Professor resigns amid sexual misconduct allegations

Mark Feuerborn

Facing an alleged investigation into a formally filed report of sexual exploitation of a female student, John Paul, professor of sociology, resigned from his position as a teacher at Washburn University following the completion of the Fall 2016 semester.

Patrick Early of University Relations gave this statement on behalf of Washburn:

“[Dr. Paul] was employed by the university from August 2003 until December 2016 as a professor of sociology,” Early said. “Dr. Paul resigned from his position and information about him was subsequently removed from the university directory and website as per our normal practice. The university’s policy is to not discuss personnel matters involving any university employee so there isn’t anything further that I can share about that.”

The allegations that Paul had been sexually inappropriate with a female student became public knowledge following a Nov. 30 confrontation in a classroom between him and anthropology professor, Sharla Blank. Paul informed witnessing students about the allegations and said they were not true.

In light of the report being filed, a former student of Paul’s, who took multiple courses with him and whom he served as an academic advisor for, has come forward with an account of a sexual relationship with Paul which allegedly began and continued while she was enrolled in courses with him. The student believes that she is one of multiple students Paul has engaged with throughout his career, and fears he may continue to engage in sexual relationships with students if hired at another university. She initially consented to the relationship, but found this consent was given under false pretenses upon being made aware Paul had additional partners throughout their relationship. This student has been kept anonymous for her safety.

The student detailed the beginning of the relationship, when Paul met with her for academic advising just before the end of a semester. The student said that Paul proposed a directed readings class over the break, in which the student would meet with Paul at his home. In looking back at this meeting, the student said Paul used his position as an academic advisor to set up a scenario where the student would see him in private at his residence.

“He gave me his phone number, his personal number, in that meeting,” the student said. “The reason cited was that because I was going to be doing a directed readings course with him, but was fulfilling all of the coursework for the class over winter break, he wanted me to have immediate access to him. From there, through texting, we scheduled meetings at his home, to talk about my homework.”

A sexual relationship began during these meetings, and Paul requested that it remained hidden to avoid repercussions against the student.

“I just wasn’t sure what the policies were,” the student said. “He told me that the best thing to do would be to keep it a secret, because while there’s no policy about student-professor relationships on campus, they’re generally frowned upon.”

In correspondence on Jan. 11, Early gave a statement on behalf of Washburn that included the faculty handbook outlines for what would warrant disciplinary action, but there was no policy specifically covering sexual relations between faculty and students. The statement also specified policy on a faculty member’s right to appeal investigation rulings if that faculty member resigns.

“The reasons for major disciplinary action involving a faculty or staff member are noted in the university bylaws as ‘demonstrated incompetence or dishonesty in teaching or research, substantial and manifest neglect of duty, personal conduct which substantially impairs the individual’s fulfillment of his/her university responsibilities, engaging in or substantially contributing to actions materially disruptive to the effective operations of the university, substantial falsification of credentials, or violation of other faculty, staff, or student’s civil rights,’” Early said. “In the case of full time faculty, there is a right of appeal to a five-member faculty appeals board with the final decision being made by the Board of Regents. Someone who resigns from the university has waived that right of appeal.”

However, in the Jan. 23 email where Early confirmed Paul’s resignation, he specified policy on sexual relations between faculty and students.

“As a general principle – I can tell you that an inappropriate relationship with a student would be a violation of the faculty and staff code of conduct and would be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including dismissal,” Early said.

Beyond policy, the student also said Paul implied that discovery of their relationship would negatively impact her academic career.

“He said that given that I’d taken so many classes with him, that if anyone found out about us, that it would cause all of this scrutiny to befall my grades, and I could potentially have my degrees revoked,” the student said. “At one point, he said that even if people did find out, they may not believe [me] anyway.”

The student believes he coerced other students with similar reasons into staying silent about any encounters they had.

Studies have suggested student-teacher sexual relationships are more common nationwide than most think. According to, in a survey of 2,000 current and former students, “14 percent said they had had inappropriate relations with a professor.” Of those 14 percent, 45.5 percent reported that the encounters were initiated by the teacher or faculty member, while 33.45 percent said the student initiated it. Only 3.6 percent said they engaged in the encounter for better grades.

As the student allegedly involved with Paul continued at Washburn into the next semester, she said sexual contact began occurring on campus in his office.

“I had office hours with him, because I was enrolled in independent work with him,” the student said. “It was wildly inappropriate, what took place in that office. I understood that it was inappropriate and that it shouldn’t have been taking place, but at the same time there was never a point that I initiated that contact in his office.”

Following the student’s graduation, she said Paul’s interest in her dwindled. This was followed by him sending an email to break up with her.

“I had begun to wonder if it wasn’t actually me that he loved, but that he loved the idea of being with a student,” the student said. “Once I was no longer his student, that explained why he had lost interest in me. When my role changed, I had begun to wonder if I was actually being exploited.”

According to the student, the relationship was briefly rekindled as Paul approached her to request she work on a project with him. During this time, the student said communicating with Paul became difficult and one-sided, to the point where she felt she had to try and confront him in one of his classrooms.

“It was the third or fourth time that he had cancelled on me,” the student said. “My hope was to grab him after class and figure out what was going on. I sat through the entirety of the class and waited until all of these students had exited the room.”

Based on the student feeling she had to go as far as to confront Paul in a classroom when he was avoiding her, and Blank’s referral to Paul as a “predator” on Nov. 30 when she approached him as detailed in the Review’s online article “Details emerge on classroom confrontation,” it is possible that Paul had been avoiding Blank in a similar way as he had the student, and in both cases, they felt they had no other choice in order to talk to him about similar issues.

During this confrontation in class, the student alleges he terminated the relationship again. In the weeks following, while the student had little contact with Paul, she encountered another student by coincidence who Paul claimed he had a brief sexual relationship with.

“I took that opportunity to ask her about how her relationship with Dr. Paul had gone,” the student said. “I wanted to know what her impressions of him were, and she seemed confused.”

This second student said that Paul tried to initiate a sexual relationship with her, but she told him no and Paul stopped communicating with her. The second student later reported to the student that she had discovered Paul was involved long-term with another faculty member.

According to the second student, the faculty member recognized a gift the second student received from Paul from his trip to Greece, and noting that her significant other had just returned from Greece, the faculty member identified this significant other as Paul to the second student.

“My head exploded. At that point I realized one, he pursues female students for sex, and then two, he cheats on his partners, and I began to think of all the times he had cancelled on me,” the student said.

The student detailed the impact this situation has had on her to present.

“I found out that he had been having unprotected sex with me and multiple other women, and I learned that I was not the first student that he had done this to,” the student said. “Two separate therapists have said that I am exhibiting symptoms of rape. I have no idea what my future is going to be. I can’t imagine continuing my education after this experience.”

Paul did not return requests for comment.

Looking now to the present, sociology major Abby Price said that the Washburn Sociology Department is trying to cope with Paul’s disappearance in a positive manner.

“I had been working on an undergraduate research project with Dr. Paul as my faculty advisor, and I have had a couple faculty members reach out to me and offer to take me under their wing,” Price said. “The whole department has been very supportive in the wake of this.”

Looking to the future, with the recent filed report of sexual misconduct and Paul’s resignation from the university, the student expressed concern that Paul might utilize a position of power to set up more scenarios for sexual relationships with students at another university.

“The thought terrifies me, and the fact that he was able to resign over having been terminated really troubles me,” the student said. “I worry that what’s happened at Washburn won’t affect his teaching record, and he can absolutely perpetuate these kinds of abuses in other universities. It is no longer about me, but it is about anybody else that he had potentially done this to, and anybody else that he was trying to do it to.”

The student, with the above concern in mind, gave this message to any students that may ever face a similar situation.

“It’s never easy to have something negative to say about somebody that you learn under, and look up to, and is in a position of power over you. But unless people come forward, things will never get better.”