The Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona closed with a file for abuse of power the sexual harassment of a professor to his students
“Control yourself, Jorge, you’re a teacher.” The professor of Veterinary Medicine at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) Jorge López Olvera asked himself to calm down out loud. Two students had just told him that they had kissed on some occasion. Immediately afterwards, he took the heads of both and brought them closer to try to make them kiss each other, according to a student who witnessed it.
Two years of sexual harassment from a UAB professor to his doctoral student: “Don’t you feel like taking a shower with me?”
“We all remained silent looking at each other, not knowing what to say,” recalls this student, who requests anonymity to comment on the situation. “I wondered if what she was seeing was real.”
This teacher, an expert in wildlife, carried out “excessive touching” of his students for years. He also “comments of sexual content” and “sexist jokes” that generated an “uncomfortable and sometimes intimidating environment” in his students. This was determined by an internal investigation of the university itself to whose documentation elDiario.es has had access.
Despite the conclusions of the file, which considered the behaviors of “sexual harassment and/or for reasons of sex” proven, the rector of the university, Francisco Javier Lafuente, ended up lowering the punishment of this professor. In April 2022, he suspended him for a year from teaching for “disregard for his subordinates”, ignoring the sexual content of most of the accusations in the punishment.
There were more than 30 students who denounced this teacher to the Autonomous Equality Commission in May 2021, in a case that led to strong protests in the Veterinary School and that appeared in various media, although the result of the file that was opened had not been revealed until the publication of this report. This newspaper has contacted the professor through different channels, but has not received a response.
Some victims reported in their complaints that they had suffered serious sexual assaults. More than one student claimed to have had a sentimental relationship with a teacher whom some defined as a “sexual predator.” “The students were her hunting ground,” described a complainant.
Many of these stories were dismissed because they were anonymous, they had prescribed, or because they had happened when López Olvera was teaching at another university. The victims consider that the case illustrates to what extent the protocols and legislation can still be improved to protect students.
“We had to leave out everything that had happened before 2018,” says one of the victims of this professor. “Neither were cases that occurred in other universities or outside the UAB environment accepted.” The obligation to reveal the names of the complainants also meant that many did not take the step, since they were in the second year of their career and the teacher was also teaching a class in the fifth year.
Nor was it the first time that those responsible for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine were informed of the attitudes of this professor. In 2012, a class delegate informed the then teaching coordinator of the discomfort that this teacher caused the students. “We explained the sexual comments and unnecessary approaches that he made to the students,” recalls this former student. The complaint did not have any route and does not even appear in the minutes of that meeting.
The internal investigation also determined that the “attitude and behaviors” of López Olvera “were known” by professors of his faculty and no one acted, beyond some informal comment among teachers. “Everyone knew it,” say several interviewed victims. “The older students notified the younger ones at the start of the course.”
A “totally intimidating and humiliating” environment
At the beginning of June 2021, a Technical Advisory Commission (CTA) was set up, led by a psychologist and another employee of the Autonomous to investigate the complaints. Victims who had agreed to reveal their first and last names were interviewed. The evidence was evaluated and the accused teacher was also interviewed.
The most compromising testimonies had been discarded, but the conclusions of the internal investigation were equally clear: the students suffered “sexual and/or gender-based harassment.” The teacher created a “totally intimidating, humiliating and uncomfortable” environment that made them feel “sexualized and objectified”, according to the documentation. The denounced behaviors were “systematic and recurring”.
The Technical Commission considered “accredited” that López Olvera made sexist comments and jokes to his students for years. “Don’t worry, if I put it in you, you’d find out,” he told a student when she lamented that she always teased him with jokes. “If you want, I can also cure the bunny”, she told another when she explained that she was going to take her rabbit to the vet. To others she would make comments about her physical appearance or “go over” them from top to bottom.
During the practical sessions, he was dedicated to “unnecessarily” approaching all his students and smelled them. Then she publicly ranked the ones that smelled better or worse. The investigation also considered proven that the teacher sent Facebook friend requests to the students and that he welcomed Erasmus students into his house. His address was known in the faculty as the SEFAS Hotel (acronym for the Wildlife Ecopathology Service).
The internal investigation gave “full credibility” to the testimonies and criticized the professor’s attitude during the investigation phase of the file
The report maintains that the attitude of this teacher affected the education of the students, since many ended up changing subjects or stopped attending their classes. “It invades your living space and [las estudiantes] they feel totally violated and uncomfortable”, the file states.
The investigation gave “full credibility” to the testimonies and criticized the professor’s attitude during the investigation phase of the file. “The commission does not see any process of reflection or any constraint for the behaviors attributed to it or for how these may have affected their students,” he pointed out.
A downward penalty
The conclusions of the Technical Commission were blurred in the sanction that the rector signed in his final resolution, to which elDiario.es has also had access. The top leader of the University considered proven various conducts constituting sexual harassment or for reasons of sex in his disciplinary file.
According to the rector’s resolution, the students were the subject of jokes and comments with a “macho, sexist and/or sexual” content. The teacher was “excessively and totally unnecessarily” close to the female students and his behavior caused “anguish and discomfort” to some students who felt “violent” and in a “degrading position”.
When imposing the sanction, however, he ended up treating it as a case of abuse of power and the punishment was for “disregard for his subordinates.”
The sanction between one behavior and the other has nothing to do with it. The law provides for between 3 and 6 years of suspension for cases of sexual harassment and/or for reasons of sex, considered a “very serious” offence. On the other hand, the punishment that was imposed, considered a “serious” offense, provides for a suspension of between one and three years. Among all the options, they ended up opting for the minimum punishment and the teacher was suspended for a year.
The rector considered proven various conducts constituting sexual and/or gender harassment, but when imposing the sanction he ended up treating it as a case of abuse of power
“The file of the Technical Commission is informative, but in the disciplinary file of the rectory, the sanctions must be applied in accordance with the legislation”, defend official sources from the UAB. “They are two different procedures that do not have to coincide.” From the Autonomous University they explain that many reported situations were left out of the disciplinary file for having prescribed. They add that the rector limits himself to signing the resolutions presented to him by the instructor in the case and separates him from any decision on the punishment imposed.
The University’s protocol to prevent sexual harassment establishes that sexual harassment is understood as “any behavior, verbal or physical, of a sexual nature that has the purpose or produces the effect of violating the dignity of a person, particularly when it is created an intimidating, demeaning or offensive environment”.
From the UAB they consider that in their actions they must proceed “with rigor and respect for the [jurídico]” to make sure that the files are not taken down if they finally end up in court. In turn, they admit that the agility and efficiency of these processes must be improved and demand legal reforms that facilitate it.
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