Amid a week where the University of Rochester found itself in a firestorm surrounding Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences professor T. Florian Jaeger, President Joel Seligman hosted a town hall to address student concerns.
The town hall was spurred by an Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) complaint regarding the allegations of Jaeger acting as a “manipulative sexual predator.” Filed by eight former and present professors and graduate students, the complaint accuses Jaeger of harassing female students and giving preferential treatment to female students who would sleep with him while denigrating the work of those that denied his advances. The EEOC complaint also alleges the school showed a pattern of covering up the incidents by giving repercussions to those that came forward.
An email sent to Jaeger’s students just before the town hall Tuesday said that he will not be teaching his course, BCS 152, this semester. Jaeger does not admit to any wrongdoing in the email, but he apologized for the impact of the week’s events have had.
“I am incredibly sorry for the emotional turmoil the EEOC complaint and its coverage have had,” Jaeger said in the email.
Beginning the town hall, Seligman issued his own apology, in regard to a comment made in an email sent out Monday denouncing the EEOC complaint. In it, Seligman compared the coverage of the incident by online magazine Mother Jones to the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus.” That story, published in 2014, surrounded an alleged gang rape on the University of Virginia campus, and pointed to key faculty as inept or malicious in handling the incident. The story, based only on comments from the alleged victim, ultimately proved to be false.
“I apologize for the Rolling Stone reference; it was foolish and unnecessary,” Seligman said. “I was trying to communicate a point that we don’t want to make decisions on the basis of magazine articles.”
In hopes of relieving the tension felt by students, Seligman presented a plan to help better serve victims of sexual harassment on campus, including creating a women’s network led by Dean of the Hajim School of Engineering Wendi Heinzelman and nursing Dean Kathy Rideout.
The plan did not appease many of the students who approached the microphone to express their grievances.
Pointing to the two investigations into Jaeger which denied emails and Facebook messages as evidence, graduate student Melissa Glasner begged the question of how this policy makes sense.
“How are emails, texts and Facebook messages not considered facts?” Glasner asked. “They were offered but not accepted.”
The messages included one email sent from Jaeger to complainant and then-Ph.D. candidate Celeste Kidd, in which Jaeger said he initially moved to Rochester because of its “legendary naked hot tub parties.” This email, featured in the Mother Jones story, was rejected as evidence of sexual harassment in both investigations.
Responding to how he would reform the sexual harassment policy on campus, Seligman pointed back to his plan with Heinzelman, and an absolute need for reform.
“We need to create a standard most appropriate to address everyone,” Seligman said.
From the crowd of approximately 500, somebody yelled: “You’re our president, lead us!”
Some in attendance sought to clean house. Marissa Adams, a graduate student in the physics department, called for Seligman to step down.
“What happened is despicable, and this administration has been negligent and thus has enabled and protected a sexual predator, and perhaps many more,” Adams said. “The firing of T. Florian Jaeger is expected, but I also call for your resignation, Joel Seligman.”
The subject of firing Jaeger became one of key importance, as student after student lamented the fact that not only was Jaeger allowed to continue teaching while under investigation for sexual harassment, but also was promoted to full professor with tenure.
“I have no plans to reopen the case against Florian Jaeger,” Seligman said.
However, Seligman did note that if new evidence were to present itself, he would reopen the case. Some students pointed out that evidence offered to the previous investigations was both denied and is still readily available.
An organizer of a protest set for Wendesday, Sept. 13, Lindsay Wrobel called on the investigation to happen immediately. Incidentally, while Seligman continually stated that there was no evidence found to suggest Jaeger had done anything against student policy, he did acknowledge that his reputation in the scientific community is “mixed.”
“You said yourself that new evidence would warrant reopening,” Wrobel said. “These emails were not included, so by your own admission, this is new evidence. Must be reopened.”
Jenna Register, a second organizer of the protest, angrily denounced the statements Seligman made.
“We gave you a lot of opportunity, and we’re still angry, we’re still upset and this is still happening,” Register said, referring to the protest.
The investigations previously carried out were a subject of scrutiny not just for omission of evidence, but also the belief that internal investigations are a conflict of interest. Seligman refuted the claim that the deans and provost could not be trusted, presented by student Nhan Le.
“You’re basically saying we’re all corrupt,” Seligman said.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Le responded.
All of these contentious topics—the demand for reinvestigation of Jaeger; the need for better resources; for less conflict of interest in investigations; for accountability in the administration; for student involvement on the board of trustees; and for better vetting of faculty—displayed a common theme: the need for change. Seligman didn’t hesitate to promise that he would “move heaven and Earth” to make that change happen, but did not outline concrete plans.
And for some students, that lack of solid planning was not enough. Student Andrew Bailey vowed that the student body would not grow silent waiting for that change to happen.
“How long will it be before this change happens? Will everyone in this room have graduated?” Bailey said. “Some of us may not be here anymore, some of us may not even be in Rochester. What I can say is this: We will not forget what has happened here today and over the past few months, and we will hold you accountable.”