Barrett, the Honors College at ASU, Is a Close-Knit Community; Some Say Too Close

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Dr. Eric Susser, an award-winning Barrett professor -- he was both the first non tenure-track recipient of the prestigious Founder's Day Faculty Achievement Award in Teaching and voted "Hottest Professor" in The State Press' annual poll on more than one occasion -- also had his contract dropped because of ACD 402 violations.

(New Times Managing Editor Amy Silverman and Susser's ex-wife, Deborah Sussman, have co-taught a local writing workshop for more than a decade.)

On www.ratemyprofessors.com, a national website on which students post anonymous professor reviews, comments show how the intimacy and intensity of the Human Event course can sometimes shift the tone of student-professor relationships down an inappropriate path.

Susser received the following comments from students in his class:

• 9/18/2005: "Susser understands how to relate to college students. He's very entertaining and engaging. He's incredibly smart and the class is very thought-provoking . . . I loved this class. Plus I sort of had a crush on him."

• 7/20/2010: "Dr. Susser is wonderful! Not only did he take a special interest in me, he sought out students who needed extra help & made time for all of us to meet with him 1:1. If you need coaching for your writing or classroom participation, he's the guy to go to. But he's also full of himself. Don't let on that you think he's hot. Play it cool you'll be OK."

Susser, who taught at Barrett for 15 years, developed and led the college's wildly popular trips to Paris. Like all Barrett professors, Susser pushed his Human Event students to join.

Rumors about inappropriate happenings on those trips swirled for years. A former Barrett staff member who wishes to remain anonymous says she heard students saying they wanted to go on the Paris trip specifically in hopes of sleeping with Susser.

The Paris trips eventually came to a stop, right around the time Susser left the school.

ASU hasn't fulfilled New Times' requests for copies of personnel files, including those of Susser, but Fox 10 News did obtain the records for a September 17 report.

According to documents shown in Fox 10's newscast, Susser's contract was not renewed in 2012 after he admitted to having sexual relationships with three Barrett students.

Susser, who divorced in 2005 and remarried in 2012, hasn't returned multiple requests for comment.

ASU did provide New Times with a July 2012 letter in which Barrett Dean Mark Jacobs notified Susser that he would not receive an annual academic year appointment.

Instead, Susser was offered a "limited appointment" for the fall semester only. He was told he would work on curriculum development, as a telecommuter, until his final date of employment on December 21 of that year. He no longer would have office space at Barrett -- he was given two weeks to clear out his personal belongings -- and he was told he no longer would teach or supervise student projects.

The letter doesn't detail why Susser's relationship with the school changed.

Though the university wouldn't share more detailed records with New Times, ASU Police Department records do describe the former professor's behavior.

According to one ASU police report, on the morning of March 31, 2014 -- 15 months after Susser's contract ended -- a staff member at the university's largest library, Hayden, found a brown bag that had been left behind on the second floor.

Inside, she located an ASU identification card with Eric Susser's name on it. She tried to e-mail Susser about the bag, but the e-mail -- likely because Susser no longer was employed by ASU -- didn't transmit.

The staff member continued to look and found more than she expected in the backpack. She contacted ASU's police.

Police listed the impounded bag's contents in their report. In addition to two ASU identification cards, a bill, and a MasterCard all bearing Susser's name, police found "2 lancets, 3 meth pipes (one with residue), two pill containers (one possibly containing crystal meth), a bag of empty pill capsules, and a prescription bottle made out to Susser which contained various tablets."

The tablets: "oxycodone, amphetamine, Viagra," and more.

Police initially were unable to contact Susser -- his driver's license was suspended, they wrote in the report -- so the case was marked as pending. Mark Johnson, an ASU spokesman, says Susser recently was served with a no-trespass order barring him from campus.

But this wasn't Susser's first incident at ASU's libraries, or the ASU Police Department's first hint that the professor might be troubled.

Susser once was the subject of a handwritten field interrogation card, also drafted by ASU's police force. That 2002 document details some of the professor's other alleged extracurricular pursuits.

"Susser was contacted after a 101" -- in police code, a 101 is a woman in a car -- "said he exposed himself on the third floor of law library," police wrote.

The officer noted that a subject matching Susser's description was involved in a similar incident, in the same location, just two days before.

According to the report, Susser admitted to the officer that he was "checking out women," but he denied having exposed himself.

The officer who wrote the report tells New Times he has no specific recollection of the incident.

But at the time, he clearly knew who Susser was. He listed Susser's ASU affiliation as "faculty," and under employer, he wrote: "ASU (Honors College)."

Just what happened after ASU police learned that the professor allegedly had flashed students is unclear.

The ASU Police Department says it no longer can find a copy of this document in its files. Kamala Green wasn't aware of the incident, though she wasn't in office at the time, and Mark Johnson, the university spokesman, hasn't provided specific comment on this report. For now, the trail ends at the ASU Police Department, which hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment.

Johnson says he doesn't know whether police notified Barrett or ASU administrators of the incident. "Under current police department practice, the department would notify senior administrators and the relevant department," he says. "I can't speak to what the practice may have been under the previous police administration."

But one thing is clear: Susser kept his job for another decade after this report.

It's unknown whether Susser has found employment as a university professor, but he apparently has kept busy since leaving ASU. In June 2014, the Cooking Channel aired an episode of its show Belly Up! -- a kind of Bar Rescue rip-off -- titled "Hidden Issues." The episode focused on Susser's latest endeavor: a bar in West Phoenix called The Hideaway West Bar and Grill.

A student commenter on www.ratemyprofessors.com wrote of Susser in 2008: "Susser is amazing because he lets the discussions go where they will and interjects when he has something important to say. Very intelligent professor, although a little slimy as a person."

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Ashley Cusick
Contact: Ashley Cusick