MCC officials study hiring process

- Manatee Community College officials are scrutinizing the screening procedures for hiring staff and instructors, after allegations of sexual harassment from a female teacher and two students led to the resignation of an adjunct professor.

There was never a background check conducted for Eugene Sklar, 68, as required by the college at the time he was hired as an anatomy and physiology professor in January 2006, said MCC spokeswoman Kathy Walker.

"They all must agree to be fingerprinted," she said. "He never went."

In response, MCC officials have started an audit of 400 staff to ensure they received background checks.

"We'll see what the outcome of that is to make adjustments, if any changes need to be made," said Jennifer LaHurd, assistant director of human resources.

Officials said they are confident in the system, and want to make sure it is being followed.

Once the allegations surfaced against Sklar, he quickly resigned.

"He did not go to class again. He did not step foot on campus again. He was gone," Walker said. "From that perspective, the process worked. Our regret is that he was there in the first place. Wonderful academic credentials don't necessarily mean you have stellar personal character."

Sklar, who earned degrees from the University of Detroit School of Dentistry and the Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education, resigned Feb. 15 after two female students filed complaints with MCC. They accused him of making improper comments and touching and hugging them inappropriately.

In an incident report, a 32-year-old student told officials that Sklar made her uncomfortable by paying her too much attention. On one occasion while she was talking to another student about a visit to the chiropractor, Sklar overheard her ask whether it was appropriate to be asked to remove her clothes and change into a gown.

"She likes to get naked," Sklar reportedly said to a male student.

The student told Sklar that she didn't and Sklar replied, "Why not? When you have a figure like you do, you should want to be naked."

Humiliated, the student said she rushed from the room only to have Sklar follow her out to ask her about her work. Then, she said, Sklar embraced and bent down as if to kiss her. Another student also reported witnessing the incident, the report said.

The second student, age 45, also said in a phone conversation to investigators that Sklar's behavior bothered her.

She said Sklar touched her hair and put his arm around her when she was walking with a friend to her car. At that, she pulled away.

The students' complaints were not the first on Sklar. Two months before, a professor alleged that Sklar had sexually harassed her.

After a December meeting held in her office, the professor said she had tried to shake his hand after their conversation, but Sklar went around her desk and gave her a "huge bear hug" and a "full kiss on the lips."

In the report, she said she sent him out of her office and informed the department chair of what had happened.

"I feel uncomfortable, but not to the point I want to get someone fired," she said in the report.

In an apology letter to the professor, Sklar stated that "the hug and kiss was simply a greeting and thank you" for her help.

Sklar declined comment to the Bradenton Herald about the allegations.

Sarah Pappas, MCC president, called the mistake "unacceptable" in an e-mail she sent to students.

"I want to send a strong message that MCC has a zero tolerance policy for such conduct. This is essential for maintaining an environment conducive to teaching and learning," the statement said. "Our students and staff have the right to have total confidence in every single faculty member, whether it's an adjunct instructor teaching one class or a professor with a full load. We expect all faculty members to meet the high standards of MCC."

Students seemed pleased with the way the college treated the situation.

"It slipped past their check and they found out about it and they took care of it," said student Kerri Clark.

Kendal Shanz, another student, said that the college has not tried to cover up the problem and is serious about addressing future problems should any arise.

"It's a fact of life. It's not something that reflects badly on the school," she said. "If anything did happen to you, they would take care of it."

John Short, a freshman at MCC, said that his teachers' behavior has been professional.

"Every teacher I have had, they're very sure not to cross that line," he said.