Tue | Jan 21, 2020

Edna lecturer faces axe - Board wants to boot accused; principal’s fate still in the balance as sexual harassment probe continues

Published:Wednesday | December 4, 2019 | 12:35 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Nicholeen DeGrasse Johnson, principal of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.
Nicholeen DeGrasse Johnson, principal of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.


While the fate of the principal of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Dr Nicholeen DeGrasse Johnson, remains uncertain, a male lecturer at the centre of a sexual harassment scandal brought to light by The Gleaner in May is set to be sacked.

Karl Samuda, the Cabinet minister with responsibility for the education portfolio, made the revelation in the House of Representatives yesterday.

Samuda was responding to a raft of questions posed by the opposition spokesman on education, Peter Bunting, who joined colleagues in a walkout after Samuda refused to withdraw “unparliamentary utterances”.

Bunting tried unsuccessfully to get Samuda to respond to allegations that one of the Edna Manley board members had been accused of sexual harassment at a government agency where he is employed. However, the minister would have none of it, stating that due diligence was carried out in the appointment of the new board.

He accused the shadow minister of having motive. This did not go down well with the Opposition, causing the walkout, after Samuda refused to apologise.

Edna Manley College has racked up $2.84 million in legal fees to unravel the sexual harassment case since the hearings started in June, and the figure is expected to climb.

An investigation has been launched into DeGrasse Johnson’s handling of sexual harassment complaints at the college. She has been charged with neglect of duty, gross inefficiency, and professional misconduct, said Samuda.

Asserting that the principal failed to act properly in handling harassment allegations, Samuda said that in an effort to properly investigate the matter, the board invited her to take leave.

The personnel committee is expected to convene a hearing shortly to determine the fate of the principal. However, Bunting has tagged the allegations as witch-hunting, owing to what he termed DeGrasse Johnson’s contribution not just to Edna Manley, but education in Jamaica.

Promising a fair trial under his watch, Samuda assured the parliamentarians that persons who have given good service were deserving of due process.

In the case of the lecturer, the education minister revealed that after two hearings, he was admonished and censored under the 1980 Education Regulations for professional misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.

However, it was after the third hearing that the committee recommended his termination, which Samuda said he is expected to appeal.

Bunting pressed the minister as to what measures have been put in place at St Andrew-based fine arts college to address the concerns of staff and students since the allegations came to light.

Samuda noted that the board has set up an email address allowing persons affected to submit their complaints. In addition, several seminars were hosted with members of staff to sensitise them to sexual harassment.

A committee consisting of a wide cross section of stakeholders from the college also revised the institution’s sexual harassment policy. The document is to be finalised by January.