Sexual harassment…in my own back yard!


A sexual harassment case brought by a student against a professor at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities — my back yard is 150 miles long) has finally been closed with a settlement.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced Friday a settlement agreement with the University of Minnesota Board of Regents after a Humphrey School professor sexually harassed a graduate student.

The settlement requires the Humphrey School of Public Affairs to take steps to prevent sexual harassment, pay a graduate student $75,000 and allow the student to complete her degree tuition-free, according to the release.

Well, yay. He was an egregious offender.

According to the release, “the professor made sexual comments in front of her, told her about sex he had with other women, and commented on her appearance in front of her classmates.” The professor also told the student he wanted to be her boyfriend and live together in his home.

There are a few problems with the settlement, though. Free tuition is nice, except the student hasn’t attended classes since 2018. One might guess that she’s less than enthusiastic about returning to the scene of the crime, where the university was so slow in responding. It also doesn’t help that after the professor resigned, the dean of the business school sent out a university-wide email praising him as an “accomplished scholar“ who contributed “substantially” to the school’s global policy classes and research agenda.

Also, there’s the little matter of the student getting $75,000, and the professor getting $190,000 as an incentive to resign. Also getting 3 other pending cases against him dismissed. Also getting an agreement that the university would not publicize his firing…oops, resignation. Also, they initially let him back on the faculty, without notifying students of the results of the investigation that found him guilty.

Hey! It looks like the professor, James Ron, is back on the job market, and he used some of his settlement cash to hire someone to build him a cheesy, generic website to advertise has availability.

James Ron is a dynamic, creative, and adaptable senior research professional with deep and broad experience defining research approaches and methods, managing large, diverse global and domestic project teams, developing policy recommendations, and reporting results. James is respected as a published scholar, author and thought leader.

It mentions his employment at the University of Minnesota, but for completely understandable reasons, fails to mention why he left a job that pays $170,000 per year (Huh…I get less than half that, and I don’t harass my students.)

His colleague, Jason Cao, was also found guilty of violating university policy. He’s still working in the Humphrey School of Business, with restrictions on who he can advise.

Lest you think these are just the sins of those over-privileged wankers in the business school, take a look at the UMN biochemistry department, and the seedy reputation of Gianluigi Veglia. There’s a nice short summary at that link.

After enduring years of sexual harassment, two members of biochemist Gianluigi Veglia’s lab filed complaints with the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Investigators corroborated their accounts and recommended that Veglia be fired. University administrators decided to impose lesser sanctions instead. The university kept the decision quiet until a Minneapolis newspaper revealed details. Universities often don’t disclose information about harassment cases, but sexual harassment experts say this practice is harmful. The lack of transparency about the sanctions against Veglia, who continues to work at the university, catalyzed reforms intended to protect against sexual harassment and improve decision-making. But distrust continues among faculty and graduate students.

It wasn’t a secret. Veglia was openly harassing his students.

Veglia also regularly harassed Soller about the fact that she was married. He said, “Why are you missing out on all of these experiences you could be having in grad school because you’re married?” Soller says. “I was also told that I couldn’t be a successful scientist and also wife.”

She also recalls one time when Veglia commented on a lab mate, saying something to the effect of, “I bet she’s a devil in bed.”

Veglia referred to the female graduate students in his lab as “Veglia chicks,” Soller says. “When you’re constantly being referred to as that, and you’re trying to be taken as a serious scientist in the field, it’s degrading.”

Dicke, who joined Veglia’s lab in 2012, says he would frequently tell her that the only reason he hired her was for her looks.

“At one point he told me that I was very beautiful and that I was going to be sexually harassed and that’s why he said inappropriate things to me—because I need to be desensitized to it,” Dicke says. “At some point he told me that I just want to be dominated. He meant that in a sexual way.”

Another time, “he tapped my arm with his elbow and said, ‘Don’t order anything with garlic so we can get close later’ in front of this other professor. The other professor responded by saying that we should order more wine because the ladies need to loosen up,” Dicke says. The other professor was not from the University of Minnesota, Dicke says, though she declined to give C&EN his name.

Don’t worry, though, the faculty had a “vibrant” discussion about him.

“Given its egregious and repetitive nature, Dr. Veglia’s conduct created an intimidating, hostile, and offensive working environment,” one of the reports says. The parts of the reports that included Veglia’s responses to the complaints were redacted.

In a separate letter, the EOAA Office recommended that Veglia be fired, according to several of C&EN’s sources.

“A very vibrant, protracted discussion” ensued to determine Veglia’s fate, according to one administrator, who asked not to be named because the person was not authorized to talk about the proceedings. According to the administrator, the people involved had different opinions about the facts of the case, as well as whether firing was an appropriate punishment for the harassment. Everyone directly involved in the discussion was a man, except for EOAA representatives.

It is reassuring in a way, I suppose, that the university will do their darndest to shield me, and the university, from embarrassment if I should go on a sexual rampage. It is not at all reassuring that I might have to work with assholes, or that my students are vulnerable to this sort of thing. Fortunately, my colleagues here at the Morris campus of the UMN all seem to be decent, good people…but then, how would I know? The university likes to conceal this information from everyone.

Of the 55 sexual misconduct cases substantiated in the university system from 2013 through 2017, more than half ended in the shadows. In 23 of the cases, the responsible employee left the university either through “resignation, lay-off or non-renewal” after the finding but before being disciplined; their names and case files are not publicly released.

In nine other cases, the employees remained at the university but weren’t disciplined. They may have received letters of expectation, been directed to complete training, or received coaching or monitoring, but these consequences are not severe enough to meet the university’s definition of discipline. Their names and case files also remain private.

I’d like this place to hold higher standards.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    He is not quite useless, his carcass would be handy to study the succession of insects in cadavers (if you read Patricia Cornwell before she forgot how to write you will know what I mean).

  2. jrkrideau says

    but then, how would I know?

    Perhaps an intrepid reporter on the UMM paper could file a freedom of information request? Or perhaps China’s Global News could do it?

  3. drken says

    I guess we should be grateful that the issue is being addressed at all. Back when I was in grad school, people like this generally got away with it. And don’t worry PZ, it’s a statistical certainty that some of your colleagues are terrible people, they’re just smart enough to behave around those with equal or more power than them.

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