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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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A former University of Central Florida associate professor accused of misogynistic behavior is teaching at UF’s Levin College of Law this Fall. 

While at UCF, Robert Wood faced 10 separate accusations, according to a report filed by the University’s Compliance, Ethics, and Risk Department and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Programs. He was said to have inappropriately commented on a female student’s clothing as well as “kissed or licked” a female staff member on the forehead while drunk at a party. 

The accusations were not deemed severe enough to violate UCF’s policies, throughout the 64-year-old’s nearly two decades of teaching at UCF, according to the report.

Despite this, some UF law students are angered by the school’s decision to hire him in the first place.

Levin administrators knew about Wood’s history when they hired him, but there was no violation of the UCF Title IX law, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, Levin College of Law Dean Laura Rosenbury wrote in an email. He was hired because of his extensive experience at UCF and the Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law in Miami.

Wood was hired as a temporary adjunct professor for the Fall semester to teach administrative law A, which is not mandatory, Rosenbury wrote. A full-time professor will teach it in the Spring.

“Given the lack of a finding, the positive evaluations and references from Barry Law School, and our general belief that individuals should not be harmed by unfounded allegations, we decided to hire Professor Wood for the fall 2020 semester,” she wrote. 

Wood retired from UCF in May of this year in good standing, according to his personnel file. 

“Even if these allegations were true, it didn’t violate Title IX, and in my position, they didn’t happen,” Wood told The Alligator.

UF Law students enrolled in the administrative law A course received an email from Brian Mitchell, Levin assistant dean, 12 days before the start of UF Fall classes. The textbook had been changed, and professor Robert Wood would be teaching the course. 

No comments of previous allegations were mentioned in Wood’s UF employee personnel file.

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Sophia Serrao, a 25-year-old third-year UF law student, said she dropped the course after finding out Wood would teach it. She doesn’t want a professor who demeans students and staff.

“I wasn't gonna put myself in a position to maybe be harassed by a professor,” she said. “My own self worth and my own safety is at much higher value to me than being in this class.”

The UCF investigation began in 2016 after Wood raised his voice at a female student for using her phone during class, required that she respond with “yes, sir” and then dismissed her, according to the report. When a male student used his phone the following month, he did not receive the same treatment.

“I told her to put it away, and she got embarrassed and went to complain to the head of my department,” Wood said.

Amber Little, a 25-year-old third-year UF law student, took two of Wood’s classes during undergrad at UCF and is enrolled in administrative law. Little said she recalls a similar encounter where a female student was kicked out of class for using her phone. She could not confirm if this was the same allegation from the investigative report.

In his UF administrative law class, Little said he has not made any sexually charged comments or inappropriate comments so far and expects students to pay attention if they want to do well in class. 

“I do believe in survivors, but at the same time, I do believe you are innocent until proven guilty,” Little said.

Wood said UCF’s administration disliked him because he proposed a faculty satisfaction survey from 2013- 2014 as a member of the UCF faculty senate. He hoped the survey would show opinions on new faculty members earning higher salaries than professors with seniority. The survey was voted unanimously by faculty, but denied by administration and the provost office. 

“The investigation was biased from the beginning,” Wood said.  

During a class discussion on appropriate attire for an interview in July 2014, Wood singled out a female student with a low neckline, according to the report. He said she would not go to an interview “with everything hanging out.” He proceeded to make a comment about yoga pants with “Juicy” written on the back, stating “some girls can’t pull that off,” implying she could, according to a witness in the report. 

“It looks terrible that some professor made all kinds of sexist comments and only got a slap on the wrist, but that’s not what in fact occurred,” Wood said in response to the 2017 Orlando Sentinel article.

He said the head of his department took one or two student complaints and escalated them into an Equal Employment Office complaint. 

In 2016, Wood received a letter of reprimand from the UCF Equal Employment Office and Compliance Office in response to the complaints made against him. But Wood told The Alligator the letter was removed from his personnel file in 2018 following a settlement. 

At UF, Serrao and four others started the We Believe Survivors last year, a coalition created to protect UF law students. The Facebook page posted about Wood’s “misogynistic behavior” in August, before the Fall semester began.

Serrao was already disappointed in the law school’s decision to bring Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to teach this past spring. Anita Hill, who was paid to speak at UF earlier this month, accused him of sexually harassing her in the 90s. 

After speaking with the school’s administration, Serrao said she was disheartened by its decision to hire Wood and is advocating for the university to either change their hiring policy or to never let someone like Wood be hired again.

“Where are you drawing the line on student safety?” Serrao said.

Wood disclosed that working at UF was a “one semester gig,” but expressed he would teach at UF again. 

“If the situation arose, depending on my schedule, I would be willing to teach again,” Wood said.

Hanna Rubin, a 25-year-old third-year UF law student, said she had an interest in pursuing administrative law and planned to take the class this Fall but dropped it when she learned Wood was teaching the course.  

“I definitely felt upset,” Rubin said. “I felt that I had been in a position where I had to choose between taking that class that was important to me and protecting myself.”

Sebastian Campbell, a 23-year-old third-year UF law student, once sat in Wood’s class at UCF, said he could not stomach sitting in his virtual classroom now.

“I think that's the behavior of a pig,” he said. “That's highly unacceptable, especially in an institution like UF.”

Campbell believes the law school has a greater interest in the school ranking than the quality of the education. He said it was unfathomable that UF would hire a professor with such an “allegedly checkered past.” 

“If you want to talk all the time about how you're a top-25 law school, act like it,” Campbell said. “This is not the behavior of a premier legal education institution.

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