UR President Joel Seligman apologized in a meeting Sept. 12, 2017, for a reference he made in a statement about a sexual harassment complaint concerning UR professor Florian Jaeger.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Hundreds of college professors from across the country have signed an open letter advising students against attending the University of Rochester, part of the continuing fallout over the school’s handling of sexual harassment accusations against former professor Florian Jaeger.
The signatories — about 220 and steadily increasing by Wednesday afternoon — said UR President Joel Seligman “failed to adequately respond to claims of predatory and manipulative behavior until those claims were made public.”
The letter, addressed to the college’s trustees, continues:
“Instead of protecting individuals who came forward and enforcing the university’s values, the administration sought to diminish the reported events and created a hostile environment for the victims, their advocates, and many other members of the campus community.
“The UR has abrogated its ultimate responsibility to protect and advance the interests of its most important constituency — its students — by supporting the predator and intimidating the victims and advocates in this case. … In the present circumstances, we cannot in good conscience encourage our students to pursue educational or employment opportunities at the University of Rochester.”
In a statement, university spokeswoman Sara Miller said: “(UR has) taken this matter very seriously since it was brought to our attention. In addition to conducting our own thorough investigation, we have taken several steps to review the university’s approach to sexual misconduct. … We are committed to making this campus one that is welcoming and safe for all.”
One of the organizers was Jenny Saffran, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who earned her Ph.D. from the UR’s brain and cognitive science department in 1997, before Jaeger’s arrival. She called her time in Rochester “probably the most engaging time I’ve ever had,” and said she is “heartsick” at how the recent case has reflected upon the university.
“The climate (when I was there) could not have been more collegial, collaborative and supportive,” she said. “It breaks my heart that environment has been torn asunder. … Our motivation was to convey to the UR trustees that the negative PR that’s emerged for the institution isn’t just going to fade away as attention moves on to the next scandal.”
This is an opportune time for the open letter, Saffran said, because this is the time of year when students are considering where to apply for graduate school or work.
The signers come from universities across the country, including most of the Ivy League schools and other academic powerhouses. Their threat is not idle; UR is among a small coterie of elite research universities where students compete for professorships and research opportunities. A significant number of academics cautioning against coming to Rochester could have a serious effect on research here.
“I think students really tend to value the wisdom of their professors,” Saffran said. “Having someone senior to you giving tacit or direct information about where to consider going or not going is important. … This letter is meant to let the board of trustees that this is already happening.”
Jaeger was a fast-rising and influential researcher in the university’s department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. In 2016, several colleagues complained to the university that he made sexual advances toward them and otherwise acted inappropriately.
The university, in its initial investigation, determined those accusations were unfounded, and in fact approved a subsequent promotion for him.
The case came to light through a major story in Mother Jones in September. Jaeger has since been placed on leave, and Seligman has apologize for the university’s initial handling of the case, while maintaining it has greatly improved its process since then.
The full open letter to the university is available here.
Celeste Kidd, one of eight current and former members of UR’s BCS department to file an EEOC complaint said that she is impressed by support expressed by faculty across the world.
“I think it’s very encouraging news for the field that this is an issue that the field as a whole takes very seriously and is willing to take a stand on,” said Kidd. “This letter is an outward representation of what was already happening. We were aware that faculty were reluctant to send their students here because of concerns about the environment, but it’s nice that that is now framed in a way that is public.”
Follow Justin Murphy and Lauren Peace on Twitter: @CitizenMurphy and @LaurenMPeace
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