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U of R accused of shoddy investigation into professor

Dr. Florian Jaeger is the subject of a harassment complaint filed by University of Rochester  students and faculty in 2016.  They now have filed a federal complaint accusing the university of a shoddy investigation and retaliation. (Photo: University of Rochester)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - A federal complaint accuses a University of Rochester professor of pressuring students to share drugs, sex and hot tub parties. It also accuses the school of a shoddy investigation once the allegations first came to light in 2016.

"What is wrong with the university that thinks this behavior doesn't violate any of its rules?" said Dr. Elissa Newport, who was a former chairman who filed the EEOC complaint.

Another former chairman involved with the complaint tells 13WHAM's Jane Flasch he personally met with University President Joel Seligman and resigned when action was not taken. Dr. Richard Aslin calls the decision "morally corrupt" and says he resigned as a result. Now he's asking a federal agency to investigate.

The Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department is widely respected for research and discoveries made there. Recently, it used marshmallows to help measure the self-control of pre-schoolers. In March 2016, Dr. Celeste Kidd - a doctoral student and junior professor involved with that research - came forward with allegations she was continually harassed and even stalked by Dr. Florian Jaeger, another professor in the program. Those allegations were later laid out in a Mother Jones article.

Since then, 11 students and faculty members have given sworn depositions accusing Jaeger of having sexual relations with students, including allegations of unprotected sex and using his position to coerce them. It's alleged he sent photos of his genitalia to one student and held hot tub parties at a location in the Adirondacks involving illegal drugs. One student was hospitalized after an overdose.

"It's quite lurid, because it's detailed and concrete and the behavior he exhibited was quite extreme and objectionable," said Dr. Newport.

She had already left Rochester for another job, but became involved in the investigation after talking to her former students. Dr. Richard Aslin, who was the chairman at the time, filed the complaint on behalf of students and faculty. He said the investigation that followed was conducted over a mere two weeks.

Dr. Aslin said the results were shallow and flawed. "It was looking at each individual instance of behavior and asking whether that exceeded a threshold of a violation, rather than looking at the overall pattern of behavior across many years and individuals," he said.

He said that's when he and a colleague took their concerns directly to President Seligman, meeting in his office.

"He said it would take a couple of weeks. We waited and waited, and we did not get a reply," recalled Dr. Aslin.

"He got a little tear in his eye and said, 'Oh my goodness, what if my daughter had been a student? I'll look into this,'" said Dr. Newport. "And he never answered them again."

In a statement, President Seligman said the complaints were "Investigated, appealed and found to be unsubstantiated. We are confident of the integrity of our investigations, and we stand by our findings."

Dr. Jaeger is currently away at a conference. His website says he is available only by e-mail. He did not respond to am inquiry by 13WHAM News.

Dr. Aslin resigned his position. "I take issue with what he is saying. I think it's factually incorrect and tone deaf about the seriousness of the situation," he said.

The federal agency must now decide whether to launch a new investigation. The university says it will respond to the complaint. President Seligman called the allegations, "horrifying" and noted they will lead to distress and outrage, but urged everyone to remember these are, "unproven despite two thorough investigations."

In the midst of the first of those investigations, Dr. Jaeger was promoted, while those who brought forth the complaint say they had their e-mails hacked by university and faced other retaliation.

"We're completely puzzled," said Dr. Newport. "Why have they decided to protect the harasser and go after those who filed the complaint?"

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