Former UNCW Professor seeks to clear name

Former UNCW professor makes headlines again
Published: Sep. 25, 2017 at 4:44 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 26, 2017 at 6:31 AM EDT
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FIJI (WECT) - A former UNCW professor who was fired following allegations he inappropriately touched students is making headlines again, this time for filing a complaint against a popular professor in Fiji.

Professor James Johnson was terminated from UNCW in 2012 after Former Chancellor Gary Miller said he found clear and convincing evidence that Johnson inappropriately touched and made unwelcome advances toward a number of his female students.

Earlier this month, Johnson made news in Fiji, where he is now working at the University of the South Pacific, for a run-in with a fellow professor.

According to documents obtained by Fijileaks, Johnson filed a formal complaint against Dr. Morgan Tuimalealiifano on Sept. 8. Johnson, who is the head of school for social sciences at USP, accused Associate Professor Tuimalealiifano of offensive and violent behavior while in his office discussing a staffing matter.

The letter relaying the allegation says Tuimalealiifano screamed at Johnson, calling him the "worse Head of School" in history. The letter also mentions a December 2016 email from Tuimalealiifano to Johnson where he said he "wanted to punch him in the nose for demoralizing us," regarding Johnson's concern about the financial state of the department.

In a separate letter Fijileaks obtained from Sept. 12, the University of the South Pacific notified Tuimalealiifano he had been suspended with pay out of concern for Johnson's "safety and security." According to Fijileaks, Tuimalealiifano is a "long standing and well regarded Pacific historian."

As this all unfolded, the old allegations against Johnson from UNCW resurfaced. The editor of Fijileaks reached out to WECT asking questions about our story on Johnson from 2012. Fijileaks Editor Victor Lal says when he emailed Johnson to ask if he was the same professor terminated from UNCW in 2012, Johnson blocked him from sending further emails.

When they confirmed it was the same Dr. Johnson, Fijileaks asked USP officials if they had done a background check on Johnson before hiring him in 2013. Lal says Johnson "claimed to Fijian authorities at USP that he had been absolved of all the allegations," but indicated he had not provided proof of that.

Johnson has consistently maintained his innocence. In 2012, Johnson and his attorney denied any wrongdoing and told WECT he was appealing his termination to the Board of Governors.

When reached in Fiji for comment on Monday, Johnson provided additional documents from a 2012 UNCW Faculty Hearing Committee on the charge the he inappropriately touched students. One document shows that committee was not convinced Dr. Johnson inappropriately touched students, although they all agreed he had inappropriate communication with students. They did not feel the university had grounds to terminate Johnson, and instead recommended a one semester suspension without pay, along with counseling.

However, Chancellor Miller did not follow the committee's recommendation, and instead followed the provost's suggestion that Johnson be fired. Johnson feels he was treated unfairly, and that racial bias could have played a role in his dismissal.

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 tells WECT he is happy and thriving at his new job as the Head of School of Social Sciences at USP, and they have been especially supportive of him. He says that the administration there fully vetted him and reviewed the UNCW Faculty Hearing Committee's findings regarding the allegations against him. They agreed that UNCW did not have sufficient evidence for his termination.

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