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OU Professor Emeritus, arts donor John Scamehorn accused of sexual harassment by former students

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john scamehorn

John Scamehorn

John Scamehorn, an OU professor emeritus of chemical engineering and a major donor to OU’s Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts, is accused by at least three former OU students of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment in a variety of incidents over multiple years.

In a series of posts on Facebook over the June 3 weekend, former OU students who worked with Scamehorn gave detailed accounts of Scamehorn discussing his own sexual experiences with students and commenting on students’ sexuality and physical appearances, while at the same time, students were encouraged to treat him with respect by faculty members.

The Daily is not currently naming the individuals who made the Facebook posts as two of the three have not yet been reached for comment and one declined to speak publicly. However, when asked about the posts Monday morning, the university released a statement regarding the situation four hours later. In the statement, university press secretary Matt Epting said OU cut ties with Scamehorn on Feb. 12, 2016.

“John Scamehorn retired from the university in 2007 and formally severed any remaining employment status with the university on February 12, 2016. While former employees are not subject to disciplinary proceedings as the university has no legal or formal authority over them, we make every effort to ensure a safe learning environment free of discrimination or harassment,” Epting said in the statement. “Additionally, in some circumstances when the propriety of a donor relationship is in question, the university has returned gifts to the donor.”

The Daily left two voicemails with Scamehorn requesting his comment on these allegations and has not received a response. Two messages were also left with Bobby Mason, OU’s Title IX Office coordinator, to which The Daily has received no response.

The allegations come amid the rise of the #MeToo movement sweeping men accused of sexual harassment and misconduct from prominent positions, most notably Harvey Weinstein, who was indicted last week on criminal sex act charges in New York.

Former OU arts students told The Daily in 2016 that a mandatory emergency meeting was held on less than two hours’ notice after being called by Dean Mary Margaret Holt for all school of drama students on Feb. 5, 2016. Students told The Daily the session vaguely referenced allegations but did not use Scamehorn’s name specifically. Sources said arts students were encouraged not to repeat rumors at the Feb. 5 meeting.

Minutes after that meeting, according to records obtained by The Daily, Tom Orr, director of the school of drama, sent an email to several arts faculty members thanking them for coming to the meeting.

“I think that it’s important that we all take Dean Holt’s advice to heart and not further complicate already complicated matters,” Orr wrote in a message obtained by The Daily. “It would be my advice if you are contacted by any member of the press, media or someone seeking information that you direct their call to the dean’s office.”

Three former OU arts students who worked with Scamehorn on non-university projects he produced say Scamehorn took advantage of his position as an OU donor and made deeply sexist and inappropriate comments to students.

One individual who made Facebook posts about Scamehorn said he bragged of sexual exploits on trips to Thailand, saying Scamehorn allegedly told multiple OU students of sexual relations he had with prostitutes in Thailand. Another individual claimed Scamehorn bragged about a sexual encounter with a 10-year-old girl.

“It's such a contradiction, because these are the same people (faculty members) that constantly throughout our years here tell us, 'If you ever have a problem, come and talk to us — express your thoughts, art is about creativity and freedom and expression,'” former OU student Colby Frederick told The Daily in spring 2016. “So then when we do have a significant problem going on, they say, 'Hush up,' because it relates to money, and I think that's what it really, really boils down to. It relates to money and status.”

One of the individuals who also worked as assistant to Scamehorn on Pax Masculina said Scamehorn frequently inquired about her physical appearance and sex life, which became at one point so aggressive that this individual quit working for Scamehorn.

Though Scamehorn started at the university in July 1981 as an assistant professor of chemical engineering, Scamehorn has been deeply involved with OU’s arts program for decades as a donor. In 2007, the Board of Regents named him a George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus.

“My friends that were employed by him after graduation were immediately like, 'We made a horrible mistake. How do we get out of this?'” former OU student Lindsey Lusk told The Daily in spring 2016.  “Producing this play was just very uncomfortable. But yeah, there was never any formal directive or policy any kind of advice, but the general consensus was, 'OK, everyone smile because he donates a lot of money.' But the uncomfortable situation was not lost on anyone.”

The Daily will continue to investigate the situation and share details as more information becomes available.  

Dana Branham contributed to this report.

Correction: This post was updated on June 5 at 10 a.m. to reflect that Scamehorn was a professor of chemical engineering, not chemistry. 

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