Homework sometimes pushes students past their comfort zones, making public speaking or conducting interviews mandatory. But one student, who claims a college instructor ordered students to expose their masturbation habits to pass his class, said that crossed the line.
Karen Royce, a former Western Nevada College at Carson City student, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nevada against the school and course teacher claiming the teacher violated ethical and professional standards by requiring coursework that could constitute harassment.
Royce, of Zephyr Cove, Nev., also is suing the instructor's direct supervisor, Robert Morin, the psychology department head, and Carol A. Lucey, WNC's president.
A college student aspiring to take on a second career as a social worker, Royce, 60, enrolled in part-time instructor Tom Kubistant's Human Sexuality course last fall; according to the lawsuit, she felt "gaining knowledge as to psychological theories of human sexuality" would be "pertinent and necessary" to her chosen career path.
The lawsuit says the course was not as advertised, and instead Kubistant deviated from the 100-level course's syllabus with assignments that made her feel uncomfortable, even "forcing [her] to her bed crying" at night.
On the first day of class, the lawsuit says Kubistant informed students that "he will increase their sexual urges to such a height that they won't be able to think about anything other than sex."
The lawsuit said he assigned students to write "three journal entries of 250 words each before the next class disclosing their personal sexual thoughts" and explained that their final project for the class would be an assignment titled "A Sexual Case Study...You!"
That final assignment explicitly asked students to write about topics including, "When did I begin early exploration of my genitals? Describe any sexual abuse; How did I lose my virginity? Did I experience a homosexual outing, phase, and what challenges were associated with that? Describe personal promiscuity behaviors. Do I cheat, and how do I feel about it? ..."
The lawsuit also says students were told to masturbate twice as much as they typically would in a week. When Royce told Kubistant that she did not masturbate, the lawsuit says Kubistant told her students must pleasure themselves and write about the experience in order to pass.
Royce is a victim of sexual abuse, and took issue with disclosing information about it. The lawsuit states:
[A]s a sexual abuse survivor, Plaintiff was horrified at the thought of reliving the sexual abuse endured as a child. Although Plaintiff knew sexual abuse would be discussed, and was ready for such topic and emotional response, Plaintiff had no awareness that she would be required to discuss her own abuse and experiences.
Royce's attorney, Ken McKenna, told The Huffington Post that his client did not complete the course, opting out during the semester because "she believed what the professor was doing was wrong and shocking."
McKenna said he hoped the trial and its investigation would reveal if Kubistant had perverted motives for asking students about their sexual ideas.
In an official statement sent to HuffPost, WNC said after receiving a complaint in October 2011 from Royce alleging "she was sexually harassed as a result of the course content and homework assignments in a Human Sexuality course," the college initiated an investigation. An investigator interviewed more than 20 students taking the course.
"The investigator found no evidence to support the student's complaint of sexual harassment. In fact, the investigator found that the instructor was considered to be an excellent and caring professor, who, with the exception of the student, appeared to be universally admired by other students who had taken the course," a statement from the college said.
"The investigator found that course content and class assignments could not be considered to be unwelcome in light of the fact that the class was an elective (not required), that all students were fully informed regarding the nature of the class, and all students had signed a waiver after they were fully informed about the course content."
The statement further adds that Royce voluntarily withdrew from the course after the fourth class, attending only a third of the classes.
WNC's Vice President for Human Resources and General Counsel Mark Ghan told HuffPost that Kubistant was a part-time teacher at WNC for seven years. During that period he taught the sexuality course about 20 times and never received a complaint about his professionalism, said Ghan.
"[The 20 interviewed] students disputed the allegations [Royce] made," he said. "What did the students dispute? As we understand, there was no requirement that students engage in masturbation for the course."
Kubistant's required the text "Human Sexuality," by Roger R. Hock, which Ghan said is used in a number of similar courses at other schools.
Debi Ridgeway, a former student of Kubistant and current WNC student, said on the phone Friday, she thinks the lawsuit is a "shame." "His class was a life-changing class," Ridgeway said, calling Kubistant a "great professor."
The college's statement also says it was informed that Royce filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The OCR received paperwork from WNC regarding the course materials and its investigation's findings.
The OCR, according to the statement, found the college's investigation into the matter to be "consistent with OCR's investigative and legal standards." That statement added that WNC's Curriculum Committee also reviewed and approved of the course's content.
The lawsuit seeks $75,000 or more in special damages, plus the same in general damages. According to McKenna, the trial will likely be about 12-18 months from now. The school stated it will seek to have the complaint dismissed.