Acknowledging His Own Misconduct

Most professors found to have violated Title IX policies don't share it with the world. This one did, as he resigned.

May 13, 2019
Ian Samuel

In an unusual move that’s drawn praise and criticism, legal scholar and alleged sexual harasser Ian Samuel publicly resigned from his faculty job at Indiana University at Bloomington Friday. He shared his resignation letter on Twitter, in it writing that the case against him forced him to examine his life -- ultimately for the better.

“The truth is that the university’s investigation, in addition to doing justice, probably had the side effect of saving my life,” he wrote. “I was becoming an ugly man, and I needed nothing so much as a clean mirror and someone brave enough to make me look at it.”

Samuel, who has been on leave since late fall, said that he “hurt people, and it’s pretty damned hard to imagine those people feeling the slightest bit better just because I wish it hadn’t happened. No. Accepting responsibility means actually doing something [emphasis Samuel’s], if you can, to spare the people you hurt from any more harm.”

The idea that those involved in the case would prefer not “worrying about crossing paths” with Samuel again “makes so much sense to me that I can’t see any honest basis for prolonging this process any further,” he said.

Samuel hasn’t been on campus since November, when he was relieved of teaching duties and told to stay away. The details of the case aren’t public, beyond rumor, and Samuel declined to share any of them this weekend in a private Twitter conversation, citing the confidentiality of the university’s process.

His letter, too, is light on details. It refers to the “night in question” and reads, “I don’t think I’m breaching any confidences by saying that the allegations in this case describe me drinking to excess in a public place I shouldn’t have been, in company I shouldn’t have kept, and treating the people present in ways they didn’t deserve.”

The university said in a statement that earlier this academic year, it received multiple reports of Samuel engaging in potential violations of Title IX of Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination, “during the course of an evening after a law school event.”

Chuck Carney, university spokesperson, said the university’s Title IX investigation concluded May 1, but he declined to share the findings, saying that it was a personnel matter.

The university’s statement says that Samuel resigned, effective Friday, and is no longer a faculty member. The campus “appreciates Professor Samuel’s cooperation and acknowledgement of his misconduct,” it reads.

Samuel, former host of the now-on-hiatus First Mondays podcast about the U.S. Supreme Court, describes himself on Twitter as a “Catholic American socialist.” He concluded his public letter by saying that in addition to “confession and contrition, in other words, sin requires punishment. Part of mine is that I’ll no longer be on the faculty at Indiana University, and I cannot call that result unjust.”

What comes next? “I don’t know,” he wrote.

Samuel’s letter was the subject of buzz among legal scholars over the weekend on social media. Several contacted for comment declined to speak on the record and requested that their public posts not be quoted -- an indication of how controversial Samuel has become.

Many commenters said Samuel’s letter, however contrite, still managed to minimize the allegations against him, whatever they are, with language such as “treating people in ways they didn’t deserve” and “hurting” people. Others defended Samuel’s attempt at acknowledging fault, within the constraints of a confidential process.

In any case, Samuel’s coming forward is rare in harassment cases. Many times, professors appeal findings of misconduct. And even when they accept Title IX findings against them, they tend to take the punishment -- or leave the institution altogether -- quietly. Samuel’s letter ensures that Indiana couldn’t “pass the harasser” onto another unknowing institution, even if it wanted to (and there’s no indication that it does).

Asked about some of the blowback from his letter, Samuel said that it wouldn’t be in “the right spirit for me to get into a back-and-forth with critics. I’m quite content to let readers evaluate the letter, and the criticisms of it, and decide what they think for themselves.”

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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