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UR Special Committee adds student, faculty members

Protestors at the University of Rochester on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

Protesters at the University of Rochester on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

With the investigation into University of Rochester professor Florian Jaeger underway, the Special Committee has received two new members.

The investigation,  by Mary Jo White of Plimpton and Debevoise LLP and a former chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is expected to be finished by Dec. 31. Following up on two previous investigations of alleged sexual misconduct by Jaeger, a professor in the school’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the newest inquiry addresses an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by eight former or current faculty members against Jaeger on Aug. 30. The EEOC complaint also points fingers at the University of Rochester; Catherine Nearpass, who carried out the previous investigation; Greg DeAngelis; and Robert Clark. The complaint alleges special interests and internal bias prevented an objective investigation and certain pieces of evidence were either neglected or completely omitted during the process.

White and the university  have emphasized that the new investigation will be completely objective and be done with the cooperation of the committee and board of trustees. White has requested full access to all witnesses as well as any relevant information regarding the investigation. The board, committee and university will have no involvement with the investigation nor its results. The conclusions of White’s investigation will be shown to the committee and board the same day it goes public.

“The Special Committee has instructed Mary Jo White to make her findings without influence from the committee itself, the larger board of trustees or the administration of the university,” said Richard Handler, chairman of the Special Committee. “We have told Mary Jo to ‘let the chips fall where they may’ even if that results in negative findings against the administration or the board.”

Among White’s team in the investigation are attorney Mary Beth Hogan of Plimpton and Debevoise; former federal prosecutor Winston Paes; and Anthony Valenti, managing director for risk management firm Stroz Friedberg.

Regardless of the investigation’s findings, the Special Committee will be tasked with reviewing and updating the university’s policy on sexual assault and harassment. In an effort to encompass all facets of the university’s residents, the committee previously announced it will be adding two new members to the committee, a faculty member and a student. Those two new members are Jean Bidlack, a professor and associate chair in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, and fifth-year philosophy doctoral student Kolja Keller.

Bidlack was nominated by the school’s Faculty Senate and chosen out of a pool of 50 nominees, while Keller was selected by the graduate student association from a pool of seven volunteer students.

This move, as well as the independence of White’s investigation, was intended to help alleviate concerns by the complainants and urge them to cooperate with the investigation. Due to their suspicions of a policy of  retaliation against those who spoke out, several complainants have declined to be a part of the investigation. A statement from the committee stated that retaliation will not be on the table.

“Ms. White agreed to accept this assignment from the Special Committee on, first, an unconditional guarantee of independence, and second, the full cooperation of the University of Rochester, including unfettered access to all witnesses, documents and information within the university’s control,” the statement reads.

Jaeger has been placed on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation.

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