U of R's Seligman responds as student vows hunger strike over harassment case
Rochester, N.Y. - The stakes have been raised over the University of Rochester's handling of a sexual harassment case.
"I will be hunger striking publicly," said student Lindsay Wrobel. "I don't think people who do this say they are scared enough. I'm terrified."
Wrobel made the announcement at a rally one day after President Joel Seligman made his first - and only - public comments about the case at a student town hall meeting. 13WHAM News was there. "This campus must be, and should be a place where all feel safe," he said.
Dr. Florian Jaeger, the professor at the center of the allegations, has announced he will not teach classes this semester. President Seligman also promised to hire an independent investigator to look into allegations of retaliation against those who filed the complaint. Yet those steps are not enough for more than 150 students who gathered to protest Wednesday.
The protesters say the professor's alleged actions are horrible, but they also fault the mere two week investigation and say the school needs to change.
"We must allocate for change in policy and procedure," said a speaker at the rally.
Students who attended wore red arm bands to protest the violence of sexual crimes including harassment and assault.
The case dates back to March 2016, when faculty members and students in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department reported harassment to their department chairman. After an investigation, a 19-page report was issued saying the complaints were "unfounded." The report remains confidential to protect those who came forward.
"I think the investigation was extremely poorly done. I think they ignored evidence. I think they ignored critical witnesses," said Jenna Register.
Register has ties to the department and knows many of the people involved, including department chair Dick Aslin, who resigned over the handling of the report. "I know these people. They would not put their careers and their homes in Rochester and their families on the line for a grudge or something."
In an phone conversation Monday, Dr. Aslin called the university's actions, "morally corrupt."
Now, those witnesses and others - eleven in total - have given sworn testimony in an EEOC complaint that fills 111 pages. They accuse Professor Jaeger of using his power to have sexual relations with students, including unprotected sex. He's also accused of stalking behavior and hosting hot tub parties involving illegal drugs.
"The lever of detail just speaks to the care taken to the people who reported this to make sure to hold the university accountable," said Wrobel,
At the packed meeting with students Tuesday, President Seligman said some of the EEOC allegations are new and not part of their original investigation. Yet he made it clear the university will respond to the complaint, but will not re-open their own internal investigation. "There is a vast difference between an allegation and what you can prove, and that's part of what we are dealing with here," he said.
Seligman did announce a special investigator would be appointed to conduct an impartial investigation into claims of retaliation against those who made the allegations. Retaliation reportedly included hacking faculty e-mails and reducing a faculty member's maternity leave to two weeks.
He also apologized for a written statement comparing this case to the story of a gang rape at another campus that turned out to be falsely reported. "I want to apologize for a reference I made in my response, which may have hurt feelings and was foolish and unnecessary on my part," he said. He also said it was never his intention to call the people who filed this complaint "liars."
Dr Jaeger did not respond to our requests for comment. In a lengthy e-mail sent to his students, he promised to respond to the allegations at a later date and says the university's investigation gave him opportunity, "to reflect on how I acted in the past and how I want to act in the future."
The university now has one month to respond to the EEOC complaint. From there, the federal agency can issue a ruling or conduct a further investigation of its own.
The organizers behind Wednesday's protest rally met personally with the university president, pleading for changes in how the school investigates these cases. That's when Wrobel says she made him a promise she now plans to carry out.
"I will be hunger striking publicly," she said. "I told the administration and I am prepared to do this now until I am hospitalized."
She added, "They have a choice."