President Eli Capilouto announced in an email Friday that a UK professor was suing the university and a UK student in state court.
The professor, Buck Ryan, is a member of the journalism faculty. He had previously sued UK administrators last spring in federal court over rights violations he claimed were committed during termination proceedings. That lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge on November 18.
According to Capilouto's email, the new lawsuit is against the university and its Title IX coordinator, Martha Alexander. The suit also names a student who came forward with allegations against Ryan.
Capilouto said that the suit was "without merit" and that the university would pay for the student's defense.
"We will not allow a member of our community to be intimidated," wrote Capilouto in the email, adding that members of the UK community "must be able to seek assistance without fear of retaliation."
Ryan had previously been investigated for sexual misconduct. In November 2018, a student told the Kernel she had submitted a complaint against Ryan to the Office of Institutional Equity and Equality, the university entity that enforces Title IX.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this week, alleges that the office was weaponized against Ryan.
The student (who is named in the suit and asked the Kernel that her name not be used the last time the Kernel spoke with her) said the officials in the Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity took concern with the fact that Ryan had been texting and calling her outside of class time and on weekends, and even offered her tickets to a UK football game. When she declined the tickets, she said Ryan offered the tickets to another student in the class.
“It was something where a professor grooms you for success, but it always felt weird,” the student told the Kernel in November 2018.
"I received two football tickets I could not use and offered them to several students, male and female, as a courtesy. To think of that gesture in a negative light shows you how warped the university's Title IX office is,” said Ryan at the time.
The suit alleges that the complaint submitted by the student to the office “in no way alleged any discrimination or discriminatory act or statement by Ryan” or sexual harassment “whether as defined by the University’s policies or any other reasonable source.”
The lawsuit contends that statements made by the student involved were defamatory and cast Ryan in a false light, causing “great and substantial personal injury.”
A cover letter to a sexual misconduct investigation released by UK in 2017 showed that Ryan was found responsible for inappropriate behavior and language while at Jilin University in China.
Ryan is a tenured professor, though he no longer teaches or advises. The Kernel reported that Ryan would not teach in the spring 2019, though no reason was given at the time. UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said at the time that a college's dean reserves the right to decide what faculty teach.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader's UK salary database Ryan is annually paid $116,741.25 per year.
Ryan has previously stated that he believes President Capilouto targets him as retaliation for a public interaction in 2016.
Robert Abell, counsel to Ryan, said that President Capilouto's statement misrepresented the new lawsuit.
"One is that it misrepresents the federal court ruling, which did not reach some of the claims in the case," said Abell. "The other is that there is no attempt to intimidate; there is a claim arising from a published defamation."
The second point comes from the subject line of Capilouto's email to the campus community, which read "not allowing intimidation."
Ryan's previous lawsuit named David Blackwell, Joseph Reed, Derek Lane and Mike Farrell as defendants. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky in late April concerned allegedly defamatory remarks made by UK administrators after an internal audit alleged that Ryan profited off the use of his self-authored textbook as a requirement in some of his courses.
The dismissal of the lawsuit—which was requested by the defense in late May—was granted by Judge Karen Caldwell. The opinion given by Caldwell states that the “statements do not address matters of public concern," which under the precedent of Supreme Court case Connick v. Meyers is the threshold for a First Amendment retaliation claim. The opinion says that contrary to the plaintiff’s statements, news coverage of his termination proceedings does not qualify that matter as public.
The Kernel previously reported that the audit stated that Ryan made about $6,000 in royalties from using his book, "Writing Baby, Editing Dog & You: A Friendly Place to Begin Your Writing," in classes such as JOU 101, a required journalism course, since at least 2009. Ryan has been a member of the journalism school since 1994.
In the Kernel’s reporting, Ryan said that he was never told his use of Writing Baby was not suitable and that contrary to the audit’s findings, he did petition the dean and journalism director for use of his own textbook. According to UK policy, professors must have an approved petition from a chair, director, or dean to use a self-authored textbook, and royalties should go to the school or to charity.
After the audit results were published, Ryan declined an offer to resign from Dan O’Hair, then-dean of the College of Communications and Information. UK administrators initiated termination proceedings against Ryan in May of 2018. In a unanimous decision in August of 2018, the University Senate Advisory Committee on Privilege and Tenure recommended the termination proceedings be dropped, as reported by the Kernel.
According to the opinion and order, Ryan sued the defendants for alleged violations of his constitutional rights and state law. These alleged violations were that Provost Blackwell defamed Ryan, that Blackwell retaliated against Ryan for asserting his due process rights, that an audit performed by defendant Reed was defamatory and that efforts of the defendants to coerce Ryan into resigning were unconstitutional retaliation against Ryan’s freedom of speech and due process rights.
The alleged defamatory remark was a statement made by defendant Provost David Blackwell to the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he said he believed Ryan “stole from students. And he used university resources to do it."
According to the background given in the court opinion, Ryan “challenged Defendant Blackwell and UK president Eli Capilouto’s purportedly baseless attempts to fire him” and alleges that defendants Lane and Farrell retaliated against Ryan by making false claims and removing him from teaching responsibilities.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss Ryan’s suit in late May on the grounds that the plaintiff, Ryan, failed to make a claim and that the defendants are qualified to immunity. Additionally, according to the opinion, the defendants argued that if federal claims were dismissed, the court should not exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims.
Jacob Eads, Sydney Momeyer and Rick Childress contributed reporting.