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University of Rochester president resigns after investigation finds inappropriate behavior

University of Rochester

Joel Seligman has resigned as president and CEO of the University of Rochester, effective February 28, 2018. His resignation comes hours after an independent investigation found that while there was no evidence of a hostile work environment in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department, there was inappropriate behavior by Professor Florian Jaeger.

In a statement, the university says that Seligman notified the Board of Trustees of his decision before the Board, the Special Committee or he had received The Report of the Independent Investigation. An interim president will be named in the near future, and a search will soon begin for Seligman’s replacement.

In a statement sent to the university community obtained by WXXI News, Seligman wrote:

“It has been the greatest honor of my life to have served the University of Rochester for the last twelve and a half years. I am grateful to everyone who has served with me and am proud of the progress we have made together. I have worked tirelessly on the University’s behalf, motivated by a single overriding criterion: What is in the best interest of the University of Rochester?

It is clear to me that the best interests of the University are best served with new leadership, and a fresh perspective to focus on healing our campus and moving us forward in a spirit of cooperation and unity. I will look forward to working with the interim President when that person is named, and with a permanent President, once that person is identified after a search process.”

Seligman says that the university “needs a period of healing.”  He also says that after a sabbatical year, he looks forward to returning as a professor.

A letter from Board of Trustees Chairman Danny Wegman thanks Seligman for “your extraordinary accomplishments,”  and says the fact Seligman is resigning is an example of his commitment to the university.

The statement released by the university calls Seligman, “a brilliant, transformative leader…who will long be remembered for substantially expanding academic programs, broadening student and faculty diversity, strengthening the university’s finances and increasing enrollment.

Reflecting on his work with Seligman, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy wrote:

“I applaud Joel Seligman for making the courageous decision today to put the University of Rochester and the community first.  In the various capacities that I have served in Rochester and Albany, I can say emphatically that no leader of the University of Rochester has done more for the community than Joel Seligman.  He has broken down walls and created outreach opportunities from education to economic development, impacting almost every area of the fabric of life in the City of Rochester.  Joel has been a friend and a colleague for many years.  President Seligman has had a profound effect on our local and regional economy as the leader of our largest employer and formerly as co-chair of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.   I wish him and the U of R the best as they move forward.  I have full confidence in the University of Rochester Board of Trustees as it works to find the university’s next leader.  Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce stands ready to assist that process in any way it can.”

In reaction to the news, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said in an emailed statement:

"Today’s announcement by the University of Rochester is a positive step forward toward establishing a culture at this important local institution that fosters openness in an environment of respect. I wish President Seligman well in his retirement and look forward to working with the new leadership at the University."

Two students who were active in calling for reform in the way the University of Rochester handled the sexual harassment allegations against Jaeger spoke to WXXI about their reaction to the just-released report.

Lindsay Wrobel  felt so strong about the issue that at one point last year, she went on a hunger strike. She feels the report released Thursday doesn’t take the complaints of those who made the accusations seriously.

“The onus of the department’s environment lies on the person who harassed his colleagues not on those who were harassed and had the gall to come forward.”  Wrobel also said that, “the objective of this was to vindicate the university and was not to elevate the voices of the most vulnerable population which is the graduate students and the undergraduate students and the members of the community at the U of R.”

Jenna Register is a student and a lab manager in the same department Jaeger worked.  She doesn’t see the report released by Mary Jo White as having a lot of positive impact at this point.

“I think they are left with maybe a slap on the wrist on the department and then a, ‘now what?’  We  are still, as they like to say, ‘fractured,’ and there is still this turmoil and professors are still leaving and there’s still this broken policy; all of these things are still there, plus a slap on the wrist.”

Register and Wrobel are among those who have scheduled a protest at the U of R campus January 19 at 1:00 p.m.

Seligman was named the tenth president of the University of Rochester in July 2005. Seligman oversaw growth at the university including the Golisano Children’s Hospital in 2015. During his time as president, Seligman also served on the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. 

In August, UR was mired in controversy when allegations of sexual harassment were filed against UR and Professor Jaeger with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Two former professors leading the complaint wrote a letter to the UR Board of Trustees claiming the university failed to act appropriately against Jaeger who they say engaged in sexual harassment and created a hostile environment for graduate students. The complaint accused UR for retaliating against those who pursued a complaint through university channels.

Last week, Joseph Irrera, a former student at Eastman School of Music (ESM) spoke about his lawsuit against the university and the chair of the piano department, Douglas Humpherys.  Irrera says Humpherys made sexual advances toward him while a student at Eastman, and when those were rejected, Humpherys retaliated with a failing grade, even though in 27 years of playing the piano, Irrera never failed a recital. The case is still being played out in court.

A lawyer by trade, Seligman was at the Washington University School of Law before coming to UR.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.
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