Just yesterday, I completed my universities training on sexual discrimination and harassment. One of things they did was have little skits illustrating the phenomena we have to watch out for. One of them was about an attractive young woman being followed around in her work by a helpful but over-eager male colleague, who touched her in the small of the back while leading her to a different room. It was so quaint. I agree that he was being overly familiar, but yeesh — there are plenty of stronger examples in real life. Perhaps the next time they could act out these little dramas from the life of University of Michigan computer science professor Walter Lasecki. He’s been investigated by the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) andthe Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Here are a few examples of his behavior:
In the final report released by OIE, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily, Jane alleged that Lasecki encouraged her to drink throughout the meal, at one point asking the waiter to make her a “double.” She also alleged that he briefly placed his hand on her thigh.
Later that night, Jane said Lasecki helped her return to her apartment. He then touched her sexually, she wrote in her OIE statement. The OIE report notes that Jane said she “did not give any nonverbal cues to indicate that she was interested nor uninterested in physical contact.”
A second non-University graduate student — who will be referred to as Rachel in this article — attended four conferences that Lasecki also attended between 2017 and 2019. She alleged that he touched her sexually at all four conferences. In her statement to OIE, which was obtained by The Daily, Rachel described the pervasiveness of Lasecki’s alleged harassment.
“When [Respondent] is around me when he is drinking, he is consistently physically affectionate with me,” Rachel wrote. “I can’t count the number of times he’s touched me in intimate and inappropriate ways. I’m anxious at events that he will come up to me and start touching me — it bothers me so much that I’ve started scanning the room at poster sessions, receptions, and parties to watch where he’s at.”
A third non-University graduate student wrote in her statement to OIE, also obtained by The Daily, that she experienced similar harassment at an industry conference in 2016. In this article, she will be referred to as Alex. Alex alleged that Lasecki groped her while she was talking to a group of people.
“His behavior was overly familiar, touching me at first in small ways as we were talking to other people,” Alex wrote. “At some point, he leaned closer to me and essentially reached his hand between my legs. I was uncomfortable the whole time, but I distinctly remember knowing he was faculty and well-regarded, and so thinking I should be flattered. At the point where he groped my crotch, though, I knew that was past a line.”
At least there’s no evidence that he touched their backs! Then he’d be out of work, for sure. He still seems to happily employed by the University of Michigan, though. The ACM found that he had violated its Policy Against Harassment, banned him from ACM events for at least five years (that’s all they could do, since he’s not employed by ACM). Strangely, Michigans Office of Institutional Equity concluded that he had not violated any university policies and let him off scot-free. That’s interesting, because I would think getting students drunk and fondling and groping them would be actionable behavior. But no! No sanctions against the gropey professor!
So how did he get off? It may be a case of the fox guarding the henhouse. Also, a lot of those foxes seemed to have taken residence in the henhous.
In January 2020, Provost Martin Philbert — who previously oversaw OIE — was placed on leave and later resigned after multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him were reported to the University. The allegations were later investigated and corroborated by law firm WilmerHale. Another WilmerHale investigation released earlier this month found hundreds of credible allegations of sexual abuse against former University doctor Robert Anderson over a 37-year period. The Anderson report concluded that the allegations represent a “devastating pattern” of abuse that was known to University officials.
Everyone noticed. A letter was sent to the university president saying they had no confidence in the university administration.
Lisecki is denying everything, although he does use a second excuse.
Lily wrote that Lasecki touched under her shirt later that night and that she repeatedly attempted to stop his advances. Despite these attempts, the harassment continued, she claims. She remembered how Lasecki tried to justify his behavior.
“Oh, sorry, from the way you were angling your body towards me during our meeting before, I figured you wanted me to,” she alleged that he replied.
Watch out, ladies, now “angling your body” at a particular angle is apparently considered consent. I don’t know what angle that is, unfortunately. Maybe women have been begging me for sex and I’ve just been oblivious. Alternatively, maybe Walter Lisecki’s mind-reading abilities don’t work.
What also comes to mind is Geoff Marcy, another academic whose career took a nosedive when he was found to have been inappropriately touching his students. He also had an interesting excuse:
“My engaging and empathic style could surely be misinterpreted, which is my fault for poor communication,” he said. “I would never intentionally hurt anyone nor cause distress.”
His empathy must have been on the fritz when all those women were saying “no” and trying to get away from Dr Handsey. Marcy lost his job and his career, and has now been expelled from the National Academy of Sciences.
Unlike Marcy, though, Lasecki has not been censured in any way, and is scheduled to be teaching undergrads in the fall. Now that is disturbing.