Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


University official confirms no active investigation into Shawn Backer

The UP received confirmation as of Nov. 28 that instructor Shawn Backer is no longer under investigation by the university.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Editor’s note: After we published this story, the UP received a statement from a university official that confirmed Backer is still an instructor for three online courses. This story was updated on Nov. 28 to reflect this information.

Seven months after the sudden departure of instructor Shawn Backer, an administrator from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice (SCCJ) confirmed on Nov. 28 that he is no longer under investigation by the university.

“The University does not comment on personnel matters,” wrote Cassandra Atkin-Plunk, interim director and associate professor of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice (SCCJ), in a Nov. 28 statement to the UP. “I can confirm, however, that there are no investigations currently open regarding Professor Backer. He is teaching three courses for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice this semester, including Criminal Justice System, Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation, and Crime Analysis, and he is scheduled to teach the same courses during the Spring semester.”

Since February, the University Press has been trying to solve the mystery of Backer, who abruptly stopped teaching his Crime Analysis class in the middle of the Spring semester. The Office of the Provost had confirmed with the UP in April that he was no longer in the faculty system and there was an active investigation into his absence.

However, representatives from the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, and the FAU Police Department have since remained silent, either declining to comment or sending UP reporters to Media Relations or the public records office.

FAU Media Relations spokesperson Joshua Glanzer declined to comment on Nov. 3 about the length and status of Backer’s investigation.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) assisted the UP in paying a $136 public records invoice, prompted by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Cost Recovery Policy, for email communications between faculty and staff about Backer’s sudden departure.

According to Public Records Specialist Rachelle Hollingsworth, the Office of Information Technology found thousands of emails with keywords related to a potential investigation however, many of them included student information — which she could not provide because of FERPA laws, which are set in place to protect the privacy of students. Hollingsworth expressed being unable to deliver the emails even if personal information such as names and addresses were redacted. 

After narrowing the search to emails referencing a possible leave or suspension regarding Backer, Hollingsworth told the UP there were no responsive emails.

Hollingsworth suggested submitting another request for emails sent to or by Wendy Guastaferro, the director of the SCCJ, as she said many emails with her name appeared in the search. The UP submitted the request and received confirmation from Hollingsworth on Nov. 2, but no invoice as of Nov. 24.

The UP also contacted Guastaferro and Ricky Langlois, the instructor who took over teaching Backer’s class in the spring, and did not receive a response by the time of publication.

As of Nov. 24, Backer does not appear as an instructor on the class registration portal, FAU’s staff directory or on the website SUS Florida Has a Right To Know, the Board of Governors’ database of all university employee wages and salaries.. 

Stephen Engle, associate provost of academic personnel, said on Nov. 20 that Backer is still showing as an instructor in Workday, FAU’s employee management software. Backer’s staff biography is also on the university website, and his LinkedIn page indicates he is still a full-time instructor. 

The last update the UP received from Backer was on May 1, when he declined to comment on his investigation under the advice of an attorney. When the UP reached back out to his FAU-affiliated email in August, he did not respond.

After the UP released its initial story about Backer, two of his former colleagues came forward with allegations of racial and sexual harassment when he worked as the Deputy Chief of Police with the Coral Springs Police Department.

Bobby Brown, the Title IX coordinator and executive director of the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, would not confirm this claim or give the status of any investigations as of Nov. 20, sending UP reporters to the public records office.

Elisabeth Gaffney is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For more information on this article or others, you can reach Elisabeth at [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @elisabethgaff.

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About the Contributor
Elisabeth Gaffney, Managing Editor
Elisabeth is a junior majoring in multimedia journalism and double minoring in linguistics and sociology. She is a creative, kitten and coffee-loving workaholic with a love for the performing arts and storytelling. She hopes to one day work as a reporter at an established newspaper.

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