Sharma proceedings underway: OU professor sentenced to house arrest after alleged stalking incident



An Oakland University professor awaits trial after being charged with stalking a former student.

Srinarayan Sharma, 43, was arraigned and charged with stalking on Jan. 21 after an alumna reported him to the OU Police Department. Sharma, who’s been at OU since 1996, is an Associate Professor of Management Information Systems in the School of Business Administration.

When it all began

According to an OU police report, the contact began in Fall 2009, following a class the student had with the professor. She soon started to receive e-mails that made her feel uncomfortable. In December 2010, she contacted the Dean of Students.

The contact escalated on Jan. 14 when the woman, who graduated in December, received two e-mails where Sharma stated he wanted to leave the country with her and encouraged her to kill his wife and children. He included personal information about his family members, as well as photos.

OUPD was then notified. Following a mental health evaluation, Sharma was arraigned and released on 10 percent of a $10,000 bond Jan. 21.

Defining the charge

Michigan Compiled Laws defines stalking as repeated or unwillful conduct “that would cause a reasonable individual to suffer emotional distress and that actually causes the victim to suffer emotional distress.”

It becomes a felony if it’s a second offense, a restraining order or probation is violated, or there’s been a believable threat against the victim, the victim’s family or another individual living with the victim.

Oakland County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton said Sharma was charged with a misdemeanor, because none of those situations applied to him.

“The threats were never against the victim. Ironically, they were against the defendant’s own’s family. That’s why he couldn’t be charged with a felony,” Walton said.

Stalking charges are not uncommon, according to Walton.

“They unfortunately occur a fair amount,” he said, most of them being misdemeanors.

OU’s policy

According to the police report, the woman was hesitant to report the professor while she was in his class because she was worried he would fail her.

Breanne Thomas, an undecided freshmen, wasn’t surprised it took so long for the student to report the incident.

“I think it’s understandable that she didn’t right away, but I’d take it to authority,” Thomas said.

Other students agreed they’d have told someone about it before too long.

“I would have reported it,” said Helen Marsack, a senior social work major. “I don’t think I would have taken too kindly to repeated e-mails from someone who I’m supposed to know in an educational and professional sense. It’s so personal.”

If a student feels he or she has received an unfair grade or feels harassed, Dean of Students Glenn McIntosh said students shouldn’t hesitate to report it.

“If the grade dispute cannot be resolved between the course instructor and student, it should be advanced to the course department chair,” McIntosh said. “The chair works to resolve the dispute through the department’s grade appeal process.”

Thomas Lauer, Management Information Systems Chair, said the process to appeal grades is easily accessible.  He would not comment further on the case.

“It’s in the realm of gossip,” Lauer said.

McIntosh said there are several options for reporting incidents of harassment, including OUPD, the Provost’s office, the office of inclusion and intercultural affairs and his office.

He said he hadn’t received other complaints regarding Sharma, and that such complaints about a course instructor are rare.

“When they do (occur), students should feel comfortable sharing their concerns with university officials, trust us to investigate their concerns and take action to resolve the problem,” he said.

Damon Duncan, an undecided freshmen, said he’s never been in that kind of a situation before and feels no one ever should be.

“If it got to the level of uncomfortableness where I didn’t like them as a teacher, I would just switch out. But if it got as

serious as stalking, I would probably let somebody up the list at OU know,” Duncan said.

Present and future

Sharma is currently on house arrest with a tether. Judge Julie A. Nicholson of 52-3 District Court granted the prosecution’s request Monday morning that Sharma have no contact with his wife and two children.

Defense attorney Jerome Sabbota said there’s “no reason to believe he’s a danger.”

He is voluntarily moving into an apartment in Troy while his family will remain at its Rochester Hills home. He is allowed to leave home for court-related business, medical appointments and to shop for personal items.

Sharma, who has tenure, is currently suspended. As for his future at OU, Media Relations Director Ted Montgomery said Sharma would have to go through the reinstatement process, but first OU would “have to see how this plays out in court.”

“The criminal issue and employment issue are two different things. They’re not necessarily intertwined,” Montgomery said.

A pre-trial hearing is set for Feb. 15, with the trial beginning March 4.

— Rhiannon Zielinski and Kay Nguyen contributed to this report