Recently obtained public records revealed allegations of sexual assault against three Florida State University professors, one of which was fired, another suspended and later resigned, and a third still in his position at the university.
FSU made no public announcements about the investigations or their outcomes. All three investigations concluded that the faculty members violated the university’s sex discrimination and sexual misconduct policies.
According to Fresh Take Florida, a news service in the University of Florida’s journalism school, Ross May, 38, was fired as associate director of FSU’s Family Institute. It is alleged that in 2019 he pressured a female student to get drunk, was hugging her “in a forceful way” in a photograph, and bet another student $50 that he could have sex with her by the end of the semester.
David Gilbert, 62, was suspended without pay from his position as a biology professor for two weeks and eventually resigned after he allegedly sent a sexually explicit email to a student in January 2020. In the email, Gilbert allegedly described an erotic dream he had that involved the student.
Gilbert told FSU investigators that he attributed some of his inappropriate behavior to poor judgment due to a recent separation from his wife and his son dying by suicide.
The third investigation was into John Gainsford, a music professor still employed at FSU, over allegations of inappropriate relationships with three separate students, including accusations of non-consensual sex with a female student.
Gainsford was eventually cleared of the accusations in FSU’s investigation and is still employed at the university because he was not in a position of authority, such as being responsible for their grades, over the students.
FSU allows professors to engage in relationships with students they do not have direct authority over, as long as faculty report relationships to their supervisors, which Gainsford allegedly did not do.
For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.
The formal investigations were all previously undisclosed. At least one ran until the summer of 2021.
The investigative reports were obtained under Florida’s public records law. One of the cases illustrates differences in rules at Florida’s public universities and colleges regarding professors who have relationships with students: Some allow them in certain circumstances; others ban them.
The incidents allegedly occurred during 2019, and the investigation was completed in May 2020.
May is teaching two classes online at the University of West Florida, according to documents from that university. In an academic paper he published earlier this month with Frank Fincham, the Family Institute’s director, May said he was working as a researcher at the MD Education Institute in Miami, which he said was now defunct. In another paper he published this year with Fincham, on the subject of divine forgiveness, May was listed as working with the Healthy Relationships and Lifestyle Center in Broomfield, Colorado.
May said in an interview he agreed to leave FSU despite what he called unfounded conclusions from the investigation. “I honored their decision, and I was satisfied with vacating my position.” He added, “As someone who has spent considerable time trying to empirically understand the process of forgiveness, I apologize to anyone that might have felt slighted during the investigation, and I wish them well in their endeavors.”
Gilbert said he was suspended without pay for two weeks and later resigned after a graduate student accused him of sending her a sexually explicit email in January 2020.
“Us ‘mature’ guys like to work slowly — take our time and savor every minute,” he wrote, according to the investigative report.
Gilbert had been the university’s J. Herbert Taylor distinguished professor of molecular biology.
Gilbert also told the student he had named his sailboat “Blow me,” and invited her to travel to Japan with him, after he had separated from his wife, the report said. He was also accused of speaking derisively about former President Donald Trump, telling a student “she must be a Trump supporter in an insulting way,” the report said.
Another person at Florida State warned Gilbert, “Just watch you don’t get MeToo’d,” the report said — a reference to the social justice movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment by employers that went viral in 2017.
Gilbert resigned a few months after the investigation concluded in April 2020 and is now a senior investigator at the San Diego Biomedical Research Institute.
Gilbert acknowledged to investigators he sent the sexually inappropriate email and another one like it, jokingly invited students to Japan and kissed a student on her neck. He said some other accusations were “hearsay, taken out of context, or false.”
Gilbert said in an interview that he was honest to investigators, had apologized to those involved and accepted the university’s two-week suspension before he resigned later.
Gainsford is still working in the College of Music. The university concluded after its investigation completed in July that Gainsford had improper sexual relationships with at least three students, even though he did not instruct or supervise them, because he holds “considerable institutional authority and influence within the college and subsequently over all College of Music students.”
During the investigation, Gainsford described one relationship as “friends with benefits” – meaning a sexual relationship without serious commitment – with a College of Music student he met on an online dating app. He said he also had a relationship with another student who he later married.
The dean for the college at the time, Patricia Flowers, told investigators in June she had heard no reports or rumors about Gainsford’s relationships with students. “I am actually blindsided by this,” she said.
Gainsford acknowledged to investigators that such relationships were unwise.
“Students gossip among themselves and no good can come of that,” he said.
The student who initiated the investigation accused Gainsford of non-consensual sex on at least five occasions – including once when the student had blacked out from drinking, the report said, but the university concluded that was unsubstantiated. During Florida State’s questioning about those incidents, Gainsford said “that is not how I remember things,” and said he would never have non-consensual sex with anyone.
Florida State also concluded that Gainsford did not create an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment because it was “more likely than not” that the student had agreed to Gainsford’s requests for sex.
Gainsford emphasized in an interview that he was cleared of the allegations of sexual assault and creating a hostile educational environment, and declined to discuss the investigation further. “I was cleared of the allegations made,” he said.
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