A Career Ends at Syracuse

April 20, 2006

A former Syracuse University dean and tenured faculty member has been barred from the campus after an internal investigation found evidence of “grossly inappropriate conduct toward students,” including “egregious personal misconduct of physical and emotional abuse involving several individuals,” according to a university statement.

Steven Chamberlain, a neuroscience professor, has resigned from Syracuse rather than face a hearing that the university said “certainly would have resulted in his termination.” Syracuse suspended Chamberlain on March 9 and banned him from contacting students and faculty and staff members. The formal charges against him include misconduct, conduct unbecoming a tenured professor and conduct in violation of professional ethics.

Chamberlain signed a document acknowledging the accuracy of charges against him, the university statement says. He has said publicly that he resigned because of health concerns. Syracuse officials have not commented on Chamberlain’s statement, and have been tight-lipped on matters relating to the case.

Those who provided personal accounts of Chamberlain’s misconduct to the university asked not to be identified publicly, and Syracuse is honoring their requests for anonymity, a university spokesman, Kevin Morrow, said. University officials filed a report on April 13 with the Onondaga County district attorney’s office after learning of what they called “new and troubling allegations.” Morrow said he couldn't expand on the allegations.

The University Senate Committee on Academic Freedom, Tenure and Professional Ethics received complaints from faculty members in late January and heard testimony from students about Chamberlain's inappropriate behavior. Donald Mitchell, chairman of the Academic Freedom, Tenure and Professional Affairs Committee, declined to comment, saying the committee’s proceedings are of a private nature.

Chamberlain, once dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse, was unavailable for comment. Gus Engbretson, chair of the biomedical and chemical engineering department, told Syracuse’s student newspaper, The Daily Orange, that he knew of allegations against Chamberlain but was not privy to the nature of them. The newspaper quoted a student who mentioned that Chamberlain had made comments of a sexual nature during class.

Eric Spina, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, where Chamberlain taught, said that "faculty and students are surprised and generally unhappy learning that members of the community have been harmed." He said the recent, more troubling allegations make it even more vital for the university to tell students about support mechanisms on campus.

Syracuse sent an alert to students on Monday outlining what constitutes an abusive relationship between students, faculty members, coaches, advisers or supervisors. Heather Comack, a Syracuse student, said news of the investigation has captured the attention of many students and that "there may be more interest as the charges are investigated."

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