For those who were here in the fall of 2017, the name T. Florian Jaeger conjures up memories of an unforgettable scandal. But as his name makes headlines again, many current UR students don’t remember the controversy. Looking at the University today, much of what we see is a result of the scandal, and we want students to be aware of the importance of the crisis and its effects.
In 2016, two UR professors filed a sexual harassment complaint against Jaeger, a professor in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department. The ensuing investigation by UR’s associate counsel found that regardless of what Jaeger may have done, he did not violate the discrimination and harassment policy. The professors appealed, UR upheld the decision, and the professors claim UR retaliated against them. In August 2017, current and former students and employees of UR filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint over alleged instances of harassment and retaliation. The University was hit with protests and petitions from inside and out. UR hired famed attorney Mary Jo White to investigate, who released a report again finding no policy violation. As of fall 2019, Jaeger still works at UR.
Though two classes currently attending UR weren’t here for the whole thing, the Jaeger scandal has been a defining factor of UR’s campus culture and our current relationship with administration.
The most obvious example might be the resignation of former-president Joel Seligman. After months of pressure, criticism over UR’s attitude towards misconduct claims, and a disastrous public forum in which he was berated for his handling of the situation, Seligman announced his resignation in January 2018.
Students were not alone in their dissatisfaction. UR’s public image shifted. A large portion of our BCS department resigned in protest. Over 450 professors from other schools signed a petition warning graduate students not to come to UR. The scandal earned UR national coverage. Two of the complainants were featured as “Silence Breakers” in Time Magazine’s 2017 “Person of the Year” feature. Strangely, UR still received a record 20,243 applications for the class of 2022.
The scandal also exposed some gaps in awareness of resources on campus. At the height of the outrage, many students called for Title IX Coordinator Morgan Levy’s firing, some claiming that she was also a defense attorney for the school. That claim was unsubstantiated.
Additionally, the Title IX office only investigates claims where the alleged assaulter is a student. Misconduct allegations against a professor or faculty violate Policy 106, which dictates that such allegations can be reported to “an individual’s department chair, dean, director, immediate supervisor, the Office of Human Resources, the Office of Staff Diversity and Inclusion (formerly the Equal Opportunity Compliance Office), the Office of the Intercessor, or the Office of Counsel”.
There was also an impact on policy. Both an SA task force and the newly created Commission for Women and Gender Equity in Academia made reports examining sexual misconduct policy and proposing changes. And changes have been made.
A silver lining from the whole crisis — UR appointed its first woman president, who brings with her a whole new set of goals, ideas, and plans for UR.
Even as the seniors most touched by Jaeger’s controversy graduate, it’s important to keep the level of involvement alive. As students, we have an obligation to know the history, poke holes at the problems in policy, and actually uphold our school ideals of continuously bettering our community and ourselves. This can’t happen without active student engagement in defining what keeps our campus safe, and what we as a college community stand for. The allegations point to reprehensible and hurtful actions, but if the alleged actions would not have violated policy — as UR asserted — it’s because the policies that needed to be in place weren’t.
So as the story develops and the headlines continue, remember that without student awareness and involvement, the University will remain stuck in a perpetually reactive position.
Editor’s Note (9/6/19): This piece was revised to clarify language surrounding the allegations against Jaeger.
Editor’s Note (9/4/19): This piece was revised to clarify that the quote regarding Policy 106 was from the policy’s documentation.