The University of Rochester gets stomped hard for sexual harassment, deservedly

Contemptible Skidmark, Ph.D.

Back in 2017, I wrote about this awful sexual harassment case at the University of Rochester that involved in particular, one professor, T. Florian Jaeger, who was egregiously out of line with students, but also involved an entire university administration that was outrageous in how it supported Jaeger against all reason. There was a lawsuit. There was a countersuit. It dragged on for years, but now, at last, there has been a settlement, in favor of the victims.

I feel for them, having just gone through a lesser suit that dragged us through the courts for an absurdly long time, and was finally settled just recently. There seems to be no such thing as a speedy trial in these civil suits.

One big difference, though, is that the University of Rochester settled for the amount of $9.4 million. We’re still struggling to pay off our legal debt.

One similarity is that we also retained the right to tell our story, and that does make a difference. UR has really taken a major and deserved hit here, and the whole sordid story is available online. It’s horrifying reading: Jaeger was worse than I imagined, the University was complicit, and the university president did everything he could to enable Jaeger and punish his victims.

Plaintiffs were surprised at the University’s tight embrace and protection of Jaeger and the intense retaliation campaign against them. They could not figure out why UR was so determined to support a serial sexual predator who had caused misery to students and colleagues.

Over time, however, it has become clear that the University’s approach to Jaeger and Plaintiffs fits into a broader pattern of University behavior. UR is a major force in Rochester, the largest private employer in upstate New York, and used to getting its way. Its president is a powerful figure, and after 12 years in office, Seligman has restructured the University to his liking. Faculty and administrators describe him as thin skinned, “someone who always thinks he’s the smartest person in the room,” and, as his tenure has extended, increasingly imperious. He has expanded the ranks of administrators and appointed people to top positions (many times without a search process) who, according to many faculty, will no longer stand up to him or tell him when he is making a mistake.

The settlement wouldn’t have been so large if the University of Rochester hadn’t opened itself up to guilt with it’s horrible behavior.

Jaeger’s behavior created a working environment that was severe, pervasive, intimidating, hostile, and offensive to Cantlon and other female employees in the department.

Through its failures and treatment of Cantlon and others who complained about sexual harassment and discrimination as adversaries, UR contributed to and exacerbated the hostile working environment for female employees. It gave license to its employees, including DeAngelis and other faculty, to treat Cantlon and other female employees, or employees associated with this group via their complaints, with hostility and disdain.

The hostile environment based on sex created a hostile and intimidating work environment for Cantlon and interfered with her ability to do her job to the point that she began to look for other work

There’s more. A lot more. This statement by the court is satisfactorily scathing, and also explains why this decision was so important.

The false statements made by UR, Seligman and Clark seriously call into question the Plaintiffs’ fitness for their profession. As academics and research scientists, the Plaintiffs must be seen to have integrity and to be utterly trustworthy. Honest and integrity are crucial characteristics in their profession for at least the following reasons:

a. Research scientists rely heavily on grants to fund their work. An applicant’s scientific integrity, a concept inextricably tied to honesty, must be beyond question. If a grant-making body thought that a researcher was capable of making up evidence – as UR has accused the Plaintiffs of doing – the grant-making body would never support that researcher.

b. Similarly, the scientific community and publishers must be able to trust in the integrity of the researcher’s work. If the researcher’s scientific integrity or honest is questionable, publishers are unlikely to select their work for publication and institutions are unlikely to invite that researcher to give talks or present at conferences. Publishing and presenting work are both essential components of any academic career.

c. Labs need high quality Ph.D. students and post-docs to contribute to faculty members’ research. Choosing a lab is a big decision for these students and post-docs – where they work and who they work for can have a profound effect on their own careers. They are unlikely to work in the lab of someone who is considered to be dishonest or to have a history of bullying others.

d. Serving on committees or in other leadership roles in departments or throughout the University is another key part of an academic career. These opportunities are key to obtaining leadership positions and building a good reputation. Failing to do any service for one’s department or university reflects poorly on an academic’s reputation and suitability for the profession. The Plaintiffs have been accused of dishonesty, bullying, and manipulation. They have been barred from serving on committees or as ombudspersons because they are not trusted to be honest and unbiased.

As academics and research scientists, honesty and integrity are essential to Plaintiffs’ professional success. Provost Clark, President Seligman, and UR knew this when each false statement referenced was made.

Despite winning the case (strictly speaking, they settled, the UR has not admitted guilt), this was not a happy outcome. The plaintiff’s careers were hurt, they had to leave and put down roots elsewhere, it had to have been agony having this hang over their heads for so long. They sacrificed to get this result.

The University of Rochester is going to have to cough up $9.4 million dollars. On top of that, who knows how many grants they’ve lost because of this action? They’ve definitely lost much of their prestige, their cognitive science program was climbing the rankings as one of the best in the nation. If one of my students was planning to apply there, I’d strongly urge them to consider any place other than UR.

T. Florian Jaeger is still employed at the university, and wasn’t targeted by the lawsuit at all. The piece of shit sailed through the whole thing without getting stepped on.

I don’t understand that at all.


  1. seachange says

    A chain of blackmail is a possible explanation of why the attack was indirect.

  2. Keith Bostic says

    We’re still struggling to pay off our legal debt.

    I thought your GoFundMe was successful! How much debt is left?

  3. says

    Keith bostic @2: I just clicked on the “donate to our legal defense fund” button along the left side of the FTB window. Right this second, it looks like they’ve gathered $77,440 of the total legal debt of $115,000—so, $37,560 unfunded.

  4. bcwebb says

    Seligmann apparently found a fan at the NY Times

    Exonerated, University of Rochester President Steps Down

    The president of the University of Rochester stepped down on Thursday, just hours before an outside investigation cleared him and his administration of charges that they had covered up sexual harassment by a prominent professor and punished those who spoke out against him.

    The president, Joel Seligman, who had been fending off calls for his resignation since the harassment allegations became public in August, announced his decision in an email to the university. The move was made all the more extraordinary by the investigators’ report, which discredited many of the claims against the university and found no legal wrongdoing by Rochester’s leadership.

  5. tangoyango says

    This unfortunately reminds me of Joe Biden who was recently accused of rape. I fear we may be forced to choose between the one rapist all the other this election season.

  6. square101 says

    @Tangoyango #5

    Unfortunately I’m almost certain that will be the situation with how little coverage this serious issue is getting in the more mainstream media. If people can be prevented from hearing about it at least until after the primaries then he can sneak by without anyone knowing. This year has been and exercise in disillusionment for me.

  7. tangoyango says


    I refuse to vote for a rapist. I will either write in my own candidate or I will sit this one out (for the first time in decades).

    Anybody who doesn’t like that can sit by their mailbox and wait for all the fucks I give to be delivered to them.

  8. says

    The response to the accusation against Biden looks terrible so far. I’m seeing complaining about “suspicious timing”, “due process”…
    I’m going to do some looking around before I write something but I’m not feeling like this is an accusation being taken seriously.

    I don’t give shit if it’s Trump on the other side, accusations get taken seriously. Make it about taking these issues seriously in general. Shame both candidates. Some people should at least try to find way to maneuver the candidates into a confrontation that benefits sexual harassment and assault survivors.

  9. tangoyango says

    Lets not forget all the other women who have come forward with stories of inappropriate touching and kissing.

  10. tangoyango says

    Also he’s probably in the early stages of dementia. This feels weird. We get to vote for two misogynist rapists for president.

  11. says

    @tangoyango 12
    And as usual people are acting like the people who’s boundaries have been crossed are the problem. No apologies, a vague “learning from my experience”, and the joking shows me he and people are trying to get others to see it as unserious.
    There are a lot of warning signs.

    This the time for the Democrats to show that they actually care about physical and sexual boundaries. If Biden actually gave a shit about this country he would sit there and let the people he has hurt speak without saying a thing himself. He would then apologize for his specific behavior and acknowledge how he made them feel. Finally he would say what he would do differently from now on.

  12. says

    This was coming for a while, Biden’s been known to be a creep for some years, and I think there’s been a story of him pointedly skinny dipping in front of female secret service members?

    If Biden gets it, there is no reason to vote blue in November, between his terrible policy history, the supreme court already being lost before whatever trash he tries and fails to install and now this.

  13. says

    I think it’s possible to vote for Biden. I’ve seen people trying to use this to advantage Bernie and I wish them the best but there still needs to be an investigation.

    If Biden is the nominee I’ll vote for him and shame the country for being a place where only shitty misogynists get elected, and emphasize the fact that the slightly less shitty misogynist is the Democrat. I’ll shame Biden and Trump when they both have an awful characteristic, and the parties and country that allowed it. I’ll shame them individually when necessary.
    I’ll shame any Republicans that pretend to care about sexual boundaries or assault, I’ll shame the Democrats for enabling it.

    It might still be possible to vote for the lesser of two evils but it’s necessary to to become very explicit and in your face with problems to supporters.

  14. garyyoung3 says

    You are quoting from the plaintiff’s complaint against the university, not the ruling of a judge. I’m not defending the university (I don’t enough about the case one way or the other), but it’s clearly misleading to present one party’s allegations as the final judgment of the court.

  15. unit000 says


    You may have missed that this case was settled – thus, there is no final jugment of the court. PZ does appear to have erred in attributing part of the quotation from the suit to the court, but it seems reasonable to assume that’s an honest mistake.