more than an educational conference when they’re found in violation of the sexual harassment policy.

"An educational conference is an informal process that we use to educate people about what they're doing and it’s a non-punitive informal process," OEO Director Francie Cordova said.

Cordova said an educational conference is a sit-down where the alleged harasser must meet with his or her department head as well as the university’s Title IX officer to discuss why the conduct is inappropriate. 

The two people are the same people who decide if the harasser is suspended, terminated or excused. The harasser's behavior is typically monitored for three months.

"They might be good for 90 days," Cordova said. "That's why we talk to people in the workplace such as the supervisor. Supervisors are required to report to us."  

In a letter to UNM in April 2016, the Department of Justice alleged that the OEO office failed to consistently consider the power differentiation between the alleged harasser and victim. Cordova said UNM is now working with the DOJ to improve its sexual harassment investigations and reporting.

"Universities, faculty, staff, and especially students have been on the forefront of this topic long before it has become the current conversation," Cordova said. "So I'm especially proud of the universities and the people affected who have shared their stories in moving the needle forward on this issue." 

In response to the DOJ’s report, UNM now requires all faculty and staff to take an online sexual harassment prevention course. Gender discrimination attorney Donald Gilpin worries that it’s not enough.

"You don't have an objective system where people say, "For this violation, you get this; for this violation, you get this; or for this violation, you get this.' It's all done on an ad hoc basis,” Gilpin said.

Gilpin adds that undergraduate students are typically the adult age of sexual consent, but power dynamics should be closely examined since many instructors have control over a student's grade or entry into select internships.

"I think the power dynamics should be looked at harder than it is," Gilpin said.

What is and what is not sexual harassment has been a grey area at UNM for years.  In an effort to improve their grade, UNM is working to make a change.


Jen French

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