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Archaeology group apologizes after ex-UAA professor banned from Alaska campuses attends meeting

An archaeology organization issued a written apology Wednesday after a former Anchorage professor attended its annual meeting in New Mexico last week, days after he was banned from University of Alaska campuses over sexual misconduct allegations that a Title IX investigation found to be credible.

Former UAA professor David Yesner (Photo provided by UAA)

The apology from the Society for American Archaeology follows days of criticism and outrage from meeting attendees and others, including some who denounced the organization in social media posts for its inaction in response to ex-UAA professor David Yesner’s attendance.

The organization said in a statement that it removed Yesner from the meeting Friday, hours after it got complaints. But others are disputing that timeline and say the organization knew about Yesner’s presence the day before.

Yesner could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the Society for American Archaeology did not return calls.

The Society for American Archaeology is an international organization based in Washington, D.C., that represents professional, student and avocational archaeologists and has about 7,500 members, according to its website. Its annual meeting went from April 10, a Wednesday, to April 14.

UAA alerted students on April 8 that Yesner was banned from all UA property and events, and they should call university police if they see him. That alert implemented a sanction in a Title IX matter involving Yesner, said a UAA spokeswoman. Title IX is federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal money. Discrimination can include sexual harassment or sexual violence.

Anchorage television station KTVA first reported that Yesner was the subject of a Title IX investigation over sexual misconduct allegations that went back decades. The allegations were made by nine women, including one who said Yesner accosted her while she was using a public shower. Investigators found the allegations to be credible, according to a report obtained by KTVA and dated March 15.

Those attending the Society for American Archaeology meeting included people Yesner had targeted, said an open letter shared online. The letter called on the organization to make changes. It had more than 2,100 signatures by Wednesday.

The organization said in its statement Wednesday that it had started implementing members’ suggestions including sexual harassment training for board and staff members. It also apologized.

“SAA apologizes for the unfortunate situation which occurred at the SAA annual meeting and for the delay in issuing this apology,” the statement said. “In particular, we apologize for the impact, stress and fear the situation caused to victims of sexual harassment within our field.”

Yesner retired from UAA in August 2017. His earliest affiliation with UAA was in 1975, according to a university spokeswoman. He held temporary appointments until he became an associate professor in 1991. He later worked as an anthropology professor and served as the associate dean of the UAA Graduate School from 2011 to 2015.

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