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Investigation at UR: no evidence of hostile work environment, but there was inappropriate behavior

A more than200 page report was released on Thursday by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, who was commissioned by the University of Rochester to investigate claims of sexual harassment by Professor Florian Jaeger and allegations that some of those who brought those claims were retaliated against by the university.

The report, which UR officials have called an ‘independent investigation,’ was undertaken after the controversy that erupted over accusations made by several current and former faculty and grad students.

They allege that they were sexually harassed by  Jaeger, a professor in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department. He denied the charges and was placed on administrative leave.

Besides a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, those who brought the action also have a lawsuit pending in federal court.  

In the report undertaken by Mary Jo White and her law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, it found that “there is no evidence of which we are aware suggesting that there is currently, or has been since at least 2014, a hostile work or academic environment for any female graduate students in (the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department)."

The report also did not find any evidence that Jaeger violated university policy regarding intimate relationships.

But the report did find that during the period of 2007-2013, Jager engaged in “behavior that was inappropriate, unprofessional and offensive.” The report says that between 2007 and 2011, Jaeger “was flirtatious with other students,” and “blurred appropriate faculty-student boundaries.”

In terms of recommendations, the report said that the University of Rochester, “should implement clearer and more robust procedures for investigating and responding to claims of sexual harassment against faculty members.” The report says that “There is widespread confusion among members of the University community about the University's reporting and investigative processes with respect to sexual harassment.”

The report also recommends that the university should appoint a senior, cabinet-level official to oversee the implementation of these recommendations.”

The report concludes that some students in Jaeger’s department were negatively impacted by his behavior early in his career at UR.  But it also says that “because of the broad dissemination of the often exaggerated descriptions of that conduct, the esteemed BCS faculty has been fractured and the university’s reputation has been harmed.”

The report by Mary Jo White says the university and everyone involved now has a unique opportunity to “heal and work hard to become the thought and moral leader for the academic community in preventing and dealing fairly with allegations of sexual harassment and all forms of discrimination in the academic workplace.”

Anger over how the university administration handled the initial response to these complaints has also resulted in an open letter by more than 400 professors around the country condemning UR officials for their response to the allegations, urging researchers around the world to discourage students from attending the university. The professors urged UR trustees to think “broadly and deeply” about the kinds of changes they are committed to making.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.