Foreign Languages Department Chair subject of University System of Georgia investigation

Ian Leonard

{{tncms-inline content=”<p>This article was corrected on Jan. 31. An earlier version incorrectly said the person identified with the pseudonym of "Jocelyn" reported seeing inappropriate behavior by Kartchner in China. "Jocelyn" said she reported it to the Triage Committee after being told about the incident by someone else.</p>” id=”9979ed55-f263-4aaa-9b76-2478579f4cda” style-type=”correction” title=”Correction” type=”relcontent”}}

Joel Wright, Director of the Title IX Office, made note of seemingly rising tensions between faculty members within the Foreign Languages Department (FLD) in October of 2016, according to a Title IX report.

“There appears to be great tension amongst the faculty members of the Department of Foreign Languages,” Wright said in a Title IX harassment report. “It appears that the majority of the tension revolves around the promoting of the ACTFL [American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages] standards on oral proficiency.”

While Wright attributed the strained environment to upcoming proficiency exams at the time, there are some within the FLD who pin the blame on the department chair, Eric Kartchner.

Since joining the department 10 years ago, Kartchner has been the subject of at least three separate Title IX harassment investigations and three grievances, according to documents obtained from the university by The George-Anne. Complaints range from discrimination to retaliation, all of which, with the exception of one anonymous complainant, were reported by women.

So far, every complaint lodged against Kartchner has been dismissed by the university, according to documents obtained from GS. However, the most recent complaint is currently being investigated by the University System of Georgia.

Background and Complaints

Kartchner came to GS in the summer of 2008, after serving as an associate professor at Colorado State University – Pueblo.

Kartchner has received a number of complaints, specifically for his treatment of women in the department. One complaint filed by Riley*, a former employee of Kartchner, claims she was subjected to harassment until she resigned under threat of termination only six months after she was hired.

According to the complaint filed by Riley, Kartchner would constantly engage in behavior and actions that made her uncomfortable.

“Dr. Kartchner would not allow [Riley] to excuse herself to go to the restroom without permission,” according to the Title IX report. “Dr. Kartchner repeatedly criticized the way [Riley] smelled, indicating he could fire her simply for the way she smelled.”

Riley alleged that the harassment was primarily due to her gender and that the behavior Kartchner subjected her to was demoralizing, abusive and, in some cases, intimidating, according to a Title IX report. In the same report, she described one encounter with Kartchner in which he used a lesson from the bible to chastise her.

“These Bible lessons worried [Riley], making her feel as if she needed to tell someone but she was too afraid to do so,” according to the report. “[One lesson] in particular discussed the death of one who had misbehaved. [Riley] felt threatened.”

She asserted throughout the report that she feared coming forward with her experience due to Kartchner’s close relationship with his immediate superior, Curtis Ricker, Ph.D, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS).

{{tncms-inline content=”<p>"Dr. Kartchner would not allow [Riley] to excuse herself to go to the restroom without permission. Dr. Kartchner repeatedly criticized the way [Riley] smelled, indicating he could fire her simply for the way she smelled.” – Title IX Complainant testament </p>” id=”2dfe7fa0-f4b6-418b-91b9-58a42b640550″ style-type=”quote” title=”FLD” type=”relcontent”}}

“Dr. Kartchner repeatedly told [Riley] that Dean Curtis Ricker did not care when or if he came in at all and that he could do whatever he wanted because he knew the dean ‘had his back,’” according to the Title IX report. “[Riley] was afraid to come forward about the harassment, belittling and hostile work environment because she felt that no action would be taken because of the previous comments made by Dr. Kartchner in regards to his close relationship with Dr. Curtis Ricker.”

Despite her claims, the official Title IX report found that there was insufficient evidence to support that Kartchner had indeed violated university policy regarding harassment in this instance.

Jocelyn*, another member of the department, called in a report to the Georgia Southern University Triage Committee over her concerns about Kartchner. According to the report, Jocelyn* told investigators about inappropriate behavior another faculty member told her Kartchner engaged in on a faculty trip to the Yangtze River in China.

“During a trip to China with other faculty, [Kartchner] asked one female tour guide if she ever had an abortion,” according to the Triage Committee report. “Several women felt they needed to be protected from [Kartchner] during his inappropriate dancing on a cruise boat on the Yangtze River.”

The Triage Committee closed the case in April of 2017, stating that the Title IX Office had already investigated these allegations. This fact was confirmed by Michelle Haberland, PhD., professor of history, who also attended the trip and claims to have witnessed the same inappropriate behavior committed by Kartchner.

“When we were in China, we had tour guides that would take the [faculty members] around in buses, and the tour guides were generally young Chinese women,” Haberland said in a phone interview with The George-Anne. “And Dr. Kartchner, with one woman, I watched them as we got onto the bus, and he sat down next to the tour guide, and I heard him ask her, out of nowhere, ‘have you ever had an abortion?’ And it seemed inappropriate.”

Haberland says that she was interviewed by Joel Wright, Director of the Title IX Office, concerning this incident and relayed the same information to him, but has not since been involved.


Jocelyn* agrees that Kartchner has subjected her and many other women of the department to behavior that constitutes harassment, stating that she noticed the behavior immediately.

Jocelyn* believes that Ricker’s relationship with Kartchner has made it even more difficult for some women in the department to feel safe coming forward with these accusations.

“It’s a nightmare. When we have an issue, we have a proper chain of command we must follow, and of course you first go to your immediate supervisor, and [Kartchner] is my immediate supervisor, so I can’t go to him. His immediate supervisor is [Ricker], and I’ve been to [Ricker] on so many occasions, and his famous words to me are ‘trust me.’ He said ‘trust me’ so many times, and then, I realized that I could not trust him,” Jocelyn* said.

Jocelyn* expressed disappointment with how the university has continued to handle Kartchner and the reports levied against him. She feels that in the current environment surrounding the FLD, it isn’t safe for non-tenured faculty members to safely lodge their complaints.

“I have stood up for myself, but those of my colleagues who this has happened to do not. They also don’t have the luxury of tenure that I have. Some are lecturers that only get renewed every year,” Jocelyn* said. “And so they’re employed at [Kartchner]’s whim. If he chooses that they should no longer be employed, he will just simply say, ‘I’m not renewing you.’”

University Response

Despite receiving multiple complaints over the course of Kartchner’s tenure here at GS, the university maintains that he has yet to breach any harassment policies. Joel Wright, Director of the Title IX Office, believed there may have been some negative emotions in the department, however, he still felt Kartchner wasn’t violating harassment policies.

“In light of the investigation outlined above, and taking the facts in the light most favorable to the complaining party, it appears that there may have been an uncomfortable work environment,” Wright said, according to a completed Title IX investigation.“However, I do not find that the actions of [Kartchner] rise to the level of discrimination or harassment based on a protected class.”

This sentiment was somewhat echoed in another report, where Wright suggested that there was simply a tense work environment due to upcoming evaluations, according to documents obtained from the university.

There are also members within the department who believe that Kartchner has been a positive force for the university.

“I feel very comfortable and happy working in the Department of Foreign Languages and Dr. Kartchner is a wonderful chair,” Olga Amarie, Ph.D., associate professor of French, said in an email.

Wright said that when one person has multiple complaints against them, the complaints may be considered a pattern of behavior that affects disciplinary action.

“When [the appropriate vice president is] making the determination if the respondent has been found responsible for some type of policy violation, and there’s a history of this behavior, then that kind of goes in line with our progressive discipline model, so those things would take into account,” Wright said. “The discipline would likely graduate on those steps of progressive discipline.”

President Jaimie Hebert advises any faculty member, staff member or student who feels they have been subject to harassment to report it to the university.

“I certainly encourage any faculty member, any student [to report it],” Hebert said. “There’s a reason that we go through these investigations, and we want an environment in which we can all reach our potential, and everyone deserves that right.”

Hebert affirms that GS has a strong policy regarding harassment and retaliation that adheres to federal policies.

{{tncms-inline content=”<p>“I certainly encourage any faculty member, any student [to report it].There’s a reason that we go through these investigations, and we want an environment in which we can all reach our potential, and everyone deserves that right.” – President Hebert</p>” id=”dd44e443-672c-478a-9f44-ee7c805cf46c” style-type=”quote” title=”Hebert” type=”relcontent”}}

“There are whistleblower policies, federal policies that we’re all aware of. In fact, every faculty member and staff member who comes to work here, we go through a training process. In that training process, we learn about hostile work environments, what the expectations are with regard to those federal regulations, and we learn about whistleblower policy,” Hebert said. “We are trained formally to understand that there should never be retaliation for a person stepping forward, if they feel that their rights in any way shape or form have been violated on campus.”

Jocelyn* has personally met with Hebert to address her concerns and feels that he has more adequately addressed her problem.

“I was made to understand that [Hebert] was going to look into it, and it was shortly after we met that those phone calls and emails started happening. And for that, I was really grateful,” Jocelyn* said.

Jocelyn* has also taken her case to the University System of Georgia, which was confirmed by President Hebert as well.

“There is a current investigation into retaliation that is still pending, where he ranked me on my evaluation as ‘does not meet expectations’ even though I published a book,” Jocelyn* said. “I’ve taken that all the way up through the Provost and the President, and it is currently being reviewed by the Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs of the University System of Georgia.”

Eric Kartchner and Curtis Ricker were all contacted on multiple occasions and declined to comment.

 *Blakeley Bartee and Jozsef Papp contributed to this article