UNCW professor fired for allegedly touching students

Published: Dec. 10, 2012 at 8:26 PM EST|Updated: Oct. 19, 2017 at 6:11 PM EDT
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A UNCW Professor fired for inappropriate conduct with students drew full pay for 8 months after...
A UNCW Professor fired for inappropriate conduct with students drew full pay for 8 months after Provost recommended his termination.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - There have been a number of high profile cases in recent months, where public employees have been accused of serious crimes.

The City of Wilmington's arborist, Brion Capo, was arrested on child sex offense charges. He is out on bond and back on the job with the city awaiting trial early next year.

State Trooper Bryan Phillips was put on desk duty after a woman accused him of rape. The District Attorney later cleared him of those allegations.

At UNCW, electronics specialist Harvey Porter was put on paid leave, and later fired, after being arrested for possession of child porn.

Cases like these had us wondering what else might be going on with public employees that hadn't made the news, so we did some digging. After pouring over public records from half a dozen public agencies in New Hanover County, we found more than a hundred public employees have been suspended or terminated within the last year for various infractions.

One of the most interesting cases involved a professor at UNCW. James Johnson was a long-time psychology professor there before being fired in July. According to his termination letter, he was terminated for inappropriate conduct with students.

UNCW says it found clear and convincing evidence that Johnson inappropriately touched and made unwelcome advances toward a number of his female students. And this appears to be a pattern of behavior.  While Johnson's termination stemmed from incidents that happened in 2011, Johnson was suspended for 30 days and given a Final Warning letter in 2005 for allegedly touching another student inappropriately.

This isn't the first time a college professor has been fired for inappropriate conduct with a student. But you may be surprised to hear that Professor Johnson received his full pay for almost 8 months after UNCW's provost recommend he be fired.

UNCW officials declined our request for an interview to explain why. But they did forward us a link to the UNC system policy manual. It explains that tenured faculty are entitled to full pay and due process during a suspension.

What's not clear is why that suspension dragged on for so long for a state employee making $88,000 a year.

Johnson denies any wrong doing. He provided documentation showing that a faculty review panel reviewing the charges against him found UNCW had not provided clear and convincing evidence of misconduct that would justify termination. However, the chancellor chose to follow the provost's recommendation that Johnson be fired.

While the faculty committee was not convinced Dr. Johnson inappropriately touched students, they all agreed he had inappropriate communication with students. Instead of termination, they recommended a one semester suspension without pay, along with counseling.

Johnson says he was not even notified until after the hearing he was accused of inappropriate communication with students, so he was unable to mount an adequate defense on that charge. Johnson appealed his termination to the UNC Board of Governors to no avail. Johnson feels he was treated unfairly, and that racial bias could have played a role in his dismissal.

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