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UR committed to Mary Jo White, independent investigation of EEOC complaints

Oct 11, 2017

Credit rochester.edu

The University of Rochester is solidifying its commitment to Mary Jo White, the attorney chosen to conduct the independent investigation into an EEOC complaint against UR professor Florian Jaeger.

A three page statement details that White’s investigation will cover everything outlined in the EEOC complaint: the allegations against Jaeger, the University’s response to those allegations including previous investigations, the allegations of retaliation by the University as well as the university’s policies and procedures involving sexual harassment or sexual misconduct.

The document goes on to say that White is “entirely independent of the University, the Administration and the Board of Trustees, the complainants and the defendants.”

White will not share with the Special Committee any factual findings until the investigation has been completed, but will provide the committee with weekly updates on the investigation’s progress.

White’s team has also advised witnesses who have come forward and who wish to remain anonymous will not be identified by name in the public report.

The University confirms that White and her firm have not defended and will not defend the University of Rochester in the EEOC complaint or any related issues. Apart from knowing UR President Joel Seligman, who “recalls having shaken hands with her at two public events in the past,” the letter says White has no relationship with him or any of the parties involved in this matter.  

The Special Committee notes that it has received a letter from the EEOC complainants declining to participate in the investigation, and hopes that they will “reconsider and cooperate with the investigation.”

It was also announced that a UR faculty member and graduate student will be joining the committee. Jean Bidlack is a Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, as well as a member of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate.

Kolja Keller is a fifth year PhD student in Philosophy.

The Faculty Senate selected Bidlack following a vote. The Faculty Senate Executive Committee selected four faculty members from a pool of 50 nominations. Keller was selected by the University’s Graduate Student Association from a group of seven graduate students who volunteered to serve on the Special Committee.

The complainants drafted an open letter to the UR community in response to the independent investigation statement saying "We endorse this goal and want to cooperate. The Special Committee’s claim that we have declined to participate is false."

They go on to point out that they cannot help the University's lawyers in their private investigation while "they are still working to defeat us in court." One of the complainants Celeste Kidd says she was surprised by what she read in the statement, especially a part citing that the individuals filing the complaint declined to participate.

Kidd said the specifics of the investigation would help them decide if they were willing to participate, such as whether White's team would be making recommendations or just reporting what they find to have happened. Kidd said until now, those guidelines have been quite vague.

"That doesn't make sense to me. But also that's offensive to the witnesses that already went through an investigation with the University and got burned and are reasonably weary about entering into that same kind of situation where they hold all the cards again."

In regards to witness statements, the letter says many who provided information feel they are in "an impossible situation" or are afraid to identify themselves to UR. But they are also concerned if they don't come forward "UR will assume we [complainants] made them up."

The witnesses say reliving their experiences by giving testimonies is difficult and sometimes traumatic, and don't see "great value in rehearsing matters just for Ms. White's lawyers" if they will have to testify in court anyway.

Unless the claims are resolved the complainants say the committee's approach is like "organizing a big wedding, but deciding to exclude the bride and groom" and that if they are kept away from the investigation into the complaints they raised, wonder how the final report will be as strong as it can be.

Kidd says she hopes people look at the university's statement with the perspective of someone who is reporting these allegations.

"I would encourage you to read that statement but imagine you were a witness who shared a bunch of humiliating details about your past. Not because you yourself hope to gain anything from it, but because you were concerned about future generations of students."

She said that no one has reached out to witnesses about handing the case over to an outside party.