New lawsuit against UCO says school failed to protect theatre students from now-Interim Asst. Dean

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EDMOND, Okla. (KFOR) – A new lawsuit against the University of Central Oklahoma says the college failed to take action against a now-interim assistant dean following alleged sexual harassment to his theatre students.

Six former theatre students say the University knew of their allegations against Kato Buss, an associate professor who is now the Interim Assistant Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Design, and failed to take proper action.

“While female students in the theatre department were struggling after having been
dismissed and discredited, Buss was being rewarded by the university with accolades and
promotions,” says the suit.

UCO Documents by KFOR on Scribd

According to the documents, Buss would groom the students by adding them to “his close inner circle of favorites.”

The suit says Buss sent the students texts and Snapchats, drank alcohol with them, isolated them from other peers and faculty, and “engaged in behavior that created a sexually charged environment.”

In December 2017, the first plaintiff reported sexual harassment to UCO.

The next plaintiff provided a statement in support of the Title IX complaint.

The lawsuit says UCO failed to fully investigate the complaint, “rushing through the process and failing to interview witnesses.”

UCO ultimately found Buss ‘not responsible’ for the allegations.

“Buss’ behavior did not improve after the December 2017 complaints. Throughout 2018, 2019 and 2020, Buss continued to engage in sexual misconduct with [plaintiff], continued to target and begin grooming young women as they entered the program, continued to sexually harass and manipulate his “favorites,” and continued to become intoxicated and provide underage students with alcohol. His behavior instead escalated and he retaliated against the young women who complained,” states the lawsuit.

In September 2020, the next student filed a Title IX complaint through UCO’s website.

In October 2020, the another student joined as a co-complainant.

According to the documents, Erika Cerda, UCO Director of Employee Relations, contacted the co-complainants via email, telling them she had a “frank” meeting with Buss in which he took “some initial responsibility.”

Cerda then held separate meetings with the two students and “convinced” them “that the informal HR process was the better course of action, assuring her that both carried the same weight with the university and the consequences were the same.”

On December 17, 2020, the two co-complainants received a letter from the school saying an “Informal Resolution” was pursued, “a combination of interventions and remedies have been utilized,” and the matter was considered “resolved and closed.”

The lawsuit goes on to state “Buss continues to teach, direct productions, contact students outside of class. Far from disciplining him, UCO has emboldened him, allowed him continued access to young women and even rewarded him with promotions.”

As of this filing, Buss is still Interim Assistant Dean for the University of Central Oklahoma College of Fine Arts and Design.

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