A University of Kentucky professor has resigned in the midst of an investigation of alleged inappropriate relationships with two students.
Jeffrey Bewley was hired in 2007 as an extension professor in the department of animal and food science, with expertise in dairy science. According to documents obtained under the state open records law, Bewley stepped down Nov. 8, a week after he met with officials from the UK Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity to announce an investigation into potential policy violations.
According to a Nov. 3 letter from Martha Alexander, UK’s interim Title IX director, her office received a report that Bewley had “engaged in a sexual relationship with a student and did not report that relationship to the chair of your department or to the dean of your college,” the letter said. “We additionally received allegations that you persistently contacted the reporting individual after being asked to stop.”
The described behavior, Alexander said, could constitute sexual harassment, sexual assault or stalking.
The letter says Bewley admitted to the relationship. “You also admitted you had engaged in a sexual relationship with a different student prior to the relationship we were discussing and did not disclose that relationship as required either,” Alexander wrote. “As you are aware, being in a personal relationship with someone whose work you evaluate without disclosure of that relationship to the chair or dean constitutes a violation of the governing regulation XIV.”
None of the documents says whether the students were graduates or undergraduates. Relationships between professors and students are not explicitly forbidden at UK, but they are required to be disclosed to appropriate supervisors.
Just after Bewley met with Alexander on Nov. 2, he sent her an email saying he would resign.
“Although I don’t agree with all the allegations and I did not indicate any conditions, then I need to let her move on personally and professionally without me impeding her progress or life,” he wrote. A call to Bewley’s home in Lexington was not returned.
Alexander said that because of Bewley’s resignation, the investigation would not continue, but if he returned to UK, it would be picked up.
At another point in the email chain, Bewley asked what he could say or not say in applying for a new job.
UK spokesman Jay Blanton said that if another institution contacts the university about Bewley, “we will confirm his employment at the university and that he resigned. Further, we will say that at the time of his resignation, there was an ongoing investigation regarding the potential violation of our policies relative to sexual misconduct. We will also note that Dr. Bewley is ineligible to be rehired by the university.”
Prospective employers could request Bewley’s personnel file and other documents related to his case.
“It’s important to note the investigation was suspended because of his resignation,” Blanton said. “We can’t compel him to testify or provide information at this point. Nor do we have any authority to discipline him at this juncture.”
That question of future employment was at the center of another big case alleging sexual harassment by a professor. Amidst a similar investigation last year, Professor James Harwood denied the allegations. Instead, he agreed to a settlement deal, which allowed him to resign but continue being paid for six months. Two of his victims were outraged that Harwood was allowed to leave UK without being disciplined. The issue turned into a major open records dispute between the student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, and UK. UK has won twice in court, but the Kernel continues to appeal the case.
In the past five years, at least two other professors were accused of violating UK policy, but they were allowed to leave with settlement deals that included provisos that UK wouldn’t disclose the details to future employers. One of them moved directly to another school.
Bewley has a doctorate in dairy systems management from Purdue University and was an expert in precision dairy farming, herd management science and dairy cow comfort, among other things. According to his personnel record, he was promoted to associate professor in 2013 for “excellent contributions” to the department and extension programs in Kentucky.
Last spring, he received a $20,000 retention bonus from UK to counter a job offer from Dairy Records Management System, an industry service company. The supporting letter mentioned that Bewley had obtained $6 million in funding for his research. As of April, Bewley’s salary was $96,399 a year.
UK also released some heavily redacted emails between Nancy Cox, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and Bill Swinford, chief of staff to UK President Eli Capilouto. In one, Swinford asked whether the former student had been notified.