The #MeToo movement, which has rocked politics, media, business and entertainment, is exploding with full force in academia and on college campuses across the country.
Since December, more than 2,400 anonymous accounts of sexual misconduct have been posted online through a spreadsheet in which victims and witnesses describe incidents they say occurred in their work with lecturers, professors, deans and others.
Karen Kelsky, an academic career consultant in Eugene, Ore., and former anthropology professor, created the forum that she calls a “crowdsourced survey of sexual harassment in the academy.” The offenses range from rape and assault to remarks about clothing and appearance that cross the line. Perpetrators are not named, but many schools are.
“I’m really struck by how endemic this is,” Kelsky said.
Colleges have long known of the problem, but in recent years have learned more about its prevalence. In 2015, the Association of American Universities surveyed students at 27 prominent research universities about sexual misconduct. It found that 10 percent of female graduate and professional students experienced sexual harassment from faculty.
Higher education runs on relationships built outside the classroom. Veteran professors hold private meetings during office hours, lead teams in laboratories and mingle at wine-and-cheese receptions. They aim to connect with students and junior faculty, provide academic guidance, develop confidence and trust.
Too often, women say, men who hold these positions of privilege and power on college campuses have abused that trust.
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust — the first woman to hold that position — said the #MeToo movement is forcing faculty to rethink interactions with students and colleagues. “If you go out for drinks with the people in your lab, what are the implications of a situation like that?” Faust said.
Professors must ensure their influence is wielded in “an ethical way,” Faust said. “We intend to have our faculty be accountable for how they use their power.”
For colleges, the intensified scrutiny of professors marks a second phase in a profound shift of thinking about sexual misconduct that began several years ago with a spotlight on sexual violence among students. Schools are scrambling to assure campus communities that they understand the problem encompasses faculty, too.
Allegations at Harvard
Sexual harassment allegations have roiled Harvard this year following a report about a political scientist, Terry Karl, who left the university faculty in the early 1980s after enduring what she called unwanted sexual advances from a more-senior colleague. Harvard found that professor, Jorge I. Dominguez, responsible for “serious misconduct” at the time, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, but he stayed at the university and rose to become vice provost for international affairs. The Chronicle has reported that several more women are now accusing Dominguez of inappropriate conduct. Harvard has pledged a “full and fair review” of the allegations.
Allegations at Stanford
In 2000, Seo-Young Chu was a graduate student at Stanford. That year, Jay Fliegelman, a well-known English professor, raped her, she said.
“He violated me in this horrible way,” Chu said of a Fliegelman. “I never really healed completely.”
Fliegelman made additional unwanted advances toward Chu and spoke to her inappropriately, Chu said. Sensing something was wrong, one of Chu’s graduate advisers reported Fliegelman. He was suspended for two years for sexual harassment and misconduct because of his behavior toward Chu, including an incident of “oral-genital contact” at the professor’s home after he played a pornographic video, Stanford’s general counsel, Debra Zumwalt, told Chu in a November 2017 letter.
Chu described the incident as nonconsensual. Fliegelman disputed that, according to Zumwalt, telling investigators he stopped as soon as Chu indicated she was “not comfortable.” Stanford concluded the incident occurred “under circumstances that were extremely inappropriate and in which your assent could be questioned,” Zumwalt told Chu.
The university imposed what Zumwalt called a “significant financial sanction” on Fliegelman. At the time, he disputed many of the findings, according to the letter, but apologized for the pain he caused Chu and declared himself “very ashamed.”
Chu ended up leaving the university and getting her doctorate from Harvard in 2007. Fliegelman died that year. He remained a Stanford faculty member until his death, and he was celebrated in an official obituary for his scholarship, teaching and rare book collection.
“There isn’t a day in my life when I haven’t been eaten away by it in some way,” said Chu, 40, an associate professor of English at Queens College in the City University of New York.
On behalf of Stanford, Zumwalt expressed sorrow to Chu for her suffering. “You did the right thing by bringing this issue forward in 2000,” she wrote, “and we are grateful to you for doing so.”
Allegations at the University of Virginia
In November, the University of Virginia began investigating complaints from two women who said John Casey, a professor at U-Va. since 1972, touched students inappropriately on their shoulders, buttocks or lower backs, and made crude and unwanted sexual comments in their presence.
After the university began its investigation, Lisa Schievelbein lodged her complaint, alleging in emails to English creative writing faculty and U-Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan that Casey had raped her in 2001. At the time, Schievelbein was a senior, and Casey, who won a National Book Award in 1989 for his novel “Spartina,” was her professor.
One night in early 2001, she told The Washington Post, Casey took her out to a Thai restaurant in Charlottesville to talk about writing but surprised her with questions about her sex life. In his car after dinner, she alleged, he groped her breasts and digitally penetrated her vagina without her consent.
Days later, Schievelbein said, she was overcome with anxiety when she attended the fiction class.
“At one point, I began quietly crying from the stress of sitting so close to a professor who had sexually assaulted me,” Schievelbein said.
She said nonconsensual sexual encounters ensued — incidents she did not report to authorities at the time. “I did not think there was anything that I could do to make him stop,” she wrote. “In those subsequent assaults, he never asked for my consent and I did not provide it.”
As the semester was ending, Schievelbein said she had consensual sexual intercourse once with Casey in her bed. By that time, she said, the professor had “manipulated” her into the perception that she was involved “in an exciting liaison with a famous author.”
Schievelbein, 39 and a postdoctoral fellow in clinical psychology in Albany, N.Y., said she had difficulty at the time understanding exactly what was happening to her
Through an attorney, Casey said recently that he had a “regrettable but entirely consensual extramarital affair” with Schievelbein that year. He said in a statement that it occurred when she was no longer his student, which Schievelbein said is untrue.
The 79-year-old author has declined requests for an interview since the first allegations emerged. Casey wrote in an email to The Washington Post in November that it was “too early and perhaps improper” to comment while the matter is under investigation. He also said he planned to respond “as soon as I have a complete rebuttal.”
Casey’s attorney, Justin Dillon, said the professor denies he sexually harassed or sexually assaulted anyone.
The university said in late November that Casey would step away from teaching and advising duties in the creative writing program while it completes the investigation. U-Va. declined to comment on Schievelbein’s allegation.
Rules on sex between professors and students vary from college to college, complicating the issue for higher education.
In 2013, Stanford officials said, their university became one of the first to explicitly prohibit sexual or romantic relationships between undergraduates and faculty and between graduate students and faculty who oversee their work. In 2015, Harvard announced a ban on sex between faculty and undergraduates.