More than 400 professors from universities around the world signed a letter urging students to avoid applying to the University of Rochester, following an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that the school failed to properly address sexual harassment allegations against one of its professors.
The letter follows a Mother Jones report from September that detailed allegations against Florian Jaeger, a professor in the university’s brain and cognitive sciences department accused of habitually harassing women students. One complainant, Celeste Kidd, began at the university as a graduate student in 2007. Her excitement to join the program quickly dissipated when Jaeger allegedly pressured her to rent a room in his house, then repeatedly questioned her about her sex life, asked her to set up dates for him, entered her room without knocking, rooted through her belongings, and berated her for eating, lest she “spoil her physique.” The complaint alleges that multiple students avoided taking classes and working on research with Jaeger in an effort to avoid becoming one of his targets.
The university investigated the claims against Jaeger twice in the past two years, concluding that Jaeger had sexual relationships with a graduate student and a prospective student. Still, officials determined that Jaeger had not violated university harassment policies, and even offered him a promotion over the course of the investigation.
Signatories of the letter, posted online last week, wrote:
“Faculty members hold substantial power and sway over those who learn from them, work for them, and seek their counsel and advice in the pursuit of professional advancement. It is imperative that professors fully acknowledge and respect this imbalance of power, and do everything within their capacity to treat those whose futures they affect with fairness, sensibility, and constructive support. When professors fail to do so, it is the university’s responsibility to step in and ensure that all members of the campus community are protected.
The UR has abrogated its ultimate responsibility to protect and advance the interests of its most important constituency – its students – by supporting the predator and intimidating the victims and advocates in this case. We strenuously object to the UR’s treatment of our respected colleagues. We hope that the EEOC complaint will bring some sense of justice to all of those involved, and a change in both the culture and leadership of the university. In the present circumstances, we cannot in good conscience encourage our students to pursue educational or employment opportunities at the University of Rochester.
Following the Mother Jones article, the university’s president, Joel Seligman, responded by comparing the allegations against Jaeger to the famously botched Rolling Stone story that relied on the word of an alleged rape victim that was eventually proven false. Seligman later apologized for the comparison, and acknowledged that promoting Jaeger amid the investigation had been a “mistake.”
Jaeger has since been placed on administrative leave, and the university has commissioned yet another investigation.