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OU School of Drama director Tom Orr resigns after concerns over handling of sexual harassment reports

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Tom Orr

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OU's Helmerich School of Drama director Tom Orr resigned Thursday following the school's handling of reports of sexual harassment against a former OU professor emeritus and donor, the Norman Transcript reports.

Mary Margaret Holt, dean of the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts, said there had been concerns from alumni about the response to the sexual harassment reports against John Scamehorn, according to a statement she sent the Transcript. Holt said the reports were handled according to OU’s policy, but now the focus is on improving the culture of the drama school overall, according to the Transcript.

"The college is undertaking a careful examination of how professionals in the arts can communicate about difficult subjects in a way that is more respectful of personal boundaries. It is essential that leadership within the College of Fine Arts model appropriate professional behaviors at all times," Holt wrote in a statement to the Transcript. "Tom Orr resigned yesterday as director of the School of Drama in support of necessary changes within the School." 

When The Daily reached Holt's office for comment Thursday, no comments were ever provided and no phone calls were answered Friday evening for further commentary.

In early June, dozens of individuals came forward with accusations against Scamehorn of taking photos of performers and then photoshopping the pictures onto people in “disturbing,” pornographic positions. He would also make inappropriate comments to female performers, such as privately messaging a performer to tell her she played a “perfect rape victim” in a school production, among other things. 

OU released a statement June 7 after allegations became public knowledge, saying the university had followed current policies but investigations would take place to determine if there were gaps in the reporting system. The Norman Police Department also opened an investigation into Scamehorn’s actions.

In February 2016, Holt went to OU’s Title IX office after she received multiple reports from students on Scamehorn’s behavior. Title IX Coordinator Bobby Mason called a meeting between himself, Scamehorn, Holt and Scamehorn’s assistant at the time.

Mason told The Daily in a June 8 statement that during the meeting he informed Scamehorn of the reports and that, as a university employee, he was required to participate in a formal investigation. According to Mason’s statement, Scamehorn then decided to resign his employment status, which removed him from OU’s jurisdiction under the law.

Scamehorn’s former assistant who was present during the meeting told The Daily she felt Scamehorn had been “let off the hook” by OU and was not held accountable for his actions.

OU President James Gallogly said he asked the university’s Board of Regents to revoke Scamehorn’s professor emeritus status at a June 19 meeting, which they did.

A group of 58 former theater and art school alumni signed a letter June 25 urging the university to tighten its policies and take action after the allegations.

Orr’s resignation is the first change to result after OU’s investigation began.

Holt told the Transcript that Orr will stay on as a “valued” member of OU’s faculty and Judith Pender will serve as the interim director of the school.

Holt also told the Transcript the college will participate in more trainings this fall to discuss sexual harassment “in the unique context of the arts.”

Kayla Branch is a journalism senior and The Daily's enterprise editor. Previously, she has been the editor-in-chief, a news editor and covered the student government as a reporter.

Jana Allen is a journalism sophomore and the Daily's spring 2019 assistant news managing editor. She was formerly a news reporter and news managing editor.

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