UTC professor blasts university, alleges he was targeted because he is gay

Professor made allegations of sexual harassment, racism, discrimination

UTC tile

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga says a professor who emailed students and faculty raising allegations against the university and its Department of Social, Cultural, and Justice Studies is still employed there.

On Sunday, Christopher Hensley sent out the email, which included allegations of sexual harassment, racism and discrimination against student athletes, LGBTQ students and faculty, and other groups.

In his email, Hensley said "the university is in the process of terminating me" and that he had "received [a] report saying that I was to be terminated."

Hensley claimed he was being unfairly terminated because he "complained about the inequities at UTC."

"Did I commit deviant behaviors? Yes. Did it interfere with my job or the students that I teach? No. Did I commit any crimes? No. And, if I ever engaged in any sexual harassment, [others have also]," he said in the email.

On Tuesday, Hensley told the Times Free Press that he intentionally sent the email to faculty and students across the department because he "wanted to show them what's actually taking place behind the scenes."

Hensley has taught criminal justice classes at the university since 2006 and said there is a culture of harassment and discrimination. He also alleges he was targeted because he is gay.

"[The university] proposes to be all inclusive and they say they want diversity but at the same time these things happen," he said.

Hensley said faculty members have outed gay or lesbian students to other faculty and students or spoken disparagingly about them.

A university spokesman could not confirm Tuesday if Hensley, a tenured professor, would be terminated, or what the process to terminate a tenured professor entailed.

However, the spokesman acknowledged the university was aware of the situation.

"The claims are being addressed in accordance with the University's processes and procedures. Since the process is ongoing, the University is unable to provide further comment at this time," he said in a statement.

The email, which contained specific references to other faculty members and detailed alleged incidents of harassment and retaliation, went viral Monday.

One student took screenshots of the email and posted it to Twitter. So far, the thread has been retweeted more than 970 times and has been liked by 6,500 users.

Many of the tweet responses were in support of Hensley and cited experiences with him as a professor.

Department head Pamela Ashmore also sent out an email to students Monday from College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean Dr. Joe Wilferth.

"It has come to my attention that Dr. Hensley sent you an e-mail message late last night wherein he characterizes, from his perspective, circumstances surrounding his being placed on 'leave' from campus. Such a message is unfortunate for a number of reasons," Wilferth said. "Not the least of which is that it creates a distraction for you at the end of the Fall '18 semester."

Wilferth went on to write that Ashmore and faculty members are not at liberty to discuss this "ongoing personnel matter," but he assured them that student safety and well-being would be at the forefront of any decision.

Lexi Anderton, a sophomore at UTC majoring in criminal justice, said she thought the email was unprofessional.

"I am worried he is going to push and push until the whole department goes down. Of course, I don't know the whole story; I know just as much as everyone who received the email does. I just think it was very unprofessional," she said.

Hensley said he has received an outpouring of support from students and former students.

Matthew Stephens, also a sophomore criminal justice major, said the situation was "shocking."

"Dr. Hensley was a kind man who genuinely cared about his students. He was passionate about what he did and could make a sometimes boring subject very interesting. He never failed to make us laugh and always shared random stories about his life," Stephens said. "It's hard to believe that, if the allegations are true, the university would ignore them and instead punish the person who brought them to everyone's attention."

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.