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Academia faces #MeToo movement about sexual harassment

WASHINGTON – WASHINGTON — When Celeste Kidd was a graduate student of neuroscience at the University of Rochester, she says, professor of supervision on her made her life unbearable by stalking her, making degrading comments about her weight and talking about sex.

Ten years on and now a professor in neuroscience at the university, Kidd is taking legal steps. She has filed a federal lawsuit against the school with the assertion that it is wrong of her sexual harassment investigation of the professor’s actions, and then revenge against her and her colleagues for reporting the misconduct.

“We are trying to bring transparency to a system that is corrupt,” Kidd told The Associated Press.

Academia — such as Hollywood, the media, and Congress is faced with his own #MeToo motion over allegations of sexual misconduct. Brett Sokolow, who is the head of an association of sexual harassment of researchers on the campuses, estimates that the number of reported complaints has increased by about 10 percent since the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein turned up in the beginning of October, and induces more women to speak out against intimidation in the various fields. The increase is mainly women complaining about harassment by teachers, who are their superiors.

But the Trump administration has seen the problem of sexual harassment on the campus in a different light. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has demolished Obama-era regulations on the investigation of sexual assault, arguing that they are skewed in favor of the plaintiff. New instructions to universities require higher standards of evidence in the treatment of such complaints.

A soon to be released study of almost 300 of such cases in the Utah Law has found that one in 10 female graduate students to the large universities, reports being harassed by a member of the faculty. And in more than half of the cases, the alleged perpetrator is a repeat offender, according to the study.

“Often schools are turning a blind eye to sexual harassment that they know or have heard, because a professor to bring in a large grant, or to add to the stature of the university,” said Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.

The Department of Education has not responded to a request for comment.

Activists say that young women pursuing graduate studies are particularly vulnerable to sexual misconduct, because they are highly dependent on their academic advisor of their degrees, to further research in their field and get recommendations for future jobs. The reporting of misconduct could jeopardize an academic career. And in addition to the damage the women’s mental health and well-being, sexual harassment can hunt a number of them from the academic world at all.

“Often, professors who are advising students the students’ gateway to the degree to achieve their career prospects,” said Anne Hedgepeth American Association of University Women. “That is a tremendous amount of power that a professor. It is also an enormous amount of risk the students to come forward if the prospects for the future are on the line.”

That is the essence of what happened with Kidd, according to the lawsuit.

Kidd says Florian Jaeger, a distinguished professor of linguistics at New York university’s cognitive sciences department, who was one of her academic advisors in 2007, pressured her to rent a room in his apartment for a year. She says that he constantly intruded into her private life, dulled her and talked with her about oral sex and other sexually explicit topics.

“I begged him to stop and to advise me professionally, and he said that that was impossible, that was not his mentoring style,” Kidd said in a telephone interview. “There were a lot of moments where I went to sleep in the lab and I wondered what I had done to deserve the hell I lived in every day.”

If Kidd protested, Jaeger made it understood that he could derail her career.

“He had a lot of control over my life, he had the ears of everyone in the field,” she recalled. “He reminded me constantly that they know him, that he a big shot and that I was not.”

In the end, Kidd moved from Jaeger’s apartment and the abandonment of research into language, so that they would not have to be accompanied by Jaeger. She is now studies of attention and general learning.

Last year, two professors at the department, who Kidd eventually entrusted, submitted a sexual harassment complaint. The university investigated, but found the allegations substantiated. The professors say that the university began a retaliation campaign against them. In August, Kidd together with a group of teachers filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency in charge of workplace discrimination problems. In December, Kidd and her colleagues filed a federal lawsuit.

The university responded by placing Jaeger, now a tenured professor on administrative leave and commissioning of an independent investigation. Results are expected in the beginning of January.

University President Joel Seligman said in a statement that the school aims to create a safe and respectful environment, but promised to “vigorously defend” themselves and the university provost for a number of personal claims made against them in the suit.

Jaeger did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. But shortly after the case was made public this autumn, he emailed his students to say that some of the online comments about him were painful to read, “I am pleased that there is now generally so much support for people who stand up against discrimination.” Jaeger added that he has always tried to make his lab an exciting, sa(f)e and supportive place to pursue science,” and that he has received letters of support from former students.

As universities face pressure to reconsider their sexual misconduct policies, activists suggest several possible solutions: spelling what the interaction is the case between the faculty and the students; more transparency in the reporting and investigation of complaints; more women in senior leadership positions in the academic world; the creation of a student career less dependent on only one professor.

“There is really no excuse for not addressing this,” Chaudhry at the National Women’s Law Center said.

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Follow Maria Danilova on Twitter https://twitter.com/m_education_ap

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