Thursday, August 05, 1999

Art teacher settles with NKU for $150,000


He claimed free speech was violated

BY SUSAN VELA
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — A 3-year-old court case involving a tenured art professor, Northern Kentucky University and the First Amendment has been settled for $150,000.

        The university also has agreed to erase the record of the censure that Kevin Booher received after he talked to a newspaper reporter about a controversial art exhibit, Immaculate Misconceptions,in 1996.

        “He's pleased to have it behind him,” said attorney Zachary Gottesman, who has been representing Mr. Booher, now on a one-year sabbatical from his teaching duties. Mr. Booher could not be reached for comment.

        NKU attorney Sara Sidebottom would not comment about the settlement, which was hashed out Tuesday after at least five hours of negotiations.

        The case revolved aroundMr. Booher's right to free speech.

        The civil lawsuit that he filed in U.S. District Court in 1996 was rooted in events that happened in 1995. That's when student Martha Wellsinitiated sexual harassment proceedings against him.

        She had been a student in his nude figure-drawing class and contended that he made offensive statements in class. She cited a discussion of artist Edgar Degas' work as being voyeuristic.

        In June 1996, a sexual ha rassment panel concluded Mr. Booher had violated the university's sexual harassment policy. He appealed that decision and won. Provost Paul Gaston said there wasn't sufficient evidence for a reprimand. A month later, Mr. Booher filed his federal lawsuit, which claimed that his professional reputation and ability to obtain employment were “violated, jeopardized, damaged and infringed during the formal and informal sexual harassment proceedings.”

        He also cited an infringement upon his First Amendment rights by noting that NKU faculty had censured him for making comments to the press about Immaculate Misconceptions.

        The NKU administration had encouraged the art department to change the exhibit's title in reaction to public criticism. Mr. Booher called for a title change as well, saying that it was inflammatory and deflected attention from the art itself.

        Mr. Gottesman has said the university's treatment of Mr. Booher was prompting other NKU professors to avoid controversial topics important and germane to society.

        Mr. Booher “feels he's been singled out for special punishment,” Mr. Gottesman had said. “He wants some protection and guarantees that he won't be subject to any more disparate treatment.”

        Last year, as part of the case, U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman ruled that NKU's sexual harassment policy was too vague. A federal appeals court in Cincinnati refused to hear appeals on the policy.

        The case had been set for a September trial.

       



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