Professor at center of U of R harassment suit to return teaching
Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - Florian Jaeger, the professor at the head of a sexual harassment lawsuit, will return to teaching at the University of Rochester in fall 2018.
Fallout from the lawsuit led to the resignation of President Joel Seligman and recommendations to the university to change key policies.
A course description on the university's website said Jaeger will offer a class in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department called "Adaptive Processes in Speech Perception." The course is not open to freshmen or sophomores, but there's no explanation of the restriction.
Seven faculty members and one graduate student filed an EEOC complaint last summer accusing Jaeger of stalking behaviors, having sexual relations with students, and sharing illegal drugs and hot tub parties. The accusations prompted student protests and a hunger strike. More than 400 professors from all around the country also signed a petition recommending students avoid the U of R.
An investigation by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White found Jaeger had multiple sexual relationships with former, current and prospective students that was "offensive, inappropriate and unprofessional" but did not violate university policies or the law. It clears the way for him to return to the classroom after voluntarily taking a year off - even though the faculty senate voted to censure his actions.
Jaeger's attorney did not respond to an email seeking comment. Jaeger has said he did not sexually harass anyone but, "could have shown more maturity when I arrived as a 31 year old faculty member in 2007."
The university is now considering whether to ban all intimate relations between faculty and students in the same department, which would be one of the most restrictive university policies in the country. The current ban applies only to faculty and undergrad students and was not in place during the years covered in the EEOC complaint.
The policy change was one of 12 recommended in the White investigation. Some of those recommendations are in the process of being made. An update on others is due on Tuesday, April 10.
As Jaeger returns to work, his accusers will take their case against him to civil court.
The University of Rochester released the following statement Tuesday night:
Professor Florian Jaeger will return to teaching in the fall 2018 semester, teaching one upper-level elective course and supervising his graduate students and research lab.
We acknowledge that there may be a negative reaction from some to Professor Jaeger’s return to teaching. As an employer as well as an institution of higher education, we must make decisions based on our policies and our principles. One of those principles is that people can learn and improve throughout their lives.
Multiple investigations determined that Professor Jaeger did not violate any laws or University policies, but aspects of his conduct a decade ago were determined to be unprofessional and inappropriate. As a result of these investigations, the University reprimanded him and took other appropriate corrective steps. The Faculty Senate recently censured him, but stopped short of calling for further action. Professor Jaeger has taken responsibility for his actions and apologized.
As a result of this incident, we recognize that some of our policies and procedures must be clarified and strengthened to match our values and the standards expected of everyone at the University. This evaluation and improvement is ongoing. We will continue to address behaviors that cause members of our community to feel uncomfortable, excluded or disrespected. These improvements to our culture are part of our commitment to ensuring that the entire University is a place where all feel respected and valued.
Celeste Kidd, one of the original complainants in the EEOC filing, released a statement Wednesday.
"The University of Rochester is permitting Professor Florian Jaeger to return from his year-long paid leave to normal duties, affirming that he “did not violate any laws or University policies” despite demonstrably “unprofessional and inappropriate” behaviors. In fact, its own paid investigator, Mary Jo White and the Debevoise team, described an extensive list of misbehaviors by Jaeger that were clearly contrary to University policy 106, and White even admitted that this conduct was "in the nature" of sexual harassment – yet the University now wants to act as if whatever happened has been dealt with properly.
"As the EEOC complainants who brought these behaviors to light, we are saddened by the University’s singular focus on enabling Jaeger to resume his professional life while saying nothing about the harm that his behaviors caused to 16 women whose careers were derailed by his misconduct. We agree with the goals of seeking redemption and forgiveness. But those goals require accountability. The University has never personally apologized to Jaeger’s victims or suggested that it has any obligation to them -- indeed its legal filings deny that any victims exist, despite the findings of its own investigation. The University’s systemic failures allowed Jaeger’s misconduct to continue. Its administrators retaliated against those who complained about its inadequate response to that misconduct.
"Women enrolling in classes next Fall should not have to choose between their educational goals and their concern about a safe learning environment. Forcing students to make this choice conveys to victims of sexual misconduct that they matter less than protecting the University’s reputation. Pledging in the future to “address behaviors that cause members of our community to feel uncomfortable, excluded or disrespected” is an empty promise until the University takes responsibility for the damage it allowed in the past. Jaeger gets forgiven while his victims get forgotten."
Jaeger's attorney, Steven V. Modica, Esquire, released a statement on behalf of his client:
"My client is on sabbatical this semester. He is currently working with the restorative justice program, helping his students with their research and doctoral theses, and trying to rebuild his department. Three investigations have found he violated no rules or policies. One recent independent report interviewed 64 students who worked in my client’s laboratory from 2007 until the present. The investigators found no complaints of harassment, but rather a nurturing environment that successfully supported students’ research and careers. Teaching and advising is part of my client’s professional responsibilities, and he is looking forward to continuing to fulfill them.
"In the meantime, the complainants continue to circulate a narrative that has been proven false repeatedly. They also are seeking to suppress emails that investigators have said contains evidence that they worked to promote a false narrative, impede investigators and divide the faculty into believers and apostates. Their behavior continues to damage the Brain and Cognitive Sciences program, and the University of Rochester at large."