Why did the University launch an Independent Investigation?
In September 2017, a Special Committee of the University’s Board of Trustees hired former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, senior chair of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, to investigate how the University had handled complaints about the conduct of T. Florian Jaeger, a faculty member in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Those complaints alleged that—largely between 2007, the time of Jaeger’s hiring, and 2013—Jaeger had engaged in sexual harassment, had intimate relationships with students, and created a hostile environment for women graduate students in his department.
Did the University internally investigate the claims?
The University carried out its own investigations in 2016, concluding that Jaeger’s conduct had not violated its policies then in place and that the University had not retaliated against those who had lodged allegations against him. Jaeger was found responsible for unprofessional conduct during his earlier years at the University. A letter of reprimand was put in his file and he went through additional training.
In August 2017, the complainants filed a formal complaint against the University with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that enforces civil rights laws in the workplace. The complaint repeated many of the allegations reviewed in the University’s internal investigations and added new retaliation claims that were not investigated.
What happened to the EEOC investigation?
The EEOC is no longer pursuing the discrimination case involving the complainants and the University, and therefore granted them the right to sue. On December 8, 2017, eight former and current professors and one former student did file a federal lawsuit against the University, which is ongoing.
What was the role of the Trustee Special Committee?
The Board of Trustees appointed the Special Committee to oversee the Independent Investigation led by Attorney White. The Special Committee, formed to oversee the independence and unfettered access to University documents, did not receive any information on the Independent Investigation until the review and Report was complete.
Who were the members of the Special Committee?
The Special Committee was chaired by Trustee Richard Handler and included:
- Trustee Nomi Bergman
- Jean Bidlack, Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate
- Trustee John Davidson
- Trustee Lance Drummond
- Kolja Keller, a fifth-year PhD student in philosophy
- Trustee Lizette Pérez-Deisboeck
What was the role of the Independent Investigator?
Attorney White, the former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission under President Barack Obama and a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, conducted a complete investigation of the matters raised in the EEOC complaint, including earlier investigations and all claims of retaliation. The investigation also reviewed the relevant University policies and procedures in dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate relationships with students. There were no limits on the evidence that could be reviewed or witnesses that could be called.
What was the timeline for the Independent Investigation?
The Report of the Independent Investigation was presented simultaneously by Attorney White to the Board of Trustees and the Special Committee the morning of January 11, 2018 and released, unedited, to the University community and the public at 12:45 p.m. that day when it was posted online at http://urindependentinvestigation.net/.
Attorney White also held a news conference for representatives of the media at the University of Rochester that afternoon at 1 p.m. Representatives of the University community, including leaders of the faculty, administration, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students attended briefings Thursday afternoon and evening, and Friday morning.
What does this Report mean for the lawsuit against the University?
The Report was commissioned by the Trustee Special Committee for the purpose of investigating all of the matters raised in the EEOC complaint, many of which were repeated in the suit, including the University’s actions in response to the allegations and the University’s policies and procedures involving sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and related issues.
The Report’s conclusions will have no direct impact on the status of the lawsuit, which is ongoing.
What are the next steps for the University?
Faculty, students, staff, and administration are currently reviewing the findings and recommendations of the Independent Investigation Report, and a preliminary action plan will be released soon. The Trustees have asked Interim President Designate Richard Feldman to personally lead the University’s efforts in developing and implementing appropriate actions, including changes or enhancements to University policies and procedures. All changes and enhancements will be the collective effort of all stakeholder groups at the University.
Additionally, the Commission on Women & Gender Equity in Academia is independently working to ensure that the University embraces best practices in providing a respectful and safe environment for all. The Commission will soon issue their preliminary findings and recommendations to the University community.