UI Student Bar Association calls on sanctioned professor to resign

UI Student Bar Association calls on sanctioned professor to resign

CHAMPAIGN — A student group at the University of Illinois College of Law is demanding the resignation of Professor Jay Kesan, who was recently sanctioned following a sexual-harassment investigation.

The University of Illinois Student Bar Association has also organized a town hall next week for administrators to answer questions about the issue, according to letters posted Friday from the student group and law school Dean Vikram Amar.

A 2017 investigative report from the UI's Office of Diversity, Equity and Access, made public this week, found that Kesan violated the spirit of UI policies prohibiting sexual harassment and sexual misconduct and violated the more general University's Code of Conduct.

The investigation was launched in 2015 following complaints filed by two former UI law professors, who are now teaching elsewhere, and a former law student now working in Chicago.

The three women accused Kesan of talking with them during professional interactions about his sex life and views on adultery, inquiring about their sex lives, making veiled references to masturbation, inviting them to stay at his apartment in Chicago, rubbing one student's thigh during a meeting in his office and failing to respect their personal space, according to the report.

The investigator also interviewed 38 anonymous witnesses — including current and former students and faculty members — many of whom reported similar behaviors dating back years, according to the report. In some cases, students dropped out of his class or avoided interacting with him, the report said.

The investigator concluded that Kesan created an uncomfortable work environment for women in the law school.

"Professor Kesan has compromised the sacred trust between students and faculty. If a student is afraid to take a class due to fear of sexual harassment by the professor, then that faculty member is no longer a legitimate or effective member of our University community," the student bar association's letter said. "Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated at any level.

"(W)e, along with many members in our community, are shocked, angered, and disappointed not only by Professor Kesan's horrible behavior but also by the muted response of the University Administration," the letter said.

The law school followed most of the investigator's recommendations, requiring Kesan to undergo sexual-harassment training and professional coaching; requiring training for all law faculty and staff, and providing more information about how to report sexual misconduct in orientation programs.

The law school also excluded Kesan from consideration for an endowed professorship until at least August 2019, and only if no additional acts come to light, according to an October 2017 letter from Amar. Kesan also went without a raise in 2017, though he received a 1 percent raise this year. Future violations would result in more severe penalties, potentially including the loss of tenure or employment, the letter said.

A copy of the investigative report is also in Kesan's personnel file, for consideration in future promotion decisions, though initially the law school included only a record of the discussions with Kesan about the incident at the direction of campus lawyers.

Kesan, director of the Program in Intellectual Property and Technology Law, remains a tenured faculty member and continues to teach elective classes. He has been a UI law professor for 20 years.

In a statement this week, Kesan apologized for his conduct and said it was "never my intent to offend anyone." He said he's been careful to make sure that his words and deeds don't cause offense moving forward.

The report said Kesan "denied engaging any colleague or student in a sexual manner," and said other friendly gestures such as hugs, reassuring pats or invitations to male and female colleagues to use his Chicago apartment may have been misinterpreted. He also said he may stand too close to people because of his hearing loss.

The investigation concluded Kesan's conduct was not sufficiently "pervasive" to violate the letter of the sexual misconduct policy.

The student bar association's letter said that that conclusion "serves to illustrate the inadequacy of the standard. When policies fail us, we must change the policies."

"As elected representatives of the Illinois College of Law, it is our duty to hold faculty, the Illinois College of Law, and the University Administration accountable. These institutions must be held to task when they fail the students they exist to serve," the letter said.

Amar sent his letter Friday to alumni and friends of the law school, reassuring them that the college was taking the matter seriously. Amar said he and other administrators are constrained from saying much about the allegations, findings and sanctions because it's a personnel issue.

"I appreciate that these limitations can be frustrating, and that many of you may be disappointed in the ultimate disposition of the University's investigation. But please know the College takes these matters seriously. Misconduct, intentional or not, that threatens educational access, opportunities, and equality is not acceptable," Amar wrote, noting the severe penalties Kesan will face if any behavior recurs.

Amar said the college "actively encourages conversation on matters of campus climate and equity," citing next week's meeting and a recent forum on the #MeToo movement in academia.

"Our goal is to maintain a learning and working environment that is safe, comfortable and fair for all students, staff, and faculty," Amar said.

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