Over the past month, the topic of sexual harassment and assault has become an everyday discussion as more and more people come forward about their experiences with sexual misconduct, or about things they claim to have witnessed. Most recently, 400 university professors signed an open letter telling students not to attend the University Of Rochester, citing claims of sexual harassment that the professors allege the university did not "adequately respond" to. The professors who signed the boycott letter wrote that they believe the school allegedly "sought to diminish" claims of sexual misconduct against Florian Jaeger, a professor in the University of Rochester’s brain and cognitive sciences department, when he was accused of alleged "predatory behavior" toward a female student. Bustle has reached out to Jaeger for comment, and will update this post when we hear back. In an email to Bustle, a University of Rochester spokesperson said the university is aware of the open letter and has "launched an internal investigation."
"The University of Rochester is deeply committed to a safe and respectful campus for everyone, free of harassment or discrimination of any kind," the university tells Bustle. "When complaints were brought to the attention of the administration, the University immediately launched an internal investigation, conducting more than 40 interviews and making every reasonable effort to contact anyone directly involved." The school also said that the independent investigation will be conducted by Mary Jo White, an attorney who will offer a report on Jaeger "entirely independent of the University, its Board of Trustees, and its administration."
According to the Washington Post, Jaeger has been placed on administrative leave. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in September that Jaeger apologized in an email to his students "for the emotional turmoil you must be experiencing, following the allegations raised against me in the EEOC complaint as well as news coverage."
An excerpt from the open letter, which can be read in full here, states:
Faculty members hold substantial power and sway over those who learn from them, work for them, and seek their counsel and advice in the pursuit of professional advancement. It is imperative that professors fully acknowledge and respect this imbalance of power [...] When professors fail to do so, it is the university’s responsibility to step in and ensure that all members of the campus community are protected. We hereby express our profound disappointment with the administration of the University of Rochester (UR) in their response to the allegations of misconduct by Dr. Florian Jaeger [...] In the present circumstances, we cannot in good conscience encourage our students to pursue educational or employment opportunities at the University of Rochester.
This letter adds to the mounting public pressure to better support victims of sexual misconduct, and follows a Mother Jones article, published on Sept. 8, that detailed one student's alleged experience with Jaeger. Celeste Kidd, a former student of the University of Rochester, described her experience with Jaeger, claiming that he sexually harassed her for years while she was a student, and convinced her to rent an extra room in his apartment — where allegedly he repeatedly commented on her body, went through her belongings, and questioned her about her sexual history. Following the Mother Jones’ article, a University of Rochester senior went on a six-day hunger strike in protest of the school’s treatment of Jaeger, according to the University of Rochester's campus newspaper.
A formal complaint against the University of Rochester was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in September, according to Mother Jones. The 111-page report described the ways Jaeger had allegedly made the school unsafe for both students and faculty. In response to the Mother Jones piece and EEOC filing, University of Rochester President Joel Sigelman released a statement that said, “Allegations are not facts, and as we saw in Rolling Stone’s withdrawn story about sexual assault at the University of Virginia, even established media outlets can get it wrong.”
The Washington Post also reported that the University of Rochester had investigated Jaeger for alleged sexual misconduct twice in the past two years, but that the school continued to promote him throughout this time.
The letter addressing the University of Rochester follows on the heels of a protest and Change.org petition that Berklee College of Music students held in response to their school administration’s handling of alleged sexual misconduct. Roger Brown, the president of Berklee College of Music, released a statement following the students’ protests that promised to better protect students, and offer school services for those affected by alleged sexual assault.