Update: The protection request was denied when Jill Atkins did not attend the hearing. In a later article, Michael Shaughnessy, chair of the art department, said Chen is “very well loved,” and he hadn’t heard of any problems with Chen’s performance other than Atkins’ complaints.
An art student has filed for a protection from abuse order against a ceramics professor to keep him away from her and her artwork.
Jill Atkins alleges Ceramics Professor Ray Chen purposely destroyed her artwork last semester and another professor’s art work as recently as two weeks ago, thinking it was hers.
Atkins said she fears Chen, who admitted to punching a wall in frustration in front of two students following a disagreement with Atkins last semester.
Last Friday a Portland District Court judge denied Atkins’ request for a temporary restraining order but scheduled a hearing to look into the matter further.
The judge ruled that “allegations in the sworn complaint are insufficient to support a finding that the plaintiff (Atkins) may be in immediate and present danger of physical abuse from the defendant (Chen) or the business property is in immediate and present danger of suffering substantial damage as a result of the defendant’s actions.”
The hearing is scheduled for May 17 at 8:30 a.m., at which time the judge will hear from Atkins and Chen to decide if there is sufficient evidence to prohibit Chen from having direct contact with Atkins or her artwork for as long as two years.
The dispute between Atkins and Chen was initially addressed last semester with the Chair of the Art Department Michael Shaughnessy.
“It became apparent that it was pretty much a personality issue,” said Shaughnessy. “And I found another way to complete her degree without having him . This is really a non-issue.”
Shaughnessy met with Atkins and Chen last semester to discuss allegations that Chen intentionally destroyed Atkins’ artwork and punched a wall in front of her and another student.
At the meeting Chen denied destroying any art work, but admitted to punching the wall. Atkins was removed from Chen’s class and placed into an independent study for the remainder of the semester. The Art Department also bought Atkins 50 pounds of new clay to replace the clay that had been destroyed.
Shaughnessy said he had a talk with Chen about punching the wall and thought the issue had been resolved.
Atkins said she was also willing to let go of the situation until she learned that more artwork was recently destroyed.
Ceramics Professor Steve Fasciana said he found his artwork smashed into small pieces and apparently hidden at the bottom of a trash can two weeks ago.
“Things get broken and it’s accidental and people take responsibility,” said Fasciana. “But this appeared to not be accidental, more of a malicious type of act.”
Fasciana and Atkins fired their pieces in the kiln together that day. Atkins, who signed out kiln time that day, said she arrived at the kiln room early in the morning with another student to remove her pieces. Later that day Fasciana discovered his broken pieces.
Atkins said because her name was on the sign-up sheet, it would have appeared the pieces in the kiln were hers.
Shaughnessy, who recently returned from a trip, said he hadn’t heard about the recent incident, but would look into it.
Chen, a soft-spoken first-year professor from Taiwan, maintains he didn’t touch any of the pieces.
“I care about my students’ work more than my own. It’s something I didn’t do,” said Chen.
He said he punched the wall following a dispute with Atkins about using a kiln.
“That was a mistake,” he said. “But I was really frustrated.”
Shaughnessy said he hasn’t heard any complaints about Chen since last semester.
“I’ve actually heard some tremendously good things about him since then,” said Shaughnessy.
Jennifer Gammon, a senior art major with a concentration in ceramics, said she’s had a good experience with Chen.
She has taken a class with him in both semesters since Chen came to USM at the beginning of the academic year.
“I think he’s a great person,” said Gammon. “The overall feeling for students here in his classes is that’s not an issue, from the attitudes I get from people.”
She said she’s not afraid of Chen and thinks things have quieted down since last semester.
If anything, Gammon thinks Chen had a hard time early on because he replaced a very popular professor that most students didn’t want to see go. Art students actually started a petition late last year to keep Chen’s predecessor from leaving.
Chen agreed it was a bit difficult in the beginning.
“For a new teacher and a new person to meet with new students is hard,” said Chen.
But he said he’s trying to look forward.
“I can’t let this bother me,” said Chen. “I still have a lot of students to help.”
Executive Editor Steve Peoples can be contacted at: [email protected]