Rochester President Will Step Down; Report Is Mixed on Handling of Harassment Charges

January 11, 2018

A much-anticipated independent report on allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by a prominent professor at the University of Rochester was released today, and it finds that he did not violate university policies, but that he engaged -- early in his career -- in unprofessional and inappropriate relationships with students.

Shortly after the report was released, the university announced that Joel Seligman will step down as president on Feb. 28. A statement from the board said that Seligman informed trustees of his decision before the report was released, and praised Seligman as "a brilliant, transformative leader." But many on campus have criticized his response to the harassment allegations. The board statement added, "As we as a community begin to consider this report, we trustees express our heartfelt apology to anyone who was hurt by the actions of any university employee, or who felt intimidated, excluded or harassed."

The report divides the conduct of T. Florian Jaeger, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, into two time periods. For the period beginning in 2014, the report finds "no evidence of which we are aware suggesting that there is currently, or has been since at least 2014, a hostile work or academic environment for any female graduate students."

However, the report says that "during the earlier period of 2007-2013 (and especially during the earlier years in that period), Jaeger engaged in behavior that was inappropriate, unprofessional and offensive. Among other things, he engaged in four consensual sexual relationships with current, former or prospective UR students between 2007 and 2011, he was flirtatious with other students, he blurred appropriate faculty-student boundaries in other ways, including by renting a room in his home to a female graduate student, and he sometimes made comments in social and academic settings that included inappropriate sexual content or innuendo." While this behavior "was inappropriate and harmful to some in the UR community," the report says, the university correctly determined that it did not violate policies that were in place at the time. (Those policies have since been strengthened.)

The report says that some of the accusations against Jaeger were exaggerated or lacked evidence, and that the disputes over his conduct have left his faculty colleagues "fractured" and "harmed" the university's reputation.

Tensions at the university have between growing over the allegations since September. Hundreds of faculty members from around the world have indicated that they will not advise students or colleagues to consider positions at the university because of the allegations.

Inside Higher Ed will have a full article on the report tomorrow morning.

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