Joel Seligman, the President of the University of Rochester, has announced his resignation today after 12 years in the role. This occurred the same day that an “independent” Special Committee released the results of their investigation into how the University handled a case involving alleged sexual harassment in the science department. Seligman resigned prior to reading the results of the report, according to his email to the University of Rochester community.
The University of Rochester was shaken by accusations that brain and cognitive sciences professor T. Florian Jaeger created a “hostile environment” for at least 11 women. Those accusations included Jaeger allegedly sending pictures of his genitals to students and trying to sleep with students at parties, according to a 111-page complaint filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the University. The complaint also charged that the University retaliated against those who came forward. Several days after the EEOC complaint was made, the school’s president Joel Seligman a released tone-deaf statement that recalled a discredited Rolling Stone article based on a false allegation of rape, which was followed by students protesting this response. In December, the complainants filed a federal lawsuit against the University and its president about the University’s response to their complaints.
Seligman did not comment on the case specifically in his resignation email forwarded to Gizmodo, but wrote:
It is clear to me that the best interests of the University are best served with new leadership, and a fresh perspective to focus on healing our campus and moving us forward in a spirit of cooperation and unity.
The University of Rochester Board of Trustees appointed the Special Committee to further review the case in September. They released their results today. The report found “that the evidence does not support a conclusion that any Complainant or other UR student or employee has been subjected to unlawful sexual harassment as a result of Jaeger’s conduct.” Confusingly, it also calls Jaeger’s “conduct before 2014... at times inappropriate, unprofessional and offensive, and may have been harmful to some students, as well as to the BCS and greater UR communities in a variety of ways.”
Mary Jo White, while reviewing the report, “admitted that if Jaeger had acted the way he did in New York City, rather than Rochester, it likely would have been unlawful,” said lawyer Ann Olivarius in a press conference. Olivarius is representing the students and professors who filed the EEOC complaint.
The report goes on to offer a number of policy changes for the University moving forward to prevent a case like Jaeger’s from occurring again, such as “clearer and more robust procedures for investigating and responding to claims of sexual harassment against faculty members.”
The University’s board of trustees will now appoint an interim President before chosing a permanent one. But the EEOC complainants have already filed their lawsuit. The case is far from closed.
We’ve pointed this out before, but this is a high-profile example of a continuing pattern of alleged sexual misconduct cases in science, which has come to include institutions like the University of California, Berkeley, Texas Tech and The American Museum of Natural History. It’s unlikely that this discussion will die down soon.
Correction: Ann Olivarius’ quote previously implied that Olivarius, not the report itself, thought Jaeger’s behavior would have been illegal in New York City. This quote has been updated and the author regrets the error.