Smith College: Faculty member accused of sexual abuse should have been investigated

  • The Grecourt Gates of Smith College on Elm Street in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2021 9:45:31 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Smith College knew two decades ago that a faculty member had been accused of sexually abusing a minor, but chose not to act on those allegations, allowing him to teach at the college until recently.

On Wednesday morning, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield released an expanded list of former employees who had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors. The list included the name of Robert Ellis Hosmer Jr., a Smith lecturer from 1989 until 2016 who previously worked at Holyoke Catholic High School from 1968 to 1979.

Wednesday evening, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Michael Thurston wrote in a letter to faculty, students, staff, and alumni that a review of Hosmer’s employment records revealed a 2001 letter from a person who said Hosmer abused him at a high school prior to Hosmer working at the college. McCartney and Thurston wrote that no allegations from anyone within the Smith College community have been brought against Hosmer.

“The college administration consulted with its legal team at the time who advised no action on the college’s part,” McCartney said. “Twenty years later, this advice seems anachronistic and irresponsible. Any allegation of sexual misconduct should have been, as it is now, fully and impartially investigated.”

Credible allegation

In its updated list, the Diocese of Springfield said more than one person made a credible allegation against Hosmer of sexually abusing a minor. That abuse allegedly occurred between 1973 and 1978, the diocese said. In a statement earlier Wednesday, Smith College said the diocese notified the school on Tuesday of the pending release of the allegation.

Hosmer did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Wednesday. McCartney and Thurston said that Hosmer will not be teaching during the upcoming academic year as the college further investigates the allegations. He taught English language and literature courses.

Despite knowing about one of those allegations, Smith did not investigate and Hosmer worked as a lecturer until his retirement in 2016. Hosmer is listed on Smith’s website as a senior lecturer and has “occasionally taught for the college” since his retirement, according to the letter from McCartney and Thurston.

They said that under current college policy, past or present allegations of sexual misconduct brought to the attention of any office or individual at Smith College “should be routed to the director of equal opportunity and compliance/Title IX coordinator.”

“If you have experienced sexual misconduct in your time at Smith, you may file a report and the college will respond in accordance with its Sexual Misconduct Policy,” the letter states. “We assure you that we take seriously our obligation to maintain an environment that is free of sexual and gender-based harassment, abuse and violence.”

John Connolly, Smith’s first provost, who served as acting president for a year, was president of the college when it received the letter with allegations against Hosmer in 2001, according to a college spokesperson. Connolly retired in 2014.

The diocese’s list of credible accusations was expanded from 21 names to 61 on Wednesday. The list now includes categories of church employees not previously named among those credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor, including lay employees of the diocese like Hosmer.

On Thurday, the diocese released a statement saying it recognized “the frustration of some people who feel that it was late in making the disclosures, and their fears that the disclosures are incomplete.”

“If any survivor believes that an individual is missing from the list, we urge them to contact us and participate in the review process. We will then update the list to reflect new determinations of credibility,” the diocese stated.

The full list of allegations can be found on the Diocese of Springfield’s website at diospringfield.org.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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