Ex-Harper professor charged in shooting twice disciplined over sexual harassment

  • Charles Johnston

    Charles Johnston

Updated 2/1/2018 8:25 AM

An ex-Harper College professor charged with shooting at vehicles and police in Iowa earlier this month was disciplined by the college twice in recent years, including a three-day suspension stemming from students' sexual harassment complaints, records obtained Wednesday show.

Charles Johnston, an associate psychology professor fired last week by the college's board, was admonished by administrators at the Palatine community college in late 2014 after allegations were leveled by two female students, according to documents provided by Harper through a Freedom of Information Act request.


The first student filed a complaint with the college Sept. 26, 2014, in which she said Johnston solicited her by email for a sexual relationship. In one message, Johnston told her, "You must molest me metaphorically or really in some way," documents state.

A second student who filed a complaint Oct. 1, 2014, said the professor sent sexually harassing messages by email and text in an effort to meet up with her.

Johnston admitted sending the messages but was allowed to keep his job after serving a three-day suspension without pay and undergoing a psychiatric assessment by a doctor selected by the college. Johnston, Harper's provost and the college's faculty senate president signed the Dec. 4, 2014, agreement keeping him at the college.

The three-page document, titled "Last Chance Agreement," stated it was a "final warning" for his continued employment.

Days after admitting to sending the messages, Johnston went on paid leave, including 12 weeks of leave approved under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Johnston was to serve the three-day suspension afterward and then be on paid administrative leave pending completion and review of the psychiatric exam, according to the agreement.

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He was cleared to return to work Feb. 10, 2015, Harper officials said Wednesday, though they did not provide a copy of the exam.

Then in July 2017, Johnston again faced discipline in the form of a written reprimand from the college provost. It came after Johnston sent an email harshly critical of a co-worker to 16 colleagues, and alleging his contractual rights were violated during a student grade dispute.

"You stated that you were interested in providing the facts to everyone so that there would not be hallway conversations," Provost Judith Marwick wrote. "I think this email has quite the opposite effect and the personal criticisms of a colleague are inappropriate."

Johnston also complained in the email that it was wrong for a colleague to contact him about the grade complaint before he had spoken with the student. But Marwick said the proper protocols were followed; the student was unable to contact Johnston, having emailed him twice and gone to his office twice over a nine-day period.

Marwick also cited other issues with Johnston's work, including discrepancies between grades he submitted to his dean and those listed in the college's new grading software, and with Johnston submitting midterm verifications -- whether a student is still attending class or not -- three weeks late.


Johnston asserted he was having problems with the new software.

On Sept. 10 last year, one of Johnston's family members wrote an email to college officials stating she was scheduled to take him to the doctor. The next day, he went on leave again through the Family and Medical Leave Act due to "a personal illness," according to a memo written by the college's benefits and compensation manager.

In a Sept. 14 email provided to the Daily Herald by a former student, Johnston told students he suffered a minor stroke or an "extreme stress reaction."

He told officers after his arrest he was recently hospitalized and had been taking several prescription drugs, according to a court filing.

Johnston reported back to work Jan. 11 for the first day of faculty attendance for the spring 2018 semester, Harper records show. But later that afternoon Iowa authorities say Johnston shot at vehicles and exchanged gunfire with state troopers near Interstate 80 in Cedar County, between Iowa City and the Quad Cities.

Johnston, charged with attempted murder and assault on a peace officer with a dangerous weapon, told police he targeted truck drivers after becoming enraged over a truck crash that killed a family, according to court filings.

A Harper employee since 1996, Johnson was barred from campus after college officials learned of his arrest, then fired by a unanimous vote of the board Jan. 23.

Johnston, 60, of Belvidere, is being held in the Cedar County jail on $1 million bail and is due in court for an arraignment March 2.

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