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Message from the Board of Trustees Special Committee

October 11, 2017

Further statement from the Trustee Special Committee on scope and process of the independent investigation and announcing the additions of faculty member and graduate student to the Committee.

As previously announced, the Special Committee of the Board of Trustees of the University of Rochester has engaged Mary Jo White, senior chair of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP, to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations contained in the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) complaint filed by Dr. Richard Aslin and seven other current and former University faculty members, including Dr. Jessica Cantlon, Dr. Celeste Kidd, Dr. Steven Piantadosi, Dr. Brad Mahon, Dr. Ben Hayden, Dr. Elissa Newport and Dr. Keturah Bixby.

The EEOC complaint, filed on August 30, 2017, against the University of Rochester, Dr. Florian Jaeger, Catherine Nearpass, Dr. Greg DeAngelis and Dr. Robert Clark, asserts violations of federal and state laws and arises out of a 2016 complaint to the University by Drs. Aslin and Cantlon that Dr. Jaeger, through a series of actions and interactions over a several-year period, allegedly created a hostile work or educational environment for women in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences that affected the women’s access to educational opportunities. The EEOC complaint further alleges that the University retaliated against some of the complainants for lodging and pursuing the claims against Dr. Jaeger.

Regardless of the ultimate findings of the independent investigation, the issues brought forth through the EEOC complaint have provided the Special Committee, through Ms. White’s investigation, with the opportunity to review the relevant University policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment and the handling of such claims. All of those issues are of utmost importance to the entire University community.

The scope of Ms. White’s investigation will include all of the matters raised in the EEOC complaint, including an examination of: (1) the underlying allegations against Dr. Jaeger; (2) the University’s actions in responding to the allegations, including the previous investigations of the allegations; (3) the allegations that the University retaliated against certain of the faculty members who had made allegations about Dr. Jaeger’s conduct; and (4) the University’s policies and procedures involving sexual harassment or sexual misconduct and any other related matters as the investigation may uncover that, in Ms. White’s sole judgment, should be addressed in her report.

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. She is entirely independent of the University, the Administration and the Board of Trustees, the complainants and the defendants. The Special Committee and Board of Trustees have agreed that Ms. White and her investigative team will receive the full cooperation of the University and will have access to witnesses, documents and information within the University’s control.

Ms. White will not share with the Special Committee or any other party any factual findings until the investigation has been completed, and will not provide interim factual briefings. Neither the Special Committee, nor the Board of Trustees, nor the University’s Administration nor the complainants nor Professor Jaeger or any other party associated with the University will be given an opportunity to preview the final report or to recommend or make changes to it before its release. Ms. White has said the final report will be made available simultaneously to the Special Committee and Board of Trustees and then will be released, unedited, to the University community and the broader public on the same day.

Ms. White’s team has advised witnesses who have come forward and who wish to remain anonymous that they will not be identified by name in the public report. Similarly, any memos or other internal investigative documents prepared by Ms. White and her investigators will be confidential.

The Special Committee has asked for periodic updates on the progress of the investigation. Ms. White has agreed to provide weekly updates. She will not, however, share any findings or recommendations, nor any factual information learned from witnesses who meet with her team. The Special Committee members have signed confidentiality agreements to keep any information they may receive confidential in a manner consistent with the Family Education Records Privacy Act of 1974 (“FERPA”).

The Special Committee chose Ms. White because of her experience as a former United States Attorney and as a former Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, her experience in conducting independent investigations and her reputation for independence. Ms. White has not previously represented the University of Rochester nor any of the parties involved in this matter and, apart from knowing of President Seligman, who recalls having shaken hands with her at two public events in the past, she has had no relationship with him prior to this matter.

Ms. White and her firm have not defended and will not defend the University of Rochester in the EEOC complaint or any related issue. The Special Committee recognizes that Ms. White’s report may include findings that impact the EEOC claim or other litigation. Richard Handler, the Chair of the Special Committee, has said that “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. 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.”

Ms. White’s investigative team will include her partner, Mary Beth Hogan, who, along with Ms. White, has extensive experience investigating both sexual abuse and sexual misconduct allegations both inside and outside academic settings, Winston Paes, a former federal prosecutor, and Anthony Valenti, Managing Director, Stroz Friedberg, an Aon Company, a former federal investigator with significant experience in sexual abuse matters.

The Special Committee has received the letter from the EEOC complainants declining to participate in Ms. White’s investigation. The Special Committee has requested and sincerely hopes that the complainants will reconsider and cooperate with the investigation. The Special Committee’s and Ms. White’s only interest is to get to the truth. The complainants’ attorneys may, of course, be present during any interviews and Ms. White will agree to reasonable ground rules the attorneys may request. Ms. White has said that absent cooperation by the complainants, she will rely on interviews with other witnesses and on the significant amount of information and documentation already in the record, including the EEOC complaint itself and the prior investigators’ detailed notes of interviews with each of the complainants, which the complainants were given the opportunity to review and revise.

The Special Committee requests that all those with information relevant to Ms. White’s investigation contact her at (212) 909-6260 or mjwhite@debevoise.com or her partner, Mary Beth Hogan, at (212) 909-6996 or mbhogan@debevoise.com.

Also, today, the Special Committee announced the names of the faculty member and graduate student who will join the Special Committee. The Committee was enlarged in response to calls for inclusion of student and faculty representatives.

The new Special Committee members are:

  • Dr. Jean Bidlack, Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, and
  • Kolja Keller, a fifth year PhD student in Philosophy.

Dr. Bidlack was nominated to serve on the Special Committee by the University’s Faculty Senate. The Faculty Senate Executive Committee selected four faculty members, including Dr. Bidlack, from a pool of 50 faculty nominations, submitted by 72 faculty members. Dr. Bidlack was subsequently selected as the nominee for the Special Committee following a vote by the Faculty Senate. Mr. Keller was selected by the University’s Graduate Student Association from a group of seven students of the graduate student body who volunteered to serve on the Special Committee. The University’s administration and the existing members of the Special Committee played no role in the selection of either Dr. Bidlack or Mr. Keller. The Special Committee will now consist of: Richard Handler, Nomi Bergman, Jean Bidlack, John Davidson, Lance Drummond, Kolja Keller and Lizette Pérez-Deisboeck.

Contacts:

For the Special Committee:
Richard B. Handler, Chair
rhandler@jefferies.com

For the Independent Investigation:
Mary Jo White
Mary Beth Hogan
Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP
(212) 909-6260

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