His students have called him both a ‘genius’ and a ‘jerk,’ but among a hailstorm of sexual harassment accusations, 43-year-old Jason Lieb, a prominent molecular biologist has stepped down from his position at the University of Chicago this week.
The University of Chicago is also facing heat after it recently came to light that they hired Lieb despite his record of inappropriate conduct with students at his previous positions at Princeton as well as the University of North Carolina.
According to University of Chicago documents, Lieb allegedly committed unwanted sexual acts on a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent”, according to an investigation summary obtained by the New York Times. Most are shocked that that particular accusation hadn’t been bumped up to a rape investigation, given the student’s inability to consent to Lieb’s actions.
There were also several unwanted sexual advances made towards various graduate students, according to the records of the accusations. Despite Lieb’s previous complaints against him involved inappropriate sexual advances towards students at two different universities, the University of Chicago still hired Lieb and kept him on after initial harassment complaints were filed.
Only now that these accusations have been brought to the public view has the professor stepped down from teaching. According to the New York Times’ report:
“Dr. Lieb’s behavior at Chicago became widely known because it took place in part at a crowded party attended by dozens of graduate students and several faculty members. As students returned to campus from the resort in Galena, Ill., where the retreat was held, faculty and staff received multiple harassment complaints that universities are obligated to investigate under the federal law that guarantees all students equal access to education.
Many of the graduate students at the party would have been candidates to work in Dr. Lieb’s laboratory; some already had.”
Rep. Jackie Speiers, who has been lobbying for professors’ past sexual harassment investigations to be disclosed by universities for safety purposes, has expressed frustration at professors accused of sexual harassment ability to simply avoid investigations by relocating to other schools.
In a statement made last month, Speiers said, “Some universities protect predatory professors with slaps on the wrist and secrecy, just like the Catholic Church sheltered child-molesting priests for many decades. Students enter astronomy to study the stars, not the professor’s sex life.”
Lieb had been granted millions of dollars in federal grants over the last ten years, but received mixed reviews from his past students on RateMyProfessor.com, where students can anonymously assess their instructor’s performance for other students to read.
This is the most recent incident of a university refusing to pursue or disclose details of sexual harassment allegations for fear of public scandal and loss of funding. The University of California, Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology have both come under fire recently for failing to publicly acknowledge their own revelations that a respected male scientist on each faculty had harassed female students.
It was only until the details of these findings were found and released by the media that the universities acknowledged the abuse. A third case at the University of Arizona was reportedly only discovered due to a bureaucratic error that accidentally leaked the charges. More backlash against professors with sexual harassment and abuse on their records and the university’s who hide the claims is expected to follow.