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To the University Community regarding recent EEOC filing

Updated: September 19, 2017

To the University Community,

An EEOC complaint has recently been filed against the University of Rochester. The complaint itself describes in detail alleged conduct of certain University of Rochester faculty and administrators. There is no doubt that people will find these allegations disturbing. Indeed, at least one news story about this complaint has already appeared in the press, and has been quickly amplified through social media leaving many upset and angry about what has been alleged.

I would urge you not to reach any conclusions about what may have occurred based on the allegations in the complaint itself or in media reports. Allegations are not facts. Our University statement is clear that there is more to the narrative of the EEOC complaint than has been represented. We will respond fully to the complaint through the proper EEOC channels. We will not re-visit the issues in the media or in any other way that breaches the commitment to confidentiality that we made to those who took part in two separate and thorough investigations about these allegations that were conducted in the last two years.

Let me share some facts about the investigations that occurred. The initial allegations were brought to the University administration in March of 2016 in the form of a Policy 106 complaint. Policy 106 is the University’s policy against harassment and discrimination. In keeping with our policies and procedures, the matter was investigated by the designated University investigator for Policy 106 complaints. During the course of this investigation, over 30 individuals were interviewed, and were allowed to review and confirm the contents of their interview reports. A report was prepared in late May 2016 summarizing the content of the interviews conducted. This report and some of the interview notes were reviewed by the Dean of the School of Engineering (in keeping with our established procedures), who determined in early June 2016 that there was no evidence to substantiate a finding that the University’s Policy 106 or its Policy on Intimate Relationships had been violated.

The complainants brought an appeal against this determination in the middle of July 2016. The appeal was reviewed by the Dean of the School of Medicine (again, in keeping with the established university procedures), who studied the complete record of the investigation, including the witness statements. At the conclusion of this review, the initial determination of no substantiation was upheld.

In late July 2016, one of the witnesses in the first investigation brought a new claim of retaliation under Policy 106. This claim was investigated by an outside party not affiliated with the University, an attorney with experience in investigating claims of this nature. Twelve people were interviewed.  In a report delivered in late September 2016, the outside investigator did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate the claim of retaliation.  The report was reviewed by the Dean of Arts & Sciences (once again, in keeping with established procedures) in early October 2016. The outside investigator’s finding that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate a claim of retaliation was affirmed.

This finding of the Dean of Arts and Sciences was appealed in late October 2016. This appeal was reviewed by the Provost, who found no factual basis for the content of the appeal. Therefore the determination of the investigation was upheld.

Throughout this matter, the University was particularly concerned about whether there was any evidence that there was inappropriate conduct involving students. The University’s Title IX coordinator met with current graduate students in the department to generally discuss culture in the workplace regarding discrimination or harassment.  No specific concerns were raised in the meeting.  The Title IX coordinator encouraged any student who had concerns to come forward.

The core allegations in the two Policy 106 complaints identified above, which were investigated, appealed and found to be unsubstantiated, are repeated and embellished in the EEOC complaint and the media story. We are confident in the integrity of our investigations, and we stand by our findings. Two comprehensive and careful investigations involving many hours of inquiry and many dedicated University leaders’ efforts resulted in findings of no substantiation of the complainants’ allegations. It is unfortunate that individuals who disagree with these findings have now chosen to assert as facts their unsubstantiated allegations in such a public way.

The individuals who filed the EEOC complaint may assert their beliefs as facts, but the University has an obligation to find facts, make determinations, and take action based on testimony and documentary evidence, not on unproved allegations made by individuals, regardless of their stature.

We will respond to the EEOC complaint.

We have taken steps in the last few years to strengthen the University’s efforts against sexual misconduct, including instituting mandatory training for all faculty and staff on harassment and discrimination, with a specific component focusing on sex-based harassment on college campuses. The University also requires all new and transfer undergraduate and graduate students to undertake a training that addresses the critical issues of sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, and sexual harassment among students, faculty and staff. Recently, we launched a new sexual misconduct website incorporating suggestions from the community. The new site includes expanded information on options for reporting and accessing resources. These resources are available to anyone who has a concern about sexual misconduct. Finally, we annually review and have recently revised the Faculty Handbook; we also review relevant faculty, staff, and student policies on sexual misconduct on a regular basis. We are committed to making this campus one that is respectful and safe for all.

I want to assure every member of our University community that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated here. The allegations in the EEOC complaint are horrific. They will undoubtedly be particularly distressing to those who have experienced sexual misconduct and their advocates and allies. I acknowledge that many are outraged. But again, I urge you to consider these allegations for what they are: assertions that remain unproven despite two thorough investigations. I commit to you that when sexual misconduct is brought to our attention, we will address it completely and fairly in keeping with our policies and with the law. No one should be afraid to speak up. No one should be concerned that our procedures are not fair. No one should worry about being retaliated against. We will be vigilant in upholding these principles.

Joel Seligman