FLORIDA: Eckerd College Sides With Abusive Professor, Victim Sues

Photo: Abusive Professor David Hastings (Left) speaks at a 2014 Climate Change conference in Florida

By Katia Guamani and Alon Sulaimani

Last month in St. Petersburg, Florida, a lawsuit was filed against Eckerd College by a former student exposing the school’s mishandling of a sexual misconduct complaint against former marine science professor David Hastings. The lawsuit was filed after Eckerd’s Dean of Faculty urged the former student not to file a report against Hastings for sexual harassment in 2018.

David Hastings 1
Professor David Hastings

The lawsuit details several instances of sexual harassment which Hastings has attempted to cover up, most notably that he masturbated in front of the targeted student during the work day. He pressured the student to see him outside of work, in one case insisting she enter his home to talk about “private matters” unrelated to work.

Hastings told at least one acquaintance that the student was his “girlfriend.” He also asked the student if she wanted to taste his “popsicle” at an off-campus work gathering.

Eckerd’s attempted cover up of Hasting’s crimes began when the student requested an appointment with the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, Suzan Harrison in 2018. Harrison “actively discouraged” her from filing a formal complaint and threatened her with the loss of “her major, job, and certain academic rights and opportunities,” according to the lawsuit.

Suzan Harrison
Suzan Harrison

Despite this adversity, the student filed the complaint. However, nothing was done to Hastings at the time, and as a result of the hostile environment the student eventually withdrew from the college, as “no reasonable person would continue [to attend] under the circumstances.”

The survivor went on to file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on October 18, 2018, but a commission investigator ruled against her and the case was dismissed on September 16, 2019, a wasted year of bureaucratic blockading.

The student went through all the avenues she was told to, and not only did she not get any justice, but she was punished for complaining, leading her to file the lawsuit against the school itself. This is a clear example of how the court system consistently fails victims of sexual harassment and exploitation.

Eckerd hired an investigator who “has always represented the employer’s interest and never represented the employees interest,” according to the filed lawsuit. Despite a third-party investigator confirming Hastings’ crimes, the college still allowed the professor to retire without any consequences. According to the lawsuit, Eckerd still advertises that Hastings maintains an office the college.

Meanwhile, the student “suffers severe emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life,” according to the lawsuit. Hasting’s actions “intimidated [her], and made her feel uncomfortable, humiliated, and highly embarrassed.” Eckerd did not hesitate to protect their predatory professor for the sake of their reputation as a private liberal arts college and blatantly neglected the wellbeing of their student.

In June 2019, the University of South Florida (USF) hired Hastings for an unpaid courtesy appointment in the school’s College of Marine Science. He soon took on the role of principal investigator and secured funding for a joint study including Eckerd and USF.

USF is currently “reviewing the situation to determine an appropriate course of action.” However, this bourgeois university has been under federal investigation twice for mishandled sexual misconduct cases. 

Both schools stress that they will take an “appropriate response” to the predatory professor in their midst, but they are fundamentally part of the capitalist system which protects and reproduces predators like Hastings. Students must stand up and fight back against these predators themselves, like the women of Fire the Abusers at the University of Texas at Austin. These women have gone beyond the toothless sit-ins and have actively confronted these predatory professors both on campus and in the streets. Each time, these professors have cowered and ran away in fear into the arms of the police and the university officials that protect them. 

The women of USF must follow this example and confront abusers like Hastings, expose others still in hiding, and struggle against the school administration which shields those in power.