I may not be as accomplished a legal scholar as Joel Seligman is, but I have been a competitive debater for 10 years and led the Debate Union as its president for two years — so trust me, I know how to call out a bad argument when I see one. 

I came to the town hall on Monday expecting maybe some tone-deaf responses from our president, but what I had not anticipated was how much the legitimacy of the case against Jaeger would increase, and how much more questionable Seligman’s leadership would prove to be upon questioning by students. I am going to sum up the fallacies I noticed in Seligman’s arguments, make a case for why Jaeger has to go, and re-cap the successes of the student-led protest so far.

  1. At the town hall, Seligman stated that new evidence would be sufficient to warrant re-opening the investigation. He also acknowledged that there were multiple emails submitted in the investigation against Jaeger that were rejected by UR investigator Catherine Nearpass. Therefore, those particular pieces of information constitute new evidence that was not considered in the initial process and by the definition provided by the president himself, should make a compelling case for the investigation to be re-opened. In response to this argument, Seligman said he’d “look into it.” This is a shameful response, as he himself provided the basis for reopening, and then backtracked when he felt like it. Ultimately, he did agree to have a private investigator look into this, but this is shameful as well because it shows how he would do anything to protect the University. He refuses to admit to the University’s investigative inadequacy despite the obvious discrepancy in his own statements regarding this.
  2. Is it sexual harassment for a professor to directly contact their graduate student and invite them to a nude party? Yes, of course it is. Seligman was asked whether, in the hypothetical, an email stating this communication would amount to sexual misconduct. His response was even more shameful than the one above — he questioned the severity of this behavior and wondered if it amounted to harassment. Two reasons as to why this is dangerous. First, because the communication does not happen on a level playing field — Jaeger controlled Celeste Kidd’s grades, grants, and her ability to succeed academically — there’s no meaningful capacity for Kidd to say no to any of this and thus this coerces her into appeasing him. Second, for us to even know (hypothetically) if this amounts to sexual harassment, it needs to be considered in the case in the first place! So once again, Seligman’s own responses continue to pave the path for why this investigation was terrible.
  3. If you carefully consider the President’s argument for due process for Jaeger, you’ll realize how faulty it is. Seligman characterized much of the evidence presented against Jaeger (emails and text messages) as “unsubstantiated” and “mere accusations.” However, this is unfair — both texts and emails are documented pieces of writing that prove the egregious ways in which  Jaeger exploited his dominance from a position of power in the University. Seligman wants us to believe that the standard of evidence should be higher. However, in all investigations, standards should be proportional to the level of punishment. Jaeger is not going to jail if found guilty, so we cannot hold evidence in this case to the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” like you would see in criminal courts. As in most University investigations, the standard here should only be a preponderance of evidence. Surprisingly, Seligman does agree to this standard, but probably thought no one would question his legal knowledge about this. But “preponderance of evidence” really just means to adjudicate whether it is more likely than not that the wrongdoing took place. Given the wealth of information presented in the 111-page document, including first-hand testimony of 11 women, it seems awfully likely that any reasonable person would believe it did.
  4. Trust is important for the proper functioning of any university professional who is in a position of power, but it is uniquely important when it comes to the Title IX coordinator. An overwhelming majority of campus sexual violence and harassment claims do not get reported. It’s clear from the widespread rhetoric coming from the student body that there is a serious lack of faith in coordinator Morgan Levy’s ability to do her job owing to her alleged statements from first-hand testimony regarding how she believes less powerful women oftentimes seek out powerful men willy-nilly. There is also the perception of a potential conflict of interests: Levy is a member of the administration but is also supposed to look into things that would hurt it. Seligman can dispute these claims about Levy’s fitness to do her job all he wants, but he can’t dispute the claim that the student body has become increasingly doubtful in Levy’s ability to be an advocate and supporter for them. Therefore, if Seligman is serious that he would move “heaven and earth” to make it clear to people that sexual harassment has no place in this school, he has to permanently remove Levy from her position as Title IX coordinator — maybe she can hold an alternate position in the Office of the Counsel with her legal background but this role is no longer for her.

What’s the strongest reason why Jaeger be permanently removed? It’s that Jaeger had a proven sexual relationship with at least one graduate student. Even UR’s own investigation does not dispute this, and the staggering amount of evidence from the first-hand testimonies of so many women render this claim undebatable. Despite finding that Jaeger was sexually involved with a graduate student, the multiple investigations and appeals by UR’s investigative process exonerated him. UR says that this is because the faculty-student sexual relationship was consensual. Is it really that hard for anyone to understand why that’s ridiculous? This is unacceptable because the inherent power differential present in a faculty-student relationship makes it exploitative. It should obvious that when someone has direct academic authority over you and is expected to professionally mentor and advise you, they cannot have sex with you and pressure you to come to nude parties. I suspect most of the student body and alumni community understand this, but it’s sad that it’s not as clear to Seligman and Levy.

How has the student-led protest been successful? Needless to say, we have a long way to go. Seligman’s vacuous promises and countless commissions and conversations are far from what we demand. We will not stop protesting until Jaeger is no longer a part of this university, either by his own resignation or Seligman’s firing, and Levy is no longer our Title IX coordinator. These points are non-negotiable and we will hold Seligman accountable.

President Seligman, this isn’t mob justice in any way — we have 6,000-plus alumni and students and 150-plus faculty are on our side as documented in their open letter and online campaign signatures — this is the power of the people whose tuition dollars and donations make this university stand. But does that mean we have not already been successful? Absolutely not. Here are the important and substantive concessions from Seligman that he had not come prepared with at the town hall.

  1. We made him commit to student leadership presence in the newly proposed commission regarding gender in academia. His opening statement only had Deans Heinzelman and Rideout allegedly co-chairing this. I have immense respect for Dean Heinzelman after interacting with her, and I have no doubt in my mind she will be a strong advocate for women and gender minorities in STEM and other academic fields. However, it is important to note that deans do report to the provost and in the event one has to go against the University for cases of faulty investigations or lawsuits, we cannot ignore the blatant conflict of interest here. Student leadership would hopefully provide the necessary check-and-balance system to maintain accountability.
  2. We made him extend the scope of the independent investigation to include additional evidence not considered in Jaeger’s investigation. He had intended to have the private investigator look only into the retaliation claims.

President Seligman, my friend senior Lindsay Wrobel is on hunger strike since Wednesday night. She is doing this because Kidd could not eat in her own home because of what Jaeger did to her. She won’t stop until Jaeger is gone and Levy is removed from her position as Title IX coordinator. How can you ignore her pain and the adverse health effects that will come about from this? UR’s Facebook rating has already fallen to an embarrassing 4.1 out of 5.0 largely due to sheer numbers of negative ratings by alumni in response to this case, and news organizations including Slate, Huffington Post, InsideHigherEd, WXXI, and Democrat & Chronicle have reported about this incident.

I came to the University as an international student, crossing thousands of miles away, leaving all my friends and family behind. Why? Because I was awed by the level of academic freedom and respect for all people that was enshrined in the communal principles here. I have spent four years of my life here, and chose to extend it by another year to participate in the KEY program. Now I’m not sure whether I made the right decision, and whether I should continue to be an ambassador for this institution. I was so hurt when you said there were “victims on both sides” of this — surely you know better. You seemed to echo President Trump’s Charlottesville response there — can you not see that there is no moral equivalency between a perpetrator and a survivor. We must protect survivors, not shield aggressors. Is this what you want your legacy to be?

My intention in writing this letter is not to say I hate my Alma Mater. I wrote this because I love it so much that I can’t see this happening. I know that we are better than this, and I must hold Seligman accountable until Jaeger has been removed. President Seligman, is one professor’s tenured employment really more important than the wellbeing of students you were hired to lead?

Tagged: jaeger

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