Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester (U of R) in New York, will resign effective 28 February after steering the institution for more than 12 years, he announced to the university’s Board of Trustees today. In a press release, the university said that Seligman announced the move before he learned the contents of an outside report that examined the university’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against linguist T. Florian Jaeger. The report found little fault with the university’s handling of the matter.
“Given the significant length of the [207-page] report, the board and university administrators will take additional time to carefully consider its findings and recommendations before determining what specific actions the University will take,” the university said in a statement.
In their own statement, the trustees wrote: “We Trustees express our heartfelt apology to anyone who was hurt by the actions of any university employee, or who felt intimidated, excluded, or harassed.”
An outside investigator hired by U of R to investigate its handling of sexual harassment allegations against Jaeger concluded on Thursday that Jaeger did not violate university policies or sexually harass students and that accounts by his accusers are “exaggerated and misleading in many respects.”
“We … do not believe that any potential claimant or plaintiff would be able to sustain a legal claim for sexual harassment in violation of [federal law],” according to the report by investigators led by Mary Jo White, a partner at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City who is a former U.S. attorney and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Despite being labeled as a ‘sexual predator’ by his accusers, there have never been allegations of sexual assault, unwanted groping, any use of force, or exhibitionism outside of consensual relationships, and we have found no evidence of such behavior ever occurring,” the report continues.
White was hired by a special committee constituted in September 2017 by the university’s Board of Trustees to investigate the original complaints made to the university in 2013 and 2016 and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in August 2017 against Jaeger, how the university investigated them, and whether complainants experienced retribution from university officials.
In December 2017, eight current of former professors and a former graduate student in the university’s widely respected Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS), where Jaeger is a tenured professor, sued the university, its President Joel Seligman, and its Provost Robert Clark alleging retaliation, defamation, and (in two cases) breach of contract after they criticized the university’s investigations of Jaeger in 2013 and 2016.
“Zero tolerance should go hand in hand with two other things: due process and proportionality,” White said at a press conference this afternoon, after the report was made public.
White’s and her team’s report also found no evidence that the university retaliated against the complainants. “Many of the statements and actions taken by the university were in our view not taken to retaliate … but rather as [a] good faith effort to lessen the divisiveness within BCS,” White said. “We think that the university acted in good faith … and that the steps it took to navigate an unusually difficult situation were reasonable.”
Some of the complainants are scheduled to respond later this afternoon and ScienceInsider will update this story with their reactions and those of others.
White stressed that her report evaluated sexual harassment through a legal lens. The fact that she did not find it occurred in Jaeger’s case “is a legal conclusion, not a moral or social judgment,” she said.
White’s team interviewed more than 140 witnesses; reviewed more than 6000 documents, including emails; and analyzed the university’s policies, procedures, and processes dealing with intimate relationships and sexual harassment against 18 peer institutions. Interviewees included 64 past and present students and postdocs at the university. But the complainants declined to cooperate with her investigation, challenging her impartiality given that the university hired her. (Her firm is being paid $4.5 million for its 3.5 months of work producing the report.) White, however, said the lawsuit and complaints filed with the university and EEOC, along with her interviews of other witnesses, provided enough information to render her judgment.
White’s team also found, among other things, that a 2017 policy adopted by U of R is stricter than at many other institutions, as it prohibits any intimate relationships between faculty members and undergraduates; among the peer institutions Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, was the only other university that had such a policy, White said.