University of Rochester’s president announced his resignation Thursday under pressure from activists who faulted him for not firing a professor accused of sexual misconduct, even though three separate investigations found no cause to do so.
A former Obama administration official who had been enlisted to re-litigate the charges for the third time concluded that there was no evidence of “a hostile work or academic environment for any female graduate students,” instead saying that a federal complaint against professor Florian Jaeger contained misrepresentations.
“Some have urged us to simply accept as fact the allegations in the EEOC Complaint and the federal complaint. We cannot do that,” reads the final report from former Securities and Exchange Commision chair Mary Jo White’s law firm.
University President Joel Seligman’s decision to resign was made minutes before receiving the findings of the third investigation. Though the findings turned out to be favorable to him, he wrote “it is clear to me that the best interests of the University are best served with new leadership, and a fresh perspective to focus on healing our campus.”
Four hundred professors urged their students not to apply to the university because of the allegations against Jaeger. The university did not fire him, however, because “through two separate investigations — one by an internal investigator and one conducted by an external investigator—no violation of the law or University policy was found.”
Academics working under him then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), laying out a series of claims against the professor, but White’s report found that not all its claims were reported.
After a Mother Jones story about the complaints, students were worked into a frenzy.
“I would urge you not to reach any conclusions about what may have occurred based on the allegations in the complaint itself or in media reports,” Seligman wrote in a September 2016 statement. “Allegations are not facts, and as we saw in Rolling Stone’s withdrawn story about sexual assault at the University of Virginia, even established media outlets can get it wrong.”
The reference to fake news only angered students more, and under pressure, the university quietly edited the statement to remove the Rolling Stone reference. It agreed to hire the white-shoe law firm and said it would be completely fire-walled, with the report released publicly at the same time that the university’s leaders saw it.
Before the findings were even released, however, students were attacking the independent commission. There have been “attacks on the Special Committee and on our independence and competence since being retained to conduct the Independent Investigation,” the report read.
The complainants refused to cooperate with the investigation, saying it could compromise their federal litigation. Celeste Kidd, one of the complainants, said that the report’s findings were “obviously biased and designed to falsely call us into question.”
Forty thousand people signed a petition, and student Lindsay Wrobel went on a hunger strike and wrote emails to Seligman, holding him personally responsible.
“You are causing people direct and immediate harm — and you deserve to have to face that harm on someone’s physical body so that you cannot avoid it in the ivory tower,” she wrote, adding, “I don’t think anybody has the right to criticize how oppressed groups protest their oppression.”
“There is no evidence of which we are aware suggesting that there is currently, or has been since at least 2014, a hostile work or academic environment for any female graduate students” in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department, the report concluded, where Jaeger taught until he went on administrative leave.
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