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Censured professor returns to UNM after sex harassment investigation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A University of New Mexico professor who was suspended and censured after a sexual harassment investigation that involved interviews of students and faculty will return to the classroom this fall, albeit under supervision.

UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah, in a statement to the Journal, on Wednesday acknowledged the case involving assistant anthropology professor Cristobal Valencia and said the university’s goal was to “prevent future misconduct.”

“Every effort has been and will be taken to protect the rights of all students and faculty,” the statement read. “The findings are troubling, and the recommended discipline is designed to re-establish a good learning environment that ensures the safety and well being of everyone who is affected.”

But those findings remain secret as the university produced documents that were blacked out extensively.

Meanwhile, the director of the Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico said UNM’s actions in this case would be “terrifying” for the victims.

“What they’re seeing is not only was he found guilty, but he is coming back,” said Rape Crisis Center director May Sagbakken. “And that speaks to the fact that you’re not safe.”

Gail Houston, an English professor at UNM, told the Journal she had advised a student who was troubled by interactions with Valencia to report the case to the university.

“I thought, good, this all was going to be resolved,” she said. “It will be taken care of. I had trust that those institutional presences would take care of it.”

But Houston said that when she learned Valencia would be returning to class, she was confused.

The Office of Equal Opportunity had found cause, Houston said, so why was he returning to the classroom?

Valencia didn’t respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.

Abdallah said the university will provide counselors and psychologists for students.

Additionally, he said the faculty senate’s ethics committee has been asked to review the anthropology department and “make any additional recommendations they believe might be helpful and appropriate.”

And he said, if necessary, further disciplinary action would be taken against Valencia.

The investigation comes at a time when the Department of Justice said UNM’s policies failed to comply with some federal gender anti-discrimination laws. The federal agency released that report earlier this year and is negotiating with university officials on how to move forward.

Documents redacted

Documents detailing the investigation obtained from the university by the Journal under the Inspection of Public Records Act were heavily redacted by UNM – even to the point of blacking out in his suspension letter what appear to be specific policies Valencia was found to have violated.

The documents mention “sexual harassment” and “differential treatment” around sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.

A partially redacted memo written to Valencia by Mark Peceny, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and dated March 30, informed him that the investigation into sexual harassment and discrimination claims “demonstrated that your actions were in violation of university policies …”

Peceny said that in view of the “extremely serious nature” of the findings, Valencia was “immediately suspended with pay from all academic duties …”

Censure involves a permanent mark on Valencia’s record. Additionally, he will be monitored by other faculty members who regularly will sit in his classes, and he must report to a committee about his interactions with students.

The eight-page OEO report said there was “sexual harassment hostile environment” and that OEO found “probable cause.” Valencia is appealing, according to UNM.

Valencia is an assistant professor in the anthropology department and has taught courses since 2002. He teaches courses about anthropology in Latin America and New Mexico, according to the university website.

The Journal also reached out to the chairman of the department, Les Field, who said he made the decision to censure Valencia, but he said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the decision because it was a personnel matter.

“I feel that we’re taking all appropriate actions to guarantee the safety within the power that we have as a department,” Field said.

At least four witnesses were part of the initial investigation and 44 interviews eventually were conducted of faculty and students.

The documents provided by UNM indicate the investigation began in June 2015, but it’s unclear when it concluded or what the specific allegations were.

What is clear is UNM administrators suspended Valencia from late March to June and ordered him to avoid contact with faculty and students in the department.

On June 28, Peceny wrote to Valencia saying his suspension had been lifted. The dean wrote “the chair of the department of anthropology (Field) has determined the appropriate disciplinary action to be censure.”