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Photographer who was a visiting professor in Lincoln loses appeal in UNL sex harassment case

Photographer who was a visiting professor in Lincoln loses appeal in UNL sex harassment case

An acclaimed photographer who taught University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism students in 2016-17 lost his appeal last month in a sexual harassment case involving some of those students.

Bill Frakes, a former Sports Illustrated and Miami Herald photographer, was ordered not to teach at UNL in August after accusations of unwanted comments about female students’ bodies and clothing were substantiated. Frakes wasn’t accused by students of touching or assaulting them.

Frakes appealed, and in a 35-page confidential ruling obtained by The World-Herald, a hearing officer last month affirmed the initial ruling, saying a “preponderance of the evidence” and “clear and convincing evidence” showed Frakes violated UNL’s sexual harassment policy.

The UNL student who filed the complaint was Calla Kessler, but the report says other students confirmed that Frakes talked about female students’ bodies and clothing and whether they were appealing. He also had taken photos of women’s rear ends, the report says. Kessler, of Omaha, and at least one other student testified that Frakes had shown them pictures of nude people, which made them ill at ease.

Kessler and others said the power differential — including the fact that Frakes had control over their grades — was intimidating. Frakes sometimes referred to his influence in the industry and his ability to help people with their careers.

Kessler declined to be interviewed because of the confidential nature of the ruling.

Frakes said he, too, was bound by the confidentiality order. But he called the allegations “unfounded.”

“I sincerely regret being in this position and most importantly, (the) angst caused to this or any other students,” he said. “I’ve learned important lessons from this experience, and I intend to use this knowledge positively to better myself and help the next generation of photographers.”

UNL spokesman Steve Smith said that Frakes was no longer teaching at the university and that there were “no expectations for him to teach at Nebraska in the foreseeable future.”

Frakes was one of the teachers and Kessler one of the students on the UNL Whiteclay project. That project, about the beer stores of Whiteclay, Nebraska, and the alcoholism of Native Americans from the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, won a Robert F. Kennedy Award.

Frakes, who has his own photography business based in Florida, argued that Kessler was angry at him over criticism he had directed toward her work.

Frakes, 62, produced character witnesses who testified that they hadn’t heard him disparage women or make sexually charged comments.

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123, twitter.com/rickruggles

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