Illustration for article titled University of Chicago Professor Resigns During Sexual Harassment Investigation

Molecular biologist Jason Lieb has resigned from his professorship at the University of Chicago after the university recommended that he be fired for sexually harassing a number of female graduate students.


According to an investigation summary obtained by the New York Times, Lieb made sexual advances to female graduate students at an off-campus department retreat, and had sexual relations with another student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent,” which is an act that normally also comes with another name.

The Times also reported that despite the university’s prompt recommendation, Lieb probably shouldn’t have been hired in the first place: before Lieb moved to Chicago, members of the faculty received anonymous emails warning that he had been accused of sexual harassment or misconduct while he was at Princeton and the University of North Carolina. Both schools had begun investigations.

The report continues:

Yoav Gilad, a molecular biologist at Chicago who was on the committee that advocated hiring Dr. Lieb, said he and his fellow faculty members knew that in February 2014 Dr. Lieb had abruptly resigned from Princeton University, just seven months after having been recruited from the University of North Carolina to run a high-profile genomics institute.

But Dr. Gilad said that when it was contacted, Princeton said there had been no sexual harassment investigation of Dr. Lieb while he was there. He said efforts to find out more about what prompted Dr. Lieb’s departure proved fruitless. A Princeton spokeswoman said the university does not comment on personnel matters.


“In light of the severity and pervasiveness of Professor Lieb’s conduct, and the broad, negative impact the conduct has had on the educational and work environment of students, faculty, and staff, I recommend that the university terminate Professor Lieb’s academic appointment,” read a letter signed by Sarah Wake, an assistant provost at the university and director of the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs.

Lieb’s decision to leave the university is only one of a spate of resignations from research scientists accused of similar harassment, which in turn has sparked a nationwide conversation about sexual misconduct in academia.


Rep. Jackie Speiers recently championed legislation that would require universities to disclose professors’ sexual harassment investigations. In other words, professors would be unable to escape charges at one school simply by moving to another, as Lieb did.

“Some universities protect predatory professors with slaps on the wrist and secrecy, just like the Catholic Church sheltered child-molesting priests for many decades,” Speiers said in mid-January. “Students enter astronomy to study the stars, not the professor’s sex life.”


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