Two Years Paid Leave, No Spotlight for UI Professor on Trial for Sexual Abuse

In another case involving a University of Iowa faculty member and allegations of sexual misconduct, an assistant professor who has been on paid leave for two years is scheduled to go on trial today to face charges that he assaulted and sexually abused his lab assistant.

Toshiki Itoh, 47, a faculty member in the Department of Pathology, draws a salary of $93,000 a year and was put on paid leave after he was charged in 2008.

Itoh

Toshiki Itoh

The Johnson County District Attorney’s office charged him on Sept. 10, 2008, with 3rd degree sexual abuse and two counts of assault causing bodily injury. Itoh’s lawyer, Patricia C. Kamath, declined to comment on the case. But Itoh has entered a not guilty plea. The sexual abuse charge covers a period from Jan. 1, 2007, through July 10, 2008, and the assaults allegedly occurred on July 8 and July 10 in 2008.

Jury selection is expected to take up most of the morning. The prosecution and defense may begin presenting their opening statements in the afternoon.

While several other cases involving either faculty or university football players received widespread coverage by news organizations, Itoh’s case has received virtually no attention.

Two of those other cases, one involving political science professor Arthur Miller, 66, and the other music professor Mark Weiger, were unfolding at the same time as Itoh’s. Miller and Weiger committed suicide in 2008 after the allegations became public.

A third case involved former university football players Abe Satterfield and Cedric Everson, who were accused of sexually abusing a female student athlete at Hillcrest dormitory in October 2007. Satterfield has pleaded guilty to an aggravated misdemeanor assault charge, and Everson is scheduled for trial in January.

The charges against Itoh grew out of an emergency call by his lab assistant to university police on July 10, 2008, from a lab at the College of Medicine. When a campus police officer arrived, she found the lab assistant bearing bruises and scratches on her arms and face, a police record in court files say.

The police report said the assistant alleged that Itoh had punched her in the face with his closed fist on July 10, because she had missed work the previous day. According to the report, she told authorities she had missed work because Itoh had beat her the day before – July 8– for misusing a lab microscope. In the report, she alleged Itoh had been sexually assaulting her since Jan. 1, 2007.

Itoh’s Pathology Department web page says he studied to get his M.D. and Ph.D at Kumamoto University School of Medicine in Japan from 1989 to 1996. He did research at the University of California-Berkeley from 1999 to 2005, when he moved to Iowa City. Since then, he’s done research in the pathology department as an assistant professor. His name is still listed in the university directory.

After University of Iowa officials placed him on leave, his lab was closed and phone disconnected, and he was barred from entering campus until further notice, according to Media Relations Director Tom Moore.

University officials declined to discuss Itoh’s case, except to confirm his leave of absence.

Although university policy routinely allows paid leaves for professors for up to two semesters for research and professional activities, Moore said there is no written policy on granting paid leaves for faculty accused of civil or criminal wrongdoing. But Tom Rice, associate provost for faculty, said giving paid leaves in such cases are justified.

“Some people have issues with it,” he said. “But it is, after all, the right thing to do; you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

Two of the other sexual abuse cases embroiled the university in controversy. The charges against the two football players prompted criticism from the Board of Regents over the way the university handled the case and led President Sally Mason to fire two other University employees, both of whom subsequently filed suits to challenge their dismissals. And, the UI is still fighting a long public records battle with the Iowa City Press-Citizen over its effort to obtain information about the university’s handling of the case.

In the case involving Weiger, one of the victims filed a civil suit against the university, alleging that officials did not adequately respond to earlier complaints she had filed against the professor. The university settled her suit in January for $130,000.

(Michael Anderson is a senior journalism major at the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a second major in philosophy and a minor in English.)