Updated on February 8 at 5:30 p.m.
In a statement from Northwestern University on February 8, the school announced professor Alec Klein has requested a leave of absence as he is investigated for reports of sexual misconduct.
“In the past two days, Northwestern University has received allegations of inappropriate conduct by Alec Klein, a professor in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The University takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention and is investigating those allegations promptly and thoroughly,” the statement from Alan K. Cubbage, Northwestern University vice president for university relations, said. “Professor Klein has requested a leave of absence from all of his positions at Northwestern until the University completes its investigation, and the University has agreed that is the appropriate action.”
Klein has denied the allegations against him.
Alec Klein, former investigative reporter with The Washington Post and current professor and director of The Medill Justice Project at Northwestern University, has been accused of sexual misconduct. The accusations were made by 10 women — a mix of former students and staffers who worked with Klein at Medill — in a letter published on February 7, Chicago Reader reported.
The letter was sent to the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications dean Bradley J. Hamm and Northwestern University provost Jonathan Holloway.
“Today, we are writing to tell you that Alec Klein’s time is up. His harassing behavior. His predatory behavior. His controlling, discriminatory, emotionally and verbally abusive behavior has to end. We all know about it. We’ve experienced it. It’s time you heard us. It’s time you listened,” the letter, which called this the school’s “#MeToo moment,” said.
The women explained their reasoning for coming forward in a written statement within the letter, saying: “Despite numerous allegations, investigations and complaints
— and at least one settlement — Alec Klein is still teaching. He still has tenure. He is still leading the Medill Justice Project, a crown jewel of the institution. Many of us have spoken to Title IX officers. We’ve spoken to other university officials and still, nothing happens.”
They claim that Klein’s actions are an “open secret at Northwestern University to the point that many students have boycotted his class.” The women then described some alleged instances of the professor’s behavior that made them feel uncomfortable, including moments of “harassment and bullying” as well as “sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.”
Specific instances of Klein’s alleged misconduct included “unwanted neck massages,” “unwarranted physical contact,” “sexually graphic remarks,” and one attempt “to kiss a prospective employee, prior to hiring her.” The professor was also accused of “retaliatory behavior” and making his students feel belittled. One instance detailed a time when students “were summoned into his office individually, made to sit on a short cushion in a corner as he hurled accusatory vitriol about our mistakes and then refused to accept any apology.” His former students also accused the professor of holding meetings behind closed doors with students, where he asked them to share “personal details” about their lives.
In the letter’s closing statement the authors asked for the university to take action regarding the allegations. “We are not seeking to merely reprimand Alec Klein,” the letter reads. “We are demanding accountability for his dangerous behavior. He is a liability and a predator among your faculty. Yet his actions have gone unchecked for years, further traumatizing more and more women. Medill has not only let us down — it has also failed to protect us.”
In a statement emailed to Teen Vogue, Klein “categorically” denied the allegations and said he intends to pursue legal options. “Many of the allegations involved a disgruntled former employee who had been on a corrective-action plan for poor work performance several years ago,” he wrote. “The university conducted an extensive investigation, interviewing current and former employees, former students and others, and reviewing emails, expenses and other records. The complaint was determined to be completely unfounded. I was cleared of any wrongdoing and the claim was dismissed.”
Klein said that “In their anonymous evaluations, my students have overwhelmingly said the class was among the best they have ever taken, and they have specifically noted how much I care for them.” He then pointed out that he has instructed “hundreds” of students at Northwestern and worked to ensure “students in my classes have a wonderful experience.” He continued saying, “Over the years, I have received countless letters and emails from students expressing their gratitude for their experience in my classes, and have also been honored at various faculty appreciation events and received recognition for my teaching at Northwestern.”
Northwestern University vice president for university relations Alan K. Cubbage responded to the accusations in an emailed statement to Teen Vogue acknowledging they had “received a message from former students and two former employees containing allegations of inappropriate conduct by Alec Klein.”
The statement goes on to say that “The University takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention. Many of the allegations were contained in a complaint brought several years ago by a former employee. At that time, the University conducted a thorough investigation and the complaint was not substantiated. Northwestern will now review the allegations received today.”
The statement continues: “We encourage anyone who has been the victim of alleged harassment or misconduct at the University to contact the Office of Equity. That office, rather than any of the individual schools, handles all complaints regarding alleged sexual misconduct at Northwestern. Complaints are not investigated by individual schools.”
Klein has been employed at Northwestern since 2008. He was previously an instructor at Georgetown University and American University, and also authored two nonfiction books. He was previously employed by The Wall Street Journal, The Baltimore Sun, and the Virginian-Pilot.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINN, End Rape on Campus, Know Your IX, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
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