ETSU Report: Professor created hostile environment against student he dated

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A tenured East Tennessee State University professor could face consequences after an internal investigation found he crossed the line with a student, according to a newly released university discrimination and harassment complaint investigation.

The investigation found Associate Professor and Accountancy Department Assistant Chair Dr. Anthony Masino created a hostile environment and retaliated against a woman he started dating while she was a student in his class. The investigation found Dr. Masino repeatedly shared personally identifiable, private and defamatory information about the student with other students, faculty and staff.

“Based on the totality of all evidence, interviews, and documentation of this complaint, the investigators determine that Anthony Masino created a hostile environment for — that included acts of retaliation,” the report found. “This was caused by Masino’s repeated sharing of information related to — broadly throughout the Department of Accountancy and, by a preponderance of evidence, the investigators have determined that Anthony Masino violated Policy P-080.”

As a result of the findings, the investigation recommends Dr. Masino “be held accountable.”

According to an ETSU spokesperson, Dr. Masino “is still on faculty and has not been suspended.” Dr. Masino, who has no previous discipline, according to his personnel file, makes at least $92,000 a year, according to ETSU records.

He has 10 days to appeal the university’s findings. His attorney Don Spurrell says they intend to appeal.

“They have a bit of an alternative fact universe going on in their narrative,” Spurrell said. “He’s a very kind and gentle man. He doesn’t want to be involved in this. He wants to work this case out.”

Spurrell said Dr. Masino did not start dating the student in question until after she finished her exams in his class. The relationship, which lasted roughly a year, ended after Spurrell said the woman cheated on Dr. Masino. He said that bad breakup prompted her harassment complaint.

“I think she was clearly reacting out of scorn,” he said. “They were talking marriage. They were in love.”

ETSU Senior Kelsey Blevins said she and Dr. Masino went on a handful of dates earlier this year, after he broke up with the other former student. Blevins said the relationship ended in February after Dr. Masino called the police and filed a trespassing complaint against his ex-girlfriend. Blevins is listed as a witness on that report.

“She was just yelling and screaming. Erratic,” she said. “Got in his lap and touched his face and was like, ‘Does this bother you?’ and kept saying that she was afraid of him the whole time they were dating and couldn’t wait to get out of his relationship. I said, ‘Then why are you here if you’re afraid of him?’ and she just looked at me and said she was going to beat me. Anthony had to restrain her. She lunged at me.”

Just two days later, the ex-girlfriend filed the university harassment complaint against Dr. Masino.

“Now, if she’s being harassed, why is she barging into his home after they have broken up?” Spurrell said. 

Dr. Masino’s attorney questions the timing of the complaint and the credibility of ETSU’s investigation. Spurrell said Dr. Masino alerted his supervisors after he called the police and before she filed her complaint.

“Right after Dr. Masino has made this complaint about her behavior, her harassment of him, we say ETSU engineered a complaint,” he said. “This investigation starts out as an inappropriate sexual relationship that he is harassing her sexually and then it just gently morphs into whatever they can find. In the end, they have to find something, so they find hostile environment.”

Speaking in general terms, ETSU Chief Communications Officer Joe Smith said not only does university policy prohibit consensual relationships between someone with authority over another, ETSU does not tolerate harassment. 

“Those are behaviors that go against the mission of the institution, that go against our values,” Smith said.

Both Dr. Masino and the student in question have taken out orders of protection against each other. She filed her order of protection first, at ETSU’s urging, according to court records.

ETSU’s president will determine if discipline is warranted. Dr. Masino’s attorney said the professor has already been punished enough and just wants this resolved. If he did anything wrong, he argues he didn’t resist falling in love and then didn’t bite his tongue.

“He permitted himself to fall in love with someone who pursued him,” Spurrell said. “Did he become emotional about it? Of course he did. Who would not? Would he maybe have been more cautious of what he said, would he have gone into radio silence? Certainly, upon reflection he probably would have, but that does not in any way justify an investigation that is so one-sided, so lopsided.”

To read ETSU’s full investigative report click HERE

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