Larry Nighswander Resigns From OU

Aug 24, 2004

Ohio University announced yesterday that professor Larry Nighswander has resigned his position as requested by the school, but that the resignation doesn't take effect until March 31, 2005. According to OU's official statement, Nighswander remains on their payroll conducting "assigned employment" from a location "off campus" for the duration of the agreement.

[Resigns: Ohio University today announced the resignation of VisCom professor Larry Nighswander.

Earlier this year OU asked Nighswander to resign or face a de-tenuring process that would end in dismissal after a former student, Rebecca Humes, filed a $3 million federal sexual harassment lawsuit last year against Nighswander and the school. In the suit, filed April 24, 2003, Humes alleges that Nighswander sexually harassed her during a photo session in which she posed topless for him, and that she did not realize beforehand that the session would involve nudity.

In the university's brief three-paragraph statement, OU Media Specialist Jack Jeffery said, "Professor Larry Nighswander has resigned his position as a tenured faculty member of the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University effective March 31, 2005. The termination of the relationship is the result of an agreement in which the university accepts the resignation rather than initiating a de-tenuring process as prescribed by the Faculty Handbook Section II, D:5, Loss of Tenure, which usually takes between six and nine months to complete."

According to the resignation agreement between OU and Nighswander, which is a document called "Final Employment Agreement and Release of All Claims," Nighswander will continue to receive his annual salary of $92,667 until March, and will get a one-time payment the equivalent of his annual salary now in return for resigning. Other terms of the agreement allow him to continue to use his OU email address even though he will not have an office on campus, and "all work assignments given to him until March 31 2005 will be completed off campus." During this period he also gets any sick leave or vacation time due to him, and OU continues his health insurance. The agreement also says, "The resignation date of March 31 2005 is conditioned on Mr. Nighswander not having other full time employment." The document is a matter of public record under Ohio law and a copy of it was obtained yesterday byNews Photographer.

After OU announced the resignation on Thursday, Nighswander emailed a statement toNews Photographermagazine that said, in part, "I have decided to end my relationship with Ohio University. I have made this decision reluctantly. I am very proud of the positive changes made during my tenure as director of the School of Visual Communication." In the statement he also wrote, "I will miss the classroom, but not the politics of academic administration. My numerous disagreements with the Ohio University Office of Legal Affairs and philosophical differences and communication problems with certain university administrators make it no longer possible for me to be effective as a faculty member at Ohio University."

OU's official announcement Thursday said: "During the period of Professor Nighswander's continued assigned employment at Ohio University, he will not maintain an office on campus and his work assignments will be completed off campus consistent with his leave during the previous academic year of 2003-2004. Compensation will be consistent with a partial academic year contract ending March 31, 2005 and conditional upon his not having other full-time employment. Professor Nighswander will receive one year's compensation in a lump sum amount equivalent to one year's salary which would have been due him had the de-tenuring process been completed in accordance with the Ohio University Faculty Handbook."

Nighswander also wrote in his post-resignation statement, "As part of the settlement agreement I have agreed not to sue the university or its personnel for age discrimination, computer data theft, invasion of privacy, defamation of character, violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, spoilage of evidence, and internal complaints of failure to follow due process. To release the University of any responsibility for negligence or intentional misconduct in this matter is a painful decision, but the legal cost of pursuing legal relief is a tremendous financial burden that is beyond my personal resources; I also don't want to see the School of Visual Communication suffer any further from the negative publicity associated with this dispute. I place my pride in the School of Visual Communication above any concern that I have over damage to my own reputation."

OU's announcement of the agreement ended with, "In accordance with the terms of the agreement, this release will represent Ohio University's only statement regarding Professor Nighswander's resignation."

In his written statement toNews Photographer, Nighswander also said "I continue to withhold comment on the pending federal litigation out of respect for the legal process and respect for the right of privacy of those involved. Others involved in the lawsuit have chosen to comment and release sealed false allegations in total disregard of a standing Federal Court Protective Order prohibiting release of information. This total disregard for the legal process by those involved is both discouraging and frustrating."

"I continue to assert that the claims in the pending lawsuit are baseless. The inability to publicly defend oneself in light of vicious personal attacks is demoralizing beyond belief," he wrote. "I have had a wonderful relationship with my students and have been delighted to be invited to and attend several of their weddings. I am proud of all of them and their accomplishments."

"During the horrible ordeal of false accusations I have received a consistent flow of emails offering support from former students, friends and colleagues. I have even received emails from students from other universities that had met me while they were students or during their careers. They offered heartfelt testimonials to the impact I had on their careers. There is no way for me to ever express my gratitude to all of those who took the time to write and call; to them I say, 'You are why I chose to teach,'" Nighswander wrote. His statement ends with, "Consistent with the agreement with Ohio University, I will have no further comment about this matter."

Formerly the director of the nationally-ranked School of Visual Communication (VisCom), Nighswander was relieved of his administrative duties by the School of Communication's Dean Kathy Krendl on May 5, 2003, after he and the university were named in the lawsuit. Krendl appointed Terry Eiler as the interim director replacing Nighswander, and on September 1, 2003, Eiler was named VisCom's permanent director. In the meantime, Nighswander has been on a leave of absence for one year, a period that ended June 15 2004. As the end of the leave approached the school requested his resignation.

Negotiations over the resignation have been going on for several weeks, sources at the college said, and the school had expected to make an announcement about it earlier than this. An OU staff member said Nighswander met with his lawyer in Columbus, OH, in July about the resignation and its announcement. The resignation announcement came from the university several weeks after that meeting. In June, OU director of legal affairs John F. Burns said that if Nighswander refused to resign the university would begin proceedings to de-tenure and dismiss him. Nighswander had already been told that OU would not pay his legal bills or other costs associated with the federal suit.

In mid-July Dr. Vme Edom Smith, director of the annual Clifton C. Edom Truth With A Camera Workshop, toldNews Photographerthat Larry and Marcy Nighswander both withdrew as faculty members from this year's August workshop in Norfolk, VA. (Marcy Nighswander is also an OU VisCom professor. A Pulitzer Prize-winner, she was formerly a staff photojournalist in the Washington bureau of theAssociated Pressand a photographer forThe Cincinnati PostandThe Beacon Journal.)

In May, two OU students and one former student who were being sought as potential witnesses in the lawsuit requested court protection to keep their identities secret. One of Nighswander's former students wrote a letter to Federal Magistrate Judge Terence Kemp of the U.S. District Court in Columbus, OH, asking him to remove her name from the witness list entirely. In the letter, she told the judge that listing her as a potential witness was "an invasion of [her] privacy" and that being associated with the case may subject her to humiliation at her workplace and harm her career.

An order issued by Kemp has kept the students' names confidential so far. It has been more than a year since Humes, a former student in Nighswander's department, filed a $3 million federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Southern Office, in Columbus, alleging that Nighswander sexually harassed her during a photo session. According to the suit filed April 24, 2003, Humes posed topless for Nighswander but she alleges that she did not realize beforehand that the session would involve nudity. In the suit she claims that during the session Nighswander violated her rights by making sexual remarks and inappropriately touching her as she posed topless in Putnam Hall on the OU campus in Athens in September, 2002.

As the suit progressed, lawyers for both sides sought other students or former students who may have also made harassment complaints against Nighswander. In December, Judge Kemp ruled that medical and psychological records, as well as the topless photos taken of Humes by Nighswander, were to be kept from public viewing and from the media -- although the material would still be available to both parties in the lawsuit. The protective order on the records and photos was in response to a discovery request by Nighswander's lawyer. The judge also ruled that any other photos of other students taken by Nighswander would also be kept from public view.

Nighswander's last comments toNews Photographer, before today's written statement, came in June 2003 when he said in a telephone interview, "I am vehemently denying all the charges made against me." After the suit was filed and he was relieved of the director's role, he continued as a professor teaching classes at OU for the remainder of the spring quarter. But since that time he has been on leave of absence. In the application for the leave, Nighswander told the university that the time away from teaching would be used to write a photo-editing book.

In the public version of the lawsuit's records, the court has blacked out some of the lines of text in the former student's letter to Judge Kemp. Because of the censorship the full contents of the letter are not known beyond the bench. In a section of the letter that can be read, the former student says that she does not "want to be placed in a position of supporting or detracting from various colleagues, nor do I wish for my interactions with Mr. Nighswander to become public knowledge at my place of employment that has traditionally been an 'old boys club.'"

She also wrote to the judge that publicizing her experiences with Nighswander "will cause me undue humiliation and possible adverse consequences for my advancement." In the sections of the letter that are not blacked out, the woman does not make it clear whether she is alleging that Nighswander ever sexually harassed her.

In his initial response to the federal suit, Nighswander denied that he sexually harassed Humes and said that her involvement in the photo session was voluntary. He acknowledged that the photo session took place and he also said that he had previously used other OU students in nude and seminude modeling sessions.

Humes filed the federal suit against both OU and Nighswander after OU investigated her complaint and concluded that there was, according to a university statement made at the time, "not enough evidence" to support the claim. That conclusion led to OU dismissing Humes' charge. In the federal suit Humes also alleges that OU ignored a pattern of student complaints against Nighswander.

Nighswander's post-resignation statement to News Photographer can be read in its entirety here.