UNF biology professor put on leave following claims of sexual harassment

The University of North Florida put a tenured biology professor on leave this holiday season following allegations of inappropriate behavior toward a student.

In response to a request for more information university spokesperson Joanna Norris confirmed Dr. Gregory A. Ahearn was on leave pending an investigation, but said she could not comment further.

The 74-year-old presidential professor teaches courses in physiology and anatomy and physiology through UNF’s College of Arts and Sciences. His online profile includes awards, grants, publications and presentations.

However, Ahearn’s history also includes a previous reprimand made in a separate case that dates back to 2008, involving a female graduate student, according to a letter from UNF to Ahearn.

In three different letters the UNF Spinnaker published on its website, Ahearn was reprimanded for sexual harassment claims made by a former student-employee.

It started with a letter from UNF Vice Provost Mark Workman to Ahearn in 2008, ordering counseling based on actions he made involving one of his graduate students during a biology conference in San Diego the same year.

It states Ahearn shared a hotel room with a student and used his university purchasing card to buy alcohol.

Four years later, a letter titled “Allegations” shows a graduate student reporting “unwelcomed behavior” from Ahearn on the same trip in San Diego.

She claims Ahearn kissed her on the flight back from San Diego, and made inappropriate sexual comments to her.

She also claims Ahearn made inappropriate comments about her body and sent “flirtatious” text messages and emails.

The dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Barbara Hetrick, sent Ahearn a written reprimand in response to the allegations against him.

He was put on leave, required to take sexual harassment training, banned from traveling with students to conferences or other commitments, and put on a five-year probation.

The written reprimand states in part, “Given your status as a distinguished professor with nearly eleven years of service and no prior discipline history, the University has determined that it will not terminate your employment.”

Action News Jax reporter Elizabeth Pace reached out to Ahearn to learn his side of the story but has not heard back yet.

She also talked to two of Ahearn’s family members over the phone, who declined to comment on this investigation or previous claims.