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Relationship could cost SPC professor his job

A St. Petersburg College professor could lose his job over allegations that he was romantically involved with a student and encouraged her to leave the school to hide the relationship.

SPC president Carl Kuttler has recommended the dismissal of assistant humanities professor Gary J. Rodriguez, who has taught mostly on the Clearwater campus.

In a four-page document, Kuttler lists reasons why Rodriguez, 34, of Dunedin should be prohibited from teaching at the school.

The document will be presented to the college's board of trustees next week. It did not reveal the identity of the student.

The allegations include "aiding and abetting" a student younger than 21 in drinking alcohol, abusing his power "to encourage and induce female students to come to his house," having a sexual "and/or" romantic relationship with a female student while she was enrolled in his class and suggesting that she quit school in an effort to hide the affair.

Rodriguez's attorney, Craig Berman, said the allegations were half-truths.

"She said they started in November of 2003," said Berman of St. Petersburg. "But they started in December, after grades were in."

The student received an A in the class.

"They try to claim he dissuaded her from attending school," Berman said. "Anything but. He wanted her to get an education."

SPC is investigating the matter.

"A family member of hers called us and made these allegations," said SPC spokeswoman Amelia Carey. "We take these accusations very seriously coming from a student, and we've begun our own investigation. We believe that we need to take immediate action at this point."

Kuttler's request stems from the recommendation of Clearwater campus administrators.

The school's board of trustees are scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday at an 8:30 a.m. meeting. If the trustees agree with Kuttler's position, they can recommend starting the formal termination process.

Rodriguez, a full-time SPC professor, has been suspended with pay since last month.

"I really would love to make a comment. I've a lot to say about it," said Rodriguez, before referring questions to his attorney. "It's all a surprise to me right now."

The college also says Rodriguez, who is divorced, was married while dating the student. Berman says the student-teacher relationship came after Rodriguez was separated from his wife.

Both the student and Rodriguez have injunctions against each other, Berman said.

The issue of student-teacher dating is often debated on college campuses. Most schools, including SPC, have a policy stating that dating is off-limits while a student is enrolled in the teacher's class.

"We do not have a rule saying a college student can't date their professor," Carey said. "We do have a rule that says you cannot date a student in one of your classes."

Recent issues at the University of South Florida have led to two groups of professors speaking out on both sides of the practice.

Berman said the situation was not properly investigated and that the college turned down Rodriguez's offer of a polygraph test. The issue might go to court, Berman said. He said Rodriguez has never before had a complaint filed against him with SPC.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Staff writer Adrienne P. Samuels can be reached at (727) 445-4157 or at samuelstampabay.com

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