President of Academic Senate accused of sexual assault


Courtesy of

SRJC religious studies instructor and president of the Academic Senate, Eric Thompson was accused of sexual misconduct in the ’90s.

Brandon McCapes and James Wyatt

Santa Rosa Junior College faculty member and Academic Senate President Eric Thompson has been placed on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the semester while the college investigates allegations of sexual assault.

The accuser, Sarah Chavez, alleged Thompson abused her for two years while she attended Ursuline High School, where he worked as a drama and religion teacher. The abuse allegedly happened during the mid-90s, when Thompson taught at both Ursuline High School and SRJC part-time.

 “While I was a student at Ursuline High School, my high school teacher, Eric Thompson, sexually assaulted me from age 16 to age 18,” Chavez said in a Nov. 15 Facebook post. “At age 15 the ‘grooming’ began. He was 35 at the time.”

She wrote, “Unfortunately, I ended up dropping out of high school at age 16 with Eric’s encouragement,” she said.

Chavez’s post claimed that her therapist filed a police report six years ago and that she personally reached out to the college administration.

“I am angry that Eric continues to teach young people,” Chavez said. “Whether or not any sexual abuse is occurring, Eric Thompson does not respect young people and should not be allowed to be a teacher.”

On Dec. 8, Thompson replied to the Oak Leaf’s email, and said, “I have never sexually assaulted anyone in my life.” The Oak Leaf attempted to contact Thompson on Dec. 6 before the first version of this article was published, but received an automatic reply stating that he was out of his office for the remainder of the office.

“When we complete the investigation and have some findings, then we will have to make a decision,” SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong said. “We don’t want to make a premature judgement because we don’t know what the facts are. That’s how we typically handle allegations against faculty. They belong to a union and have due process rights.”

In a comment on the post, a woman named Lauren Parnes said she worked at Ursuline High School at the time of the assault.

“As a teacher at the school at the time, and someone who also spent time with Eric and his friends outside of work, I will say two things: One, I absolutely believe you,” Parnes said. “Two, I feel terrible that I did not trust my instincts more and see what was right in front of me and help you.”

Chavez attended SRJC in the late ’90s while Thompson taught here. Faith Harrison, Chavez’s friend at the time said Chavez mentioned the relationship to her after seeing a play that Thompson directed.

“I was told she had a relationship with him when she was in high school,” Harrison said. “The way she told it, this was a consensual relationship. She said she fell for him when she was very young.”

Harrison said Chavez wasn’t negative about Thompson at the time. “She didn’t say he was this horrible person that did this thing to her. She just told me the facts,” Harrison said. “Even though she defended it at the beginning, I don’t think that should have any bearing on it. She was convinced that this was normal by him and bought into it for a long time. I think through therapy she realized that it wasn’t normal.”

Thompson has taught religious studies and humanities at Santa Rosa Junior College since 1992 and has been a full-time faculty member since 2001. During this time, he’s won awards including the SRJC Academic Senate President’s Award For Outstanding Contributions in Leadership in 2010 and the Tauzer Lectureship in recognition of Teaching Excellence in 2011.

Chong said that the college hired an independent investigator to look into the allegations.

“We take the allegations seriously and we’re doing everything we can to find out what’s going on,” Chong said.

Following the publication of this article, Dr. Chong sent an all-staff email regarding the allegations against Thompson on Dec. 7.

We are investigating this sensitive and difficult matter,” Chong said in the email. “We are also asking the SRJC community to be respectful of all involved parties and allow the due process to proceed in an appropriate manner.”

The All Faculty Associate (AFA) sent an email to the SRJC community on Dec. 7 in response to Chong’s email. The AFA, which is in heated negotiations with the administration, said Chong violated the AFA/District Contract which states, “The District will not use the SRJC email system for confidential communications to the faculty, such as those related to disciplinary action (§31.07). AFA has concluded that the District’s email constitutes a violation of this contractual provision, and we will be filing a grievance on behalf of the faculty; we see this as a violation of one faculty member’s confidentiality and privacy protections as a violation of every faculty member’s appropriate expectation that the District will honor existing confidentiality and privacy protections.”

If you have information regarding these allegations or have a similar complaint against a student or faculty member, please contact the News Editor at [email protected].