ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The contentious, nearly half-year-long case of an anthropology professor accused of sexually harassing students is nearly over with the University of New Mexico’s choosing to terminate his contract.
The decision on Cristobal Valencia follows an earlier decision that he only be censured, which would have allowed him back into the classroom.
The firing comes after three other anthropology professors quit teaching classes in the fall semester after complaining to UNM about initially keeping Valencia. He was accused of making lewd comments about his students, touching them inappropriately and at one point saying he didn’t take orders from “white bitches,” according to complaints filed with the school.
One of the original critics of the university’s decision to keep Valencia on the payroll, professor Gail Houston, told the Journal on Thursday that UNM had “finally done the right thing.”
“I am still concerned for the students that were so deeply affected by his behavior and more needs to be done for them,” Houston said.
Provost Chaouki Abdallah told the Journal on Thursday that he reviewed Valencia’s case and decided to terminate the tenure-track professor, following the recommendation of Dean Mark Peceny of the College of Arts and Sciences earlier this year.
“I concluded that termination of Dr. Valencia’s probationary contract was warranted,” Abdallah said in a statement. “I have notified Dr. Valencia of my decision and I have directed that Dr. Valencia’s employment contract with the University will terminate at the end of October.”
University spokeswoman Dianne Anderson said Valencia can appeal the decision, but it’s unclear if he will.
A person who answered the phone in the anthropology department Thursday told the Journal that Valencia was not in the office. A call and email to Valencia weren’t returned. His attorney, Michael Mozes, told the Journal that he didn’t have a comment on the provost’s decision at this time.
Valencia has been a tenure-track assistant professor with an annual salary of $71,000. He didn’t teach any classes in the fall semester.
An Office of Equal Opportunity investigation earlier this year found probable cause that Valencia made lewd comments about students, inappropriately touched students and cultivated relationships with female students that could lead to sex.
Brian Moore, the attorney representing the three faculty members who raised concerns about Valencia, said his clients would not comment on the university’s decision to cut his contract short.
Valencia was suspended in March while the university decided what action to take. He received the censure notice in late June and has said he would appeal. But he was again suspended when new complaints surfaced in August.
About the same time, professors Ronda Brulotte and Lindsay Smith, both in the anthropology department, told UNM they had “deep concern about recent events in the department and have decided to focus their contributions to UNM in other areas at this time.”
Effectively, that meant the two didn’t teach classes for the department in the fall. The university also confirmed at the time that another anthropology professor, Erin Debenport, had left the university for a job at UCLA.