Professor at center of misconduct complaint apologizes

The University of Rochester professor at the center of a sexual misconduct complaint that divided a prominent department and led the university president to resign apologized Friday to his students and colleagues for the distress and disruption it has caused.

In a statement , Professor T. Florian Jaeger said he could have shown more maturity when he arrived as a 31-year-old faculty member in 2007 and over time has improved.

Jaeger's statement followed a special committee's report Thursday supporting the university's finding that Jaeger had not violated policy or law, while calling his behavior — including intimate relationships with students — unprofessional and offensive.

The university's handling of complaints against Jaeger has sparked protests, calls for President Joel Seligman's resignation, an alumni petition demanding a written apology and a letter signed by 400 faculty members at other schools saying they would steer their students away from the University of Rochester.

Two professors who brought the claims were included among the "silence breakers" named as Time magazine's 2017 persons of the year.

Seligman announced Thursday that he will resign next month, saying a new leader is needed to focus on healing the campus.

Jaeger said he had no experience leading a lab when he arrived at the private university's Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department and sought to create an environment in which students would build "close connections with their fellow students and me."

"It took time, however, for me to realize that the power dynamics and cultural differences posed some problems," he said. "For example, some were not comfortable speaking up or receiving frank feedback. Others were upset because I socialized with students (many of whom were around my age). In hindsight, I wish I had recognized earlier how my behavior affected some of my students and faculty colleagues."

Eight faculty members and a graduate student last year filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the university mishandled complaints against Jaeger and retaliated against them for bringing the professor's behavior to light.

The group followed up with a federal lawsuit last month, accusing the university of retaliation and breach of contract and saying it has deflected and concealed problems of sexual harassment. The suit is pending.

Jaeger, now on administrative leave, did not address his employment plans in his statement but said the relationships that have been damaged are "worth rebuilding."

The complainants said they took their action in support of students and were not to blame for the damage.

"The actions by the administration and Florian are what ripped the department and our community apart," complainant Steven Piantadosi said. "What caused the rift was the rabid defense of the indefensible behavior of Florian Jaeger."

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