A group of San Jose State University seniors is now calling on university officials to take action against a professor who admitted to crossing the line with a student in his office. This comes just two weeks after the Investigative Unit exposed that university administrators failed to discipline kinesiology instructor Jeffry Mathis for a sexual encounter with a female student behind closed doors—an incident he said was consensual but she called assault.
“To find out they swept this under the rug it’s insulting,” said senior Sasha Bassett.
Bassett and four other SJSU students say they are outraged that their university did not hand down any discipline to Mathis after he admitted to a sexual encounter with one of his students. They told NBC Bay Area that administrators did not meet their expectations in how the university dealt with the situation and said they're disappointed that the university has offered no explanation defending its position.
“To me it shows the university was trying to hide it,” said senior Herlinda Aguirre “They didn’t want to deal with it or anything.”
Senior Amanda Dougherty called what happened heartbreaking.
“I can say on behalf of all of us we are proud, proud to be here, proud to do the work that we do,” she said. “We are all student leaders in different areas on this campus. We care so much for the university and when something like this happens it shows that the university doesn’t care about us. And that’s not okay.”
Earlier this month a SJSU student told the Investigative Unit her side of what happened in Mathis’ office. She said she scheduled a meeting in his office last August to contest a grade.
“He looked at me and touched me and said, ‘How do you want to better your grade?’” the student said while fighting back tears.
She asked to remain anonymous because she still attends San Jose State.
“He kept coming closer to me and my body just completely shut down,” she said. “He continued to touch me and try to talk about the ways that I could better my grade.”
She said she told him to stop—that she is not that kind of person.
“Then he straddled me and sat on me,” she said, “and put his hands up my shirt and under my sweater and was rubbing me.”
NBC Bay Area contacted Mathis to hear his side of what happened in his office after hours. When he did not return calls and emails, the Investigative Unit met him on campus after class in March.
“Well, unfortunately, because of what I was told by both HR and the [police department] here, I’m actually not allowed to talk about it,” Mathis said.
He did not admit to making a mistake in front of NBC Bay Area’s camera, but he did in an email he wrote to the student the day after the meeting.
“I’ve been thinking about last night and I have come to the conclusion that I made a terrible mistake in how I handled that situation,” he wrote.
The Investigative Unit also obtained a copy of the university’s confidential investigation report. In it Mathis admitted to kissing and touching the student sexually but believed it was consensual.
The report stated, “Whether or not their actions where consensual in this instance, his position is one of power over the students.” It also stated that Mathis has a duty not to allow situations like that to develop.
“Let’s be real,” Bassett said. “He violated two faculty guidelines. The first one is to provide a safe space for the student. The second one is not to harass or violate that safe space.”
The students point that out in a website they created for their newly-formed group—Students for the Accountability of Jeffry Mathis. They also posted a letter to San Jose State officials including university president Mohammad Qayoumi; two university provosts, Ellen Junn and William Nance; and the chair of the kinesiology department, Shirley Reekie.
The letter states, “We are petitioning in regards to a recent report about a San Jose State faculty member accused of sexual assault by a female student.” It continues, “To ensure the safety and well-being of all students, in accordance with university policy, we demand the immediate removal of Jeffry Mathis from the SJSU faculty.”
“If the university is not going to do anything then we are going to raise awareness and do something about this,” said senior Rosie Mendoza.
The students have gathered nearly 600 signatures in their online petition. They plan to present the letter to university officials at the end of May.
“We expected the university to take it seriously and at least investigate it long enough to know that it should be investigated,” Bassett said.
San Jose State University has continued to decline interview requests to talk about why it has elected not to discipline Mathis.
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