After UR settled the retaliation lawsuit brought against them by former students and faculty, the Campus Times reached out to several people associated with the lawsuit or the scandal that triggered it.
The answers varied, but most who responded were happy the legal saga was over.
The settlement included a $9.4 million payment to the plaintiffs, who maintain that UR retaliated against people who spoke up about alleged sexual misconduct on the part of professor T. Florian Jaeger. The scandal sparked campus outrage and garnered national attention in Sept. 2017, the month before revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults made #MeToo a national phenomenon.
The federal lawsuit — which had named UR, former UR president Joel Seligman, and provost Robert Clark as defendants — was brought forward by nine students and faculty members.
“This has consumed the last four years of my life, and it happened at a point in my career when normally you’d be ramping things down and having good times, right?” Richard Aslin, a former UR professor who was one of the plaintiffs, said. “So for me it’s a relief to have it be over.”
According to Aslin, conversations about the settlement began shortly after a federal judge in August ruled that the plaintiffs’ claims described illegal behavior.
The ruling did not confirm or deny the veracity of the claims, and UR emphasized in a statement regarding the settlement that UR never admitted to any wrongdoing.
As a part of the settlement arrangements, Seligman and Clark were dropped from the suit.
Seligman said he was “pleased that this matter has now been concluded.” He added that he had resigned over the scandal in “the best interests of the University.”
“With new leadership now, it is time for the University and those involved to move forward beyond this sad saga,” Seligman said.
In a statement, Jaeger emphasized that he was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, and claimed that much of the narrative regarding him was false.
“One good thing out of this settlement is that it sends a signal that those who report concerns about sexual discrimination or misconduct will be heard,” Jaeger wrote. “That is a good thing, even if it unfortunately happened (in this case) in the context of massive and utterly unnecessary misinformation.”
Jaeger said he is concerned that the settlement will be interpreted as evidence, and believes it negatively impacts the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department, where he still works.
Ann Olivarius, one of the lawyers for the complainants, called the settlement a triumph.
“You don’t go around paying $9.4 million if there isn’t a problem you want to solve and you would [otherwise] be on the hook for a lot more than that,” she said. “They spent a lot of money, when all we wanted to do was improve the campus and make it safer for students.”
Responding to a Campus Times inquiry, a University spokesperson pointed to a list of policy changes made in the wake of or in response to the scandal. Some of the changes include a revision to misconduct reporting documents and new mandatory bias training for faculty. The Office of Equity and Inclusion was also created in response to the Jaeger scandal.
Olivarius also praised the complainants for their actions.
“There are the people who made the University of Rochester a great institution,” she said. “They were the talent, gift, and genius of the University of Rochester. This is what they did for UR. They only wanted to improve the institution.”
Olivarius also noted that “thank you” payments of money from the settlement were sent to around 20 people who had been affected by Jaeger’s alleged sexual harassment.
“I didn’t go into this whole thing as a crusader,” Aslin said. “I wasn’t a firebrand looking for problems that I could solve. I was simply confronted with what I felt was an intolerable situation and I was responding to it as best I could.”
Editor’s Note (4/6/20): This article has been amended to clarify the nature of Seligman’s comments.