We've previously noted the pervasiveness of sexual harassment against women in the sciences, especially in academic settings. Now a prominent scientist at the University of Chicago has resigned after allegations that he exposed himself and engaged in other inappropriate sexual behavior. In keeping with the culture of downplaying sexual harassment in higher education, this biology researcher had a history of inappropriate behavior in his prior positions with other universities.
Jason Lieb, 43, was a professor and molecular biologist at the University of Chicago. After the university issued a recommendation that he be fired for violating sexual misconduct policies, he decided to resign. According to an article in the New York Times, Lieb made sexual advances to a number of female graduate students during an off-campus retreat at a resort in Galena, Illinois.
A number of people became aware of Lieb's inappropriate sexual activity, much of which took place during a crowded event with dozens of students and faculty members in attendance. After returning to the university, staff and officials received multiple complaints of harassment. One of the allegations included a claim that Lieb was involved in sexual activity with a female student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent.”
Many of the other people who witnessed the sexual misconduct would have been graduate candidates to work under Dr. Lieb in his laboratory. After an investigation into the incident, the assistant provost and director of the office for equal opportunity programs, Sara Wake, recommended the University of Chicago terminate Professor Lieb's academic appointment. Shortly after, Lieb resigned.
A recent editorial in the science journal Nature, titled “Harassment Victims Deserve Better,” notes that the extent of sexual harassment in the sciences and universities is unknown, in part because universities are not being transparent, leaving it to victims and journalists to bring the issues to light. This is especially problematic in an environment where women account for only one-quarter of senior faculty jobs in science departments.
While some are lauding the efforts of university officials for investigating this case and recommending termination, others question whether the school should have brought Lieb on in the first place. The University of Chicago had been put on alert that Lieb may have been involved in misconduct in the past. Anonymous emails to molecular biologist faculty indicated Dr. Lieb had been involved in sexual harassment complaints in his previous positions at Princeton University, and the University of North Carolina.
Faculty at Chicago knew Dr. Lieb had left Princeton after only a short 7-month stint, but when they contacted his previous workplace, Princeton said that there had been no sexual harassment investigation. The hiring committee at Chicago reviewed his file and found no red flags.
If you or a family member has been harassed by a supervisor or professor, it is important to speak out so that this type of behavior doesn't go on and potentially harm others. Speak with an experienced sexual harassment attorney who understands your rights, and will stop the harassment, and fight to protect your job, your position, and your reputation. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients and their families the justice they deserve.