A veteran English professor at the University of Virginia is retiring after an internal investigation concluded he should be held responsible for inappropriate sexual contact with one of his students 17 years ago.
John Casey, an award-winning fiction writer, kissed and touched the student in an unwelcome manner one night in 2001, according to a letter summarizing conclusions last week from a disciplinary review panel. The investigation also determined Casey had sex with the student at a time when she was likely to have been enrolled in his class, according to the letter.
The panel characterized his conduct as “reprehensible,” according to the letter, and recommended termination.
But the panel cleared Casey on a major charge: It concluded there was not enough evidence to support former student Lisa Schievelbein’s allegation that the professor had sexual intercourse with her repeatedly without her consent.
“I am delighted that U-Va. completely rejected each and every one of Lisa’s false rape allegations,” Casey said in a statement Wednesday through his attorney, Justin Dillon. “And because I am 79 years old, I have decided to retire rather than fight on.” Dillon said the retirement was effective immediately.
The disciplinary panel’s decisions were presented in the letter as recommendations to U-Va. Provost Thomas Katsouleas, who will make a final determination.
Casey, who won a National Book Award for his 1989 novel “Spartina,” joined the faculty in 1972 and was a fixture in U-Va.’s creative writing program. He was on leave this year as the university looked into the sexual harassment and misconduct allegations against him.
Last year, Schievelbein, now 40 and living in Upstate New York, accused Casey of sexual assault related to incidents during the spring of her senior year, when she was in one of Casey’s writing classes.
Separately, other women accused the professor in 2017 of sexual harassment, according to U-Va. documents. In response to their complaints, Casey denied violating university policies. U-Va. has made no findings yet on those matters.
Schievelbein went public with her allegations in May at a time when the #MeToo movement — spotlighting sexual harassment in politics, entertainment, business and other fields — was leading to heightened scrutiny of accusations involving male professors with power in academia.
This week, Schievelbein said she was happy with the outcome. “I’m hoping it shows that for survivors, even if you were harmed by someone’s sexual violence a long time ago, and even if the process is in many ways stacked against you, you can still pursue justice,” she said in a telephone interview. “And you can still win.”
Casey has not been charged with any crime, and he maintains that all of his physical encounters with Schievelbein were consensual. He has acknowledged having a “regrettable” extramarital affair with her that year but said it occurred after the class ended.
The panel U-Va. convened to review the case — two faculty members and one staff member — condemned Casey’s behavior as “intolerable and unsettling” in the seven-page letter to the provost, Katsouleas. Schievelbein’s attorney, Carly N. Mee of the legal group SurvJustice, provided a copy of the letter to The Washington Post.
The investigation relied on a standard known as “preponderance of the evidence,” following widespread practice in higher education for enforcement of rules against sexual misconduct. That is a lower threshold for judgment than standards such as “clear and convincing” or “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The letter indicated the relationship between professor and student took a turn after the two had dinner in late March or early April 2001 at a Thai restaurant in Charlottesville. They were in his car.
According to the letter, U-Va.’s investigation found Casey kissed Schievelbein and touched her breast, torso and pelvic area in an unwelcome manner. Casey said the interaction was “entirely consensual and mutual.” He denied touching her pelvic area but acknowledged in response to the investigation that he should not have kissed Schievelbein “while she was my student.”
At a later point, according to the disciplinary letter, Casey acknowledged he had sex with Schievelbein on multiple occasions. The letter cited a finding that at least one instance of sexual intercourse between the two probably occurred while she was his student. “Given the power dynamic present between the parties,” the letter said, Casey’s conduct was “reprehensible and clearly a violation of the Faculty Conflicts of Interest policy.” Casey disputed that conclusion.
The investigation unearthed evidence of what the panel considered another troubling episode. The letter said Casey admitted kissing another student in one of his writing workshops. The panel viewed that as a sign of a “pattern of behavior over a period of time” that suggested Casey was “unfit for continued teaching responsibilities.”
Casey, in a separate written statement to U-Va., apparently referred to this incident from nearly 30 years ago. He was with a graduate student in her late 20s. Casey said he tried to kiss her but she pushed him away. “I stopped and never tried to make any sexual advances towards her again,” he wrote.
The letter said the panel voted unanimously to recommend termination. The outcome now rests with Katsouleas, chief academic officer of the 24,000-student public university.
“The investigation involving Mr. Casey is ongoing and has not reached final disposition,” U-Va. spokesman Anthony P. de Bruyn said Thursday.