Let’s check in on the ongoing saga of T. Florian Jaeger, shall we? He’s a computation linguist working in the cognitive sciences department at the University of Rochester whose tenure so far has been a real shitshow, and also a familiar story. He’s a sexist pig who doesn’t recognize boundaries or any limits to his behavior. One of the stars of the place, Richard Aslin, resigned his position over the ongoing behavior of Jaeger, the former president of the university, Joel Seligman, resigned the day the investigative report was published, and other faculty, like Jessica Cantlon and Brad Mahon, followed suit. Now Celeste Kidd and Steven Piantadosi have quit.
That is a department in a shambles. The wave of resignations sends a very clear message that this is not a place where you want to work — you’d have to be desperate to take a job in the cognitive sciences at Rochester. And that means they’re going to get worse, and not the least because the rot, Jaeger, is still there, supported by the administration.
University of Rochester President Richard Feldman has declined to sanction, much less fire, T. Florian Jaeger, a professor who sent an unwanted picture of his penis to a student; made insulting and objectifying comments about female students’ sexual desirability, appearance, and vaginal taste; used drugs at a lab retreat with students, and had sex with an undergraduate student, among many other unethical behaviors. These are not accusations. These actions were confirmed by the University of Rochester’s own investigation. The University also verified that such behavior led at least ten women to avoid Jaeger to the detriment of their careers.1 President Feldman declines to take responsibility for his own refusal to punish Jaeger, instead blaming the faculty senate, a body which he knows has no authority to impose sanctions. Unbelievably, Former President Joel Seligman and Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department Chair Greg DeAngelis both publicly defended Jaeger’s tenure — to the media and faculty senate respectively — by an appeal to the sanctity of “academic freedom”.
Holy crap. That’s not what academic freedom means. It does not mean that professors get to rob banks on the side with no repercussions on their career; it does not mean you get to fuck up a required part of your job, teaching, and no one can fire you for dereliction of your duties. This is the kind of thing that gives tenure and academic freedom a bad name when it is badly abused.
The university administration is also failing to do their job. They’ve got faculty resigning right and left, they’ve got ten women whose careers have been harmed, the university’s reputation is wrecked, and they’re trading all that to keep this one man, T. Florian Jaeger, in his job. I’m going to take a wild guess that Jaeger is also viciously litigious and has let the admins know that he plans to be an expensive headache if they don’t defend him.
Oh, and there’s a footnote to Kidd’s and Piantadosi’s letter.
1President Feldman returned Jaeger to teaching undergraduates shortly after the University’s own investigation defended with the argument that “A combination of Jaeger’s harsh and demeaning language, flirtatious behavior, use of sexual innuendo, promiscuous reputation, open relationships with students and blurring of social and professional lines all contributed to some extent [to students avoiding him], but we cannot unravel the degree to which women avoided Jaeger because of the sexual elements in his conduct, as oppose to other simply offensive or unappealing aspects of his personality.”
Wow. So his repellent personality so thoroughly blends in with his despicable attitude towards women that they can’t be sure which of the two makes him a terrible colleague and bad teacher, so they’re restoring his undergraduate teaching duties. Does this make any sense at all? All aspects of his performance are equally awful, masking which bits are due to sexism and misogyny, so hey, let’s put him in a classroom with 18 year old men and women.
But here’s the most chilling part for the future of Rochester.
Jaeger is not named in the federal lawsuit against the university and has said he believes the department, and his lab, are “worth rebuilding.” He will resume teaching in the fall after spending the 2017-18 school year mostly away from campus.
Now that he’s driven away the ethical, principled faculty, T. Florian Jaeger’s way is clear to rebuild the department in his own image.