January 12, 2018
The findings of the investigation commissioned by a Special Committee of the University of Rochester Board of Trustees confirm for the third time that I did not sexually harass any students, I did not retaliate against anyone, and I did not violate the policies of the University.
This investigation, which took more than three months to complete and included interviews with 140 people and the review of 6,000 documents, found that many accusations that have been made against me are “exaggerated and misleading in many respects.”
Before I comment further, I want to apologize to my students and colleagues—both within and beyond the department—for the distress and disruption these events have caused them.
This report does not exonerate me, but neither does it give merit to many of the worst accusations made against me. Although I disagree with some aspects of the report, I agree that I could have shown more maturity when I arrived as a 31-year-old faculty member in 2007. Over time I have addressed many of these shortcomings. I never intended to cause harm to students. I deeply regret that my former behavior made some students uncomfortable and may have discouraged them from working with me.
I would ask that everyone invested in this experience read this report with careful attention to the facts and an open mind. We have all learned painful lessons in this process, and it is my hope that we can use what we have learned as we go forward.
The report states the following:
- The intimate relationships noted in the complaint all were consensual; none violated University policy at that time. These women cooperated in this investigation.
- According to the report, the complaint portrays the women with whom I had relationships “as victims, a characterization that based on the time we spent with them, is inaccurate to say the least.”
- Most of my students appreciated that their lab included a social aspect and thrived in this environment, building close connections with their fellow students and me.
It would have been vastly easier for the University to find against me, quelling the controversy this issue has caused, than it has been for it to repeatedly test the validity of these allegations. I appreciate their commitment to seeking out the truth.
I completely support the right (if not the responsibility) of anyone who feels harassed or discriminated against to file allegations. Such allegations must be investigated thoroughly, and there needs to be clear and transparent consequences when they are verified. At the same time, all parties – those coming forward with allegations, those accused and witnesses alike – deserve the right to a fair and fact-based process, free of fear of retaliation.
Most of the complaints against me were focused on my first years in Rochester. I arrived here 10 years ago, fresh out of graduate school, with no training in how to lead a lab. Then, as now, I cared deeply about my advisees, and wanted them to be able to openly challenge and criticize my ideas without fear of repercussion. What resulted was a culture that worked for many, and in fact was the reason that some students chose our program.
It took time, however, for me to realize that the power dynamics and cultural differences posed some problems. For example, some were not comfortable speaking up or receiving frank feedback. Others were upset because I socialized with students (many of whom were around my age). In hindsight, I wish I had recognized earlier how my behavior affected some of my students and faculty colleagues.
I have learned a great deal in the last decade about how to balance professional distance with a different kind of lab. The culture of the lab has evolved over the years, as I initiated changes and people came and went, but I do not believe that the atmosphere in my lab is, or ever was, the way it was described in the complaint.
Many of my advisees have done well. Forty percent of the students and post-docs I have worked with, about half of them women, found faculty jobs in the field. Another forty percent earned well-paid positions in the data and learning sciences. I believe these are all indicators of a supportive, productive environment.
This experience has changed my life and the lives of those close to me. One of the most painful aspects for me has been to see how these events have affected my students. The EEOC complaint is usually a confidential document but in this case it was made public, invading the privacy of many. At the same time, colleagues and former students who have come to my defense have been criticized and ostracized by their peers. Whatever one feels about me, it was wrong to publish intimate details about people that these allegations are purportedly trying to protect, or to characterize my students negatively. Protecting my students has been a priority for me throughout this investigation. This, and the importance of confidentiality when the well-being and careers of so many people are at risk, is the reason I have remained silent for so long.
The events of the last two years have damaged reputations and relationships for all involved. In moving forward, the lab, the department, the students and the University of Rochester will need the help of the broader community. It is my hope that we all see that these environments are worth rebuilding.