Editor's note: A previous version of this story had an incorrect headline. It has since been updated to reflect that the University did not find Mr. Bavel guilty; the University cannot assign guilt.
A KU spokesperson's quote may have left the impression a Douglas County District Court judge ruled on evidence of sexual harassment by the professor. The judge's ruling in favor of the University only addressed the procedures the University followed in handling the matter. Bavel is appealing the judge's decision.
After professor Zamir Bavel was accused of sexual harassment by one of his female students in May 2011, the University conducted a six-month investigation and found Bavel had violated the University's policy. He was suspended for two weeks without pay, ordered to take sexual harassment training and denied a salary raise for the next year. Now, three and a half years later, Bavel said the claims are still affecting his life both personally and professionally.
Bavel, 85, has decided to go down fighting this decision. After originally being found guilty by KU, Bavel took his case to the Douglas County District Court, where the court sided with the University. In response to that decision, Bavel took his case to the Kansas Court of Appeals and is currently waiting for that court to make a ruling on whether the University handled his case fairly. His hearing is scheduled for Jan. 14.
The accuser, whose name was never released, claimed Bavel placed his arm around her shoulder and his hand on her knee as he helped her study material from his symbolic logic course at Perkins — a place where he has met with students to provide help for years. Bavel, however, said he provided sufficient evidence demonstrating these two charges were impossible.
“One of the original charges was that I had my arm around the accuser’s shoulder for half an hour,” Bavel said. “I showed the dean evidence that I’m unable to do that for even five minutes because of arthritis in my shoulder.”
Bavel also said he provided evidence that his hand was never on the accuser’s knee. The two were sitting in a booth right next to the kitchen where the serving staff is often going in and out, and Bavel is well known by the staff because of how often he visits the restaurant. Bavel also cited the accuser’s unusual behavior.
“The accuser always sat across from me, but this time she asked to sit next to me,” Bavel said. “The request seemed odd, but nevertheless I moved deeper into the booth to make room for her.”
Whether KU made the right decision on the case, Bavel said there have been consequences in both his personal and professional life. When the Lawrence-Journal World recently published a story on the subject, Bavel’s son, who lives in Lawrence, was asked about the accusations at work.
“My son was shown the article at work, and obviously he was hurt by it,” Bavel said. “There have been reactions about this.”
Aside from the accusations affecting his personal life, Bavel has also become slightly more cautious when it comes to meeting with students to help them outside of class, though he’s tried to continue to provide as much assistance as possible.
“Now, anytime a student asks to sit next to me in a booth, I’ll refuse,” Bavel said. “However, I still meet at Perkins with students between six and eight hours a week. I look at my students as my children or grandchildren, so my main goal is to help them.”
While Bavel continues to be passionate about teaching at KU, he said decisions like these were typical of the University.
“They [KU] will not admit wrong,” Bavel said. “They will change the rules so that the next time things are OK, but they will not admit wrong.”
Despite Bavel’s claims, the University is confident in the court system and its case, said Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, KU’s director for news and media relations.
“The University is confident the court of appeals will agree with the district court’s findings and deny professor Bavel’s appeal,” Barcomb-Peterson said in an email.
Although Bavel remains unsatisfied with the way KU has handled his case, he said he continues to teach here because of his initial desire to make the University better.
“I came here to invest myself, make a better University and department, and to help the students,” Bavel said. “I chose to come here because of what I saw as a suppleness and a dedication to research and teaching. KU is no longer what it used to be, but I am too old to move now.”
— Edited by Yu Kyung Lee