FAIRBANKS — The University of Alaska Fairbanks this spring hired a sexual misconduct investigator who has been found to have harassed a woman while working in a similar position at a Tennessee community college the year before.
John Patrick Shipwash worked for UAF as a sexual misconduct investigator for two months before his employment mysteriously ended.
Late last week, the Knoxville News Sentinel, a subsidiary of the USA Today network, published an article stating that Shipwash was forced to resign from Pellissippi Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2017 following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct that were later found to be true.
UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said the university was not aware of the investigation when it hired Shipwash.
“We check references and obtain criminal background checks on all Title IX employees and do not hire employees with known negative history,” Grimes told the News-Miner, adding that the university has no plans to change its background check procedure.
However, the investigation into Shipwash was concluded, finding Shipwash guilty of sexual misconduct, eight months before he was hired at UAF in May of 2018.
Grimes said she “cannot confirm or deny” how or why Shipwash left his position at UAF.
“That type of information is part of an employee’s confidential personnel file,” Grimes wrote in an email to the News-Miner Tuesday.
Title IX is a 1972 federal civil rights law that was passed as part of the Education Amendments stating “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Shipwash was hired at Pellissippi Community College in 2015 and worked as the executive director of equity and compliance. He was forced to resign or be fired two and half years later following an investigation that found allegations of sexual harassment to be true.
The woman reported to the Tennessee Board of Regents on Aug. 2, 2017, that Shipwash had visited her off campus in May 2016. The woman said Shipwash was drinking heavily and, without being prompted, began discussing his “sexual experiences and preferences,” according to an investigative report released by the community college in response to a public records request by Knox News.
According to the report, the woman said Shipwash “rubbed her back under her shirt, put his head on her stomach, and tried to massage her shoulders without her consent.” The report continues that each time Shipwash touched her, the woman said she “verbally and physically rebuked” him.
The report also states that Shipwash later told an investigator that he had been drinking whiskey and he couldn’t remember everything that happened that day.
The investigation concluded Aug. 30, and as of Sept. 1 Shipwash no longer worked at Pellissippi Community College, according to a record of an email sent out to staff by Pellissippi President Anthony Wise.
Shipwash was hired by and began working for UAF on May 1 of this year. An announcement was made in a Title IX May 2018 Highlights newsletter by UAF that the office had hired “Patrick Shipwash” as the new UAF civil rights investigator.
Grimes confirmed that John Patrick Shipwash and Patrick Shipwash are the same person.
Shipwash then left his position just over two months later on July 12, 2018, Grimes said.
This is not the first wave of controversy to hit the UA Title IX offices. The office, tasked with investigating and working to curb all forms of gender and sex-based discrimination, including but not limited to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, went under federal investigation in 2014.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights outlined in a February 2017 letter that the University of Alaska system had failed students and staff who were sexually harassed or assaulted.
These failures included a lack of timely investigation and conclusion of investigations, among others.
The investigation lasted three years and focused on cases between 2011 and 2015. The Office for Civil Rights made a list of 23 specific cases as examples of the university’s Title IX failures. Since then, the university claims it has made it a point to overhaul the Title IX office and operations and place specific focus on improving the investigation process.
Grimes noted that UAF’s Title IX office is in the process of hiring three new investigators.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.