UI adjusting sanctioned law professor's contact with students

UI adjusting sanctioned law professor's contact with students

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois is making accommodations for students enrolled in two classes taught by a law professor who was recently sanctioned following a sexual-harassment investigation.

The college has created a second section of Jay Kesan's patent-law class, an elective course, that will be taught by Professor Paul Heald, officials said.

So far, three of the 21 law students enrolled in the class have switched to the new section, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Monday.

"In the short term, the goal has been to provide students an option so that if they aren't comfortable in that class, they can complete the course," Kaler said. "College administration is looking at how to move forward in future semesters."

Kesan also co-teaches a digital-forensics class with computer-science lecturer John Bambenek and computer-science Professor Roy Campbell, open to law students and students in CS and other fields.

Officials said the other two professors are handling contact with students.

Bambenek said Kesan is the instructor of record as the law faculty member, available to consult on the curriculum, but he doesn't teach the course and has had no interactions with students.

"I'm the only one who teaches classes," Bambenek said, other than a substitute who stepped in when Bambenek's baby was born. The class has about 40 students.

The adjustments were made over the weekend in response to a letter from the Illinois Student Bar Association demanding that Kesan resign and complaining that he still had contact with students after a campus sexual-harassment investigation.

A 2017 investigative report from the UI's Office of Diversity, Equity and Access, made public at a college forum on the #MeToo movement last week, found that Kesan violated the spirit of UI policies prohibiting sexual harassment and sexual misconduct and violated the UI's code of conduct.

Kesan is also no longer teaching a required civil-procedure course for first-year students that he taught last year.

"While this wasn't part of the formal sanctions, after the findings were released to the college, the leadership team explored options to not have Professor Kesan teach required courses to first-year students," Kaler said.

Bar association President Ashley Kennedy, a third-year law student, said the changes are "steps in the right direction." But she said they hadn't been communicated well to the law school's student body or even to Kesan's students.

"They were not sure if he was even going to be there today, which he was," she said. "He gave a statement saying if you are concerned, please reach out to the administration."

As of Monday, the Student Bar Association's letter had been signed by more than 135 people, including students, faculty, staff members, alumni and community members, she said. It will be presented to college administrators at Wednesday's town hall meeting, where Dean Vikram Amar and other associate deans will be answering questions from students, Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the college has taken the students' concerns to heart. She said the letter drives home the message that "not only should we be bringing attention to these issues, but that the policies on these issues need to change."

The investigation was launched in 2015 following complaints filed by two former UI law professors and a former law student. 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, 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, even if they were studying intellectual-property law, his field of research, the report said.

Kesan denied engaging students or colleagues in a sexual manner and said other friendly gestures may have been misinterpreted, the report said. He also said he may stand too close to people because of his hearing loss.

In a statement last week, Kesan apologized and said it was "never my intent to offend anyone." He said he has been careful to ensure his actions don't cause offense moving forward.

The investigator recommended Kesan undergo sexual-harassment training and professional coaching. He also went without a raise in 2017 and is not eligible for lucrative endowed positions until at least August 2019.

Kennedy said she found out about the investigation "when everybody else found out," at last week's #MeToo symposium, sitting in the front row with other student bar association board members.

The group held an emergency meeting the following day that drew about 70 students, and they decided "overwhelmingly" to call for Kesan's resignation, she said.

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