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Thursday, April 24, 2008
Dean Quits Amid Porn E-Mail Flap
By Martin Salazar
Journal Staff Writer
A New Mexico State University official accused of sending pornographic e-mails has resigned his administrative position.
Larry Olsen stepped down Monday as associate dean of NMSU's College of Health and Social Services after being notified he had violated NMSU policy, according to a campuswide e-mail sent Tuesday evening by the university's provost.
"NMSU will not tolerate discriminatory behavior of any kind," Provost Waded Cruzado said in her e-mail. "The institution cannot condone such activities. In particular, our administrators are expected to exercise good judgment, exhibit the highest ethical standards and impeccable conduct."
Olsen, who has been suspended from his faculty duties with pay, has until Monday to contest the provost's finding. After that, Cruzado said, the university will determine what action to take.
Olsen didn't respond to a telephone message left at his home Wednesday. He has worked at NMSU since 2001.
Cruzado's e-mail is vague about the university policy Olsen violated, and NMSU spokesman Darrell Pehr said the university couldn't elaborate.
A "confidential memorandum" sent Monday to graduate student Freedom Cheteni by the school's Office of Institutional Equity, however, makes clear the finding stems from a complaint Cheteni filed.
The memo cites a policy on "complaints of discrimination to include sexual harassment."
Cheteni said the finding "absolutely" involved the sexually explicit e-mails.
Cheteni and NMSU faculty member John Moraros have said they were exposed to a number of the unwanted e-mails. Moraros said he complained to no avail. Cheteni said he was exposed to the materials while assigned to check Moraros' e-mail account.
Two of the e-mails obtained by the Journal list them as having been sent from Olsen's NMSU account. One contains multiple images of a naked woman. The second contains three images of women dressed as nurses performing sex acts on fully exposed men.
The evening before the Journal and the Las Cruces Sun News published stories about the e-mails, NMSU announced that Olsen was temporarily stepping down as associate dean pending an investigation. Olsen later apologized in a "confidential memorandum" for sending material someone might find offensive.
"In my role as Associate Dean, I clearly erred in sending this material to Dr. Moraros using my NMSU account, and that material was viewed as 'offensive' by Mr. Cheteni," he wrote. "I regret this mistake and know it will never recur."
Cheteni said NMSU's finding Olsen in violation of university policy is a step in the right direction.
"The pressure that they have received from the media, from the community, is what has caused them to come to that kind of decision," Cheteni said.
After Olsen temporarily stepped down as dean, he and another college administrator accused of retaliation were sent to represent NMSU at a national conference, drawing complaints from some faculty and students.
Olsen's resignation comes amid mounting turmoil in the university's Department of Health Science and College of Health and Social Services.
Married faculty members Moraros and Yelena Bird, who is black, contend their contracts weren't renewed because they complained about Olsen's e-mails and about racially disparaging remarks made about blacks by another department administrator.
Earlier this month, four faculty members and a student who have been critical of the university's handling of the situation found racially offensive notes under their doors instructing them to shut up or suffer consequences.
Among those who received the notes were Cheteni, Moraros and Bird. Cheteni said the FBI is conducting a separate investigation into the notes.
And last week, a group of protesters cornered Gov. Bill Richardson in Las Cruces to ask for an investigation into the decision not to renew the contracts of Moraros and Bird. Richardson told protesters he would talk to the board of regents and look into the matter.
Cheteni said that while he's glad the university found Olsen to be in violation of university policy, he's disappointed it didn't re-evaluate the decision not to renew the contracts of Bird and Moraros.