Following a searing Mother Jones report on allegations of misconduct in the University of Rochester’s cognitive and brain sciences department, the University has responded with a forceful statement and a subsequent email touting “two comprehensive and careful investigations” that did not substantiate those allegations.
In the email disputing the complaint featured in the article, Rochester’s president opted to compare Mother Jones’s reporting to a famously discredited Rolling Stone story that relied on recollections of an alleged rape victim that were later proven false.
“I would urge you not to reach any conclusions about what may have occurred based on the allegations in the complaint itself or in media reports,” Rochester president Joel Seligman wrote in an email to the Rochester community.
“Allegations are not facts, and as we saw in Rolling Stone’s withdrawn story about sexual assault at the University of Virginia, even established media outlets can get it wrong.”
Since its publication in 2014, “A Rape on Campus,” along with the Duke Lacrosse case in 2006, has been used as fuel for the inaccurate narrative that false sexual misconduct allegations are commonplace, a narrative that has since been adopted by the executive branch of the White House. A university spokesperson declined to provide further comment or clarification when specifically asked about the Rolling Stone comparison.
The Mother Jones report details an extensive 110-page Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint filed recently against Rochester Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences professor T. Florian Jaeger, the University of Rochester, and university administrators by seven current and former Rochester professors and a former graduate student.
The complaint alleges that for over a decade, Jaeger—described in the complaint as a “narcissistic and manipulative sexual predator”—contributed to a “hostile” educational environment that caused a number of women to lose out on professional opportunities in an attempt to avoid working with him. The complaint also alleges that the investigations into the allegations were flawed, and that the university retaliated against the professors involved:
Thus, after an incomplete investigation, internal examination, and attempts to force us to ‘move forward,’ the University chose to filter, distort, and cover up the facts, to deny the veracity of the complaints of 7 faculty members and 11 students, to disparage those of us who brought forward the complaint, and then to further retaliate against us when we refused to back down—all with the purpose of protecting a serial harasser, we assume because the University finds his conduct unobjectionable or does not have the will to take him on.
Mother Jones reported on the recollections of Celeste Kidd, a former graduate student and current assistant professor at Rochester who says Jaeger, among other things, pressured her to rent a room in his apartment. The complaint, Mother Jones summarizes, “alleges that Jaeger questioned her repeatedly about her sexual history; asked her to set up dates for him; entered her room without knocking; went through her belongings; showed up where she was socializing; and chastised her for eating, warning her against ‘spoiling her physique.’”
From Mother Jones:
According to the EEOC complaint, it wasn’t just Kidd: After Jaeger, who did not respond to a request for comment, began teaching at UR in 2007, he became involved in the graduate student social scene and used his position to blur professional and personal lines. He attended weekly student gatherings at a local bar, hosted parties at his house, and planned “lab retreats” in the Adirondacks that allegedly involved hot tubs, drugs, and, once, an accidental overdose, according to the EEOC filing. The complaint claims he became known for using objectifying language about women, flaunting his sexual relationships, and bullying graduate students and postdocs. “He made it clear that students who wanted to excel needed to please him, socially and sometimes sexually,” the complaint alleges, detailing the cases of multiple female students who allegedly avoided taking classes or working on research with Jaeger because they did not want to become targets.
Richard Aslin, one of the professors who brought forward the complaint, had resigned in protest of the university’s handling of the allegations in December 2016. A few years prior, Aslin had been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors in his field.
“We are confident in the integrity of our investigations, and we stand by our findings,” Seligman’s email reads, while also noting that the allegations are “horrific.”
“Two comprehensive and careful investigations involving many hours of inquiry and many dedicated University leaders’ efforts resulted in findings of no substantiation of the complainants’ allegations,” the email continues. “It is unfortunate that individuals who disagree with these findings have now chosen to assert as facts their unsubstantiated allegations in such a public way.”
Read the full story over at Mother Jones.
UPDATE: On Sunday, the EEOC claimants issued a response to Seligman’s email, stating that “we are disappointed in President Seligman’s statement on the EEOC complaint we filed, which has overlooked and misread many of our claims.”
The full statement can be read below: