Candidate left position under fire

by Beacon Staff • February 28, 2007

Dr. John Soloski, a candidate for the position of Emerson's dean of communications, stepped down from his post as dean of University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2005 following an investigation of sexual harassment allegations.

Soloski, currently a journalism professor at UGA, in turn filed a lawsuit against the president of the university, Michael Adams, and the Georgia Board of Regents, which oversees all universities in Georgia.

The position at Emerson became available at the end of last year, when the former dean, Stuart Sigman, resigned to become the vice president of academic affairs at Naropa University in Boulder, C.O. amid accusations of racism after his comments at a forum held to discuss Hurricane Katrina.

As reported in The Beacon on Dec. 1, 2005, Sigman cut several people in line during the question-and-answer session that followed the discussion in order to voice his opinion.

He argued against the speakers' views that problems during the recovery effort following Hurricane Katrina were motivated by race.

The department has been run by Janis Andersen since Sigman resigned. Andersen is now one of the candidates running to fill the position permanently.

Soloski was selected as a final candidate for dean of communications after an open job announcement was made and a national search was embarked upon by Emerson administrators.

He holds a bachelors degree in English and political science from Boston College, as well as a masters in journalism and a PhD in mass communication from theUniversity of Iowa.

His scholarly articles have appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, North Carolina Law Review, Journalism Educator, Newspaper Research Journal and Journalism Quarterly.

In 1987, Soloski received the Distinguished Service Award for research in journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists and was director of journalism and mass communication at UI until 2001.

Even with his decades of academic accomplishments, Soloski's recent career has recently been overshadowed by accusations of sexual harassment that he said are nothing more than a personal vendetta.

Soloski was accused of complimenting a colleague's eyes and noting how her dress brought out her assets at a black-tie dinner in Atlanta in 2005.

"I apparently, in a discussion of Lasik surgery, at a public event, I said that I didn't know she had brown eyes," Soloski said. "I don't recall saying that, but that's the only reason why I would ever even mention brown eyes. And there was no sexual harassment at all. Every lawyer who has looked at the accusations just laughs."

Soloski's laywer, Brandon Hornsby, said Soloski was told if he stepped down from his position as dean, the school would drop the sexual harassment claim.

However, even after complying, University of Georgia Athens (UGA) found him to have violated its sexual-harassment policy.

"Dr. Soloski has had an impeccable career and a commitment to higher education," Hornsby said. "He believes that every member of the academic community should be provided with due process. Unfortunately, UGA does not believe that. He believes if this could happen to him, it could happen to any professor or faculty member."

According to Soloski and Hornsby, other incidents at the college, including faculty/student liaisons, have been found not guilty of violating the school's sexual-harassment policy.

Soloski believes the accusations came after he publicly disagreed with the university president, the basis for his lawsuit, which will go to trial in about four months, Hornsby said.

Soloski said Adams, who was in a political dispute with the UGA board of trustees that runs the University of Georgia Foundation, was under pressure for allegedly misusing university funds after the foundation ran an audit on him.

The board wanted Adams' resignation as president, according to Soloski, but rather than resign, Adams separated the university from the UGA Foundation and created another, the Arch Foundation, for the school.

"I was up front about it - that it cost my university a lot of money because the alumni and friends didn't want to get caught in the middle of this fight," Soloski said. "I said that publicly and I paid the price for speaking out and being honest about it."

According to a press release on Hornsby's Web site, the lawsuit, filed in June, alleges that Adams "abused his official powers by falsely labeling Soloski as a sexual harasser and then unlawfully denying him the right to a due-process hearing to clear his name."

The lawsuit also cites Soloski's refusal to publicly support Adams during the dispute with the UGA Foundation as the reason for this labeling.

Soloski said that only two of the deans Adams' predecessor appointed remain in their positions from when he arrived at UGA five years ago.

"He's done this before and to real senior people," Soloski said. "I decided I wasn't going to roll over like the other people did and I was going to fight it and that's what I'm doing."

Soloski claims the university violated its disciplinary procedures as well as due process and cites the lack of a formal complaint against him as an example.

He said he also never knew who the investigator talked to or saw any of the evidence that was collected against him, nor was he allowed to speak to his accuser.

According to Soloski, at the time of the investigation, two interviews with him were not released to the media even after two reporters applied for Freedom of Information Acts to make the interviews public.

Soloski said he wants the opportunity to go in front of a neutral audience, as his trial and appeal were in front of Adams.

"All the things the constitution of the United States provides you, I was denied," Soloski said. "It took 30 years to build my reputation, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let someone like the president here take it down."

Students and faculty can meet with Soloski on March 1st at 1 p.m. in the Semel Lobby.