‘We’re finally being heard’: Professor faces more accusations
By Quanecia Fraser—
A Tarleton State University professor, already under investigation for accusations of inappropriate conduct by four Tarleton students, is now being accused of inappropriate behavior by four more women.
This makes a total of eight women who have now accused the professor of inappropriate behavior.
Late last month, a university administrator recommended that Dr. Michael Landis be terminated after a finding that he invited a former student to dinner, drinks and movies, as well as “his admitted sharing a hotel room with a student.”
Attorney Giana Ortiz, who represents the assistant professor and Civil War historian, says he “is confident that the facts will show that termination is not warranted.”
Neither Landis or his attorney responded to a request for comment regarding the allegations of the women in this article.
The first woman to publicly accuse Landis was Renee Warner. In a Feb. 28 Texan News article, Warner accused Landis of inappropriate behavior and inviting her for “dinner, drinks & movies.”
That article can be found here: http://bit.ly/2t3knEn
On March 28, Warner and another former student, who wished to remain anonymous, provided Texan News with emailed memorandums that notified them of a “decision” regarding their complaints about Landis. In the memorandums, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Dwayne Snider recommended “that Respondent’s employment with the University be terminated.”
The memorandums did not contain Landis’ name but both Warner and the other former student said that the memorandums they received were in response to the complaints they filed against Landis.
Since the article about Warner’s accusations was published, five new accusers told Texan News Landis asked them out for drinks and offered to buy them drinks while they were under 21 years of age and students on campus. One accuser says Landis invited her to his home and another woman said he grasped a necklace hanging between the “middle of my breasts” Only one of the five– Braiden Foster—agreed to be identified. The other four women wished to remain anonymous.
Foster said her first encounter with Landis “made me really uncomfortable” and happened around the time of Family Weekend in 2013 when she was a freshman. “We had a test that day and he was passing out the test,” she recalled.
Foster said she complimented Landis on the tie he was wearing and moments after, Landis approached her while she was taking her test.
She said that she was wearing a necklace that “probably came right to… the middle of my breasts. And he grabs it. He just picks up my necklace holds it in his hand, looks me straight in the eye and was like ‘I really like your necklace, it’s really pretty’,” said Foster. “It was just so uncomfortable.”
Foster said when she turned in her test, Landis asked her in front of other students what she planned to do that weekend. “And I was like, “Oh, well you know it’s family weekend. My parents are coming down.’ And then he said ‘Well you know if you can get away from them, you should come find me. We should drink together’.”
Foster said that when she had “simple questions” about class, Landis would always want to meet with her during office hours.
“But I could never go because after that whole incident before (family) weekend, I felt so uncomfortable,” she said. “I didn’t want to be alone with him. If he had the courage to ask an 18-year-old to ditch her parents and to come drink with him—a married man who is in his 30‘s—in front of a classroom of students, what’s stopping him from doing more when he’s alone with me in a room?”
Foster says she told other faculty members about her experience with Landis: “I told several staff members that I worked under and they just either didn’t say anything or played it off like he was just a weird teacher. I was never advised to talk to someone who could help me or to report it.”
“But once I saw Renee’s post, it just really kind of hit me,” Foster said. “That wasn’t OK. You shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable (with) your professor in any situation.”
Foster graduated in May with a degree in communications and is getting her teacher’s certification. She is now married with a six-month-old daughter.
“My biggest hope and prayer, honestly, is that with this next generation and with my daughter is that they are never placed in a situation where they should be safe and they feel like they’re not safe,” Foster said, choking up during the phone interview with Texan News. “My daughter, I hope she never ever has to feel unsafe where she should always feel safe.”
“Honestly, I’m heartbroken for the Tarleton campus that this went on for so long and they acted like it’s not a big deal. And the fact that I could even disclose this to (faculty) members, and it was always a joke,” said Foster. “It’s a real… slap in the face to any woman anywhere who had any sort of situation similar or remotely similar to any of us that went through something (like) not feeling safe in a classroom.”
Foster says she hopes stories like hers are taken seriously and not dismissed. “I hope that other readers, maybe other girls or other students who maybe have never faced anything like this, that they just don’t throw it away as us just accusing someone to get attention,” she said.
Like Warner, Foster also gave some advice for other students that might have had a similar experience with a professor.
“The first thing I would say is that I believe you. Your situation happened, when it should (have) never happened. Your voice matters,” she said.
In addition to Foster, four other women, who asked not to be identified, told Texan News that Landis either offered them alcohol when they were minors, invited them to drink with him or invited them to his house.
Woman No. 1– a graduate of Tarleton and one of the four students to file a complaint with the university against Landis’ behavior– says Landis invited her to his home in Granbury when she was a sophomore.
She said that Landis invited her to go to a April 2015 conference at Texas A&M University with him, another student and Dr. Holly Karibo, who is now an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. She says she rode with Landis and Karibo on the way back from the conference, without the other student who stayed behind in College Station.
During the drive, the former student said that the conversation turned to dogs. “(Landis) was like ‘Oh, well I have dogs. Do you want to come by my house and see them?’ And at the time, I just had kind of gotten the impression that ‘OK, he’s really friendly’,” she said. “I really didn’t think anything of it and I thought Dr. Karibo would be coming also because he kind of made it (sound) like ‘Do y’all want to stop by my house and see my dogs?’”
“And then later on, as we got closer, he made another comment about while we’re at his house he needs to like mow his lawn or something like that so we’d probably be there for a while. And then, as were pulling into Granbury he’s like ‘OK, I’m gonna drop off Dr. Karibo and then we’ll go to my house’,” she said. “And that’s when I was like, ‘Actually, I think I’m kind of tired. I should probably just go ahead and start driving home to Stephenville instead’.”
She said the situation made her feel so uncomfortable that she wouldn’t take a class taught by Landis. As if speaking to Landis, she said: “You barely knew me and you were asking me stuff like that. I don’t want to be in your class.”
Two years later, she told Assistant Dean for the College of Liberal and Fine Arts Kelly Lemmons. She said that after she told Lemmons about her experience with Landis, Lemmons filed a complaint against Landis on her behalf.
Lemmons declined to comment on the report, confirm whether he filed the report or acknowledge that he spoke to the student about her situation. However, he said he is obliged to report accusations of a sexual nature to Title IX.
Woman No. 2 – a sophomore psychology major from Florida — says she had just turned 19 when Landis offered her to buy her alcohol during the spring semester of her freshman year in 2017.
The student said she was at the Bostocks Billiards & Bar with her boyfriend and friends.
“I noticed him (Landis) at the bar, so I waved and went up to go say ‘Hi’,” she recounted. She said that Landis told her he was at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop with some of his students before arriving to Bostocks.
“And he said that they had been drinking at Fuzzy’s and so, he said that they were all coming over to Bostock’s to play pool,” she said.
The student said Landis seemed intoxicated and “kept offering to buy me a shot, buy me a drink, buy me some more shots and I was like ‘I’m underage, I’m not going to drink here’,” she said.
“He kept offering, kept offering,” she said, “and I said ‘No, I’m OK, I’m gonna go back and play some pool with my friends and then that was it.”
Woman No. 3—a former Tarleton student who has transferred to another university out of state—says she was 19 when Landis offered to buy her alcohol. She said that she was at an award ceremony for the history department at Fuzzy’s. Landis was also there, she says, with some of her other professors.
She says that Landis put his hand on her arm and asked to buy her a beer but she turned him down and told him she was only 19. She said Landis persisted, saying “Oh that’s fine, I’ll get you one anyway.” She told him no again. “It was just kind of really weird.”
The woman said that she didn’t report Landis’ behavior because some of suggested that she may have been making the situation more serious than it actually was. She added, “That’s why I never said anything: I was like, ‘It’s probably just me overthinking it’.”
But she says she subsequently avoided contact with Landis outside of class. “I never asked him questions really, unless it was (pertaining) to what was happening in class—Like, I never emailed him,” she said. “I just tried to stay away from him as much as possible.”
When she read Warner’s accusations in a news story, she said it “blew my mind.”
“I was like ‘Wow, I was right, what I was feeling about this guy was totally right,” she said.
Woman No.4– a former student who graduated in 2016 and also wished to remain anonymous, said Landis he invited her out for drinks when she was 18 or 19 during his freshman or sophomore year.
“He at one point—without anyone else around—had asked me to go out and have drinks with him,” she said. “I knew that he was married and I was not interested so I very kindly rejected. I just declined.”
At first, she says she did not tell anyone about her encounter.
“I kept it to myself,” she says. “I didn’t make any reports… because I was scared of what might happen to me in class as far as grades, as far as reputation, how people were going to view me. In my mind, I was thinking ‘I’m of age, I’m a consenting adult. Maybe this is not against the rules in college’.”
“It did kind of seemed weird that I knew he was married and wore a wedding ring but was still asking me to drink,” said the former student. “But I also thought that’s none of my business. It’s not my business to judge their marriage. I don’t know what kind of rules they have set in their marriage or what kind of preferences they might have in their marriage.”
She said that months after she finished her class with Landis, she found out that she was not the only student Landis invited to drink with him. “It wasn’t just a one-time thing where he went out on a limb,” she said.
She also says that she was contacted and interviewed as part of the investigation into Landis’ behavior. The investigator told her”: “It’s very possible that you’ll never hear the outcome of this investigation.” She says she did not make a note of who contacted her but remembered that they identified themselves as being “internal to Tarleton & doing investigation.”
“They were trying to say ‘It’s being taken care of. Now whether or not it’ll be public knowledge is up to the department,” she said. “They wanted to reassure me that something is being done about it,” she added.
The former student said she believes the #MeToo movement has highlighted the wrongdoings of people in power, including professors who have power over grades.
“I think that has a big part to do with women like me finding their voice and feeling strong enough to come out about these inappropriate behaviors of men that believe they can get away with things like this,” she said.
And she has some advice for other students who may have experienced something similar but don’t know what to do.
“From one student to another,” she said. “Find your voice because we’re finally being heard.”