Allegation and Denial on Professor at U of Rochester

September 11, 2017

An article in Mother Jones, published Friday and attracting considerable attention, details allegations made by graduate students and professors at the University of Rochester against T. Florian Jaeger, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences. The university is disputing the article, saying that it investigated the allegations and that they were not substantiated.

The headline of the Mother Jones piece, which summarizes the piece well, is "She Was a Rising Star at a Major University. Then a Lecherous Professor Made Her Life Hell." The article and a 111-page complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission detail complaints about inappropriate sexual comments, a blurring of professor/graduate student boundaries and a series of interactions that left young women uncomfortable and anxious not to work in Jaeger's laboratory. While the story is told through the experience of one woman, it notes complaints from others. The article states that 11 women have opted to avoid interaction with Jaeger, who is a prominent researcher. Jaeger did not comment to Mother Jones or respond to Inside Higher Ed.

The article said the university cleared Jaeger of any wrongdoing.

The University of Rochester released a statement on Saturday disputing the article, while not citing the article, the publication or the professor by name.

"We understand that those not familiar with the investigation conducted would find the language in the complaint deeply disturbing. However, the core allegations in this complaint were thoroughly investigated and could not be substantiated. We are highly confident in the integrity of these investigations -- we followed our processes for fair investigations and due process for all involved, interviewing dozens of witnesses whose names were given to us as alleged victims. Through two separate investigations -- one by an internal investigator and one conducted by an external investigator -- no violation of the law or university policy was found," the statement said. "We believe that the 100-plus-page complaint document represents a narrative that is largely based on hearsay that was not substantiated in our investigations or in the subsequent appeals, and ignores factual evidence."

Then the university's president, Joel Seligman, sent an email to everyone on campus Sunday in which he defended the university and criticized the article. "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. 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," Seligman wrote.

Seligman also described the investigative process that the university used, and said that every possible effort was made to find out if the allegations were true. But he added that he understood why so many people are upset about the reports.

"The allegations in the EEOC complaint are horrific," he wrote. "They will undoubtedly be particularly distressing to those who have experienced sexual misconduct and their advocates and allies. I acknowledge that many are outraged. But again, I urge you to consider these allegations for what they are: assertions that remain unproven despite two thorough investigations. I commit to you that when sexual misconduct is brought to our attention, we will address it completely and fairly in keeping with our policies and with the law. No one should be afraid to speak up. No one should be concerned that our procedures are not fair. No one should worry about being retaliated against. We will be vigilant in upholding these principles."

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