February 5, 2016

Under the Microscope

The University displayed a lack of concern for students’ well-being when they hired Lieb.

On January 21, molecular biologist Jason Lieb resigned after a University investigation concluded he had violated the University’s sexual misconduct policy. Lieb had been on a leave of absence since the investigation opened in November, after a complaint was filed with the University’s Title IX coordinator that Lieb inappropriately touched and pressured people to drink at an off-campus retreat held at the Eagle Ridge Inn in Galena, IL. While we are glad the University’s Title IX coordinator handled the case effectively and recommended Lieb’s firing, the Maroon Editorial Board is dismayed by the University’s displayed lack of concern for students’ well-being in hiring Lieb, and its handling of the subsequent investigation.

We are alarmed by Lieb’s hiring in light of the inconclusive sexual harassment complaint filed against him before he was hired. Lieb taught at UNC-Chapel Hill from 2002 to 2013, and resigned following a complaint about unwanted physical contact. During his interview process, Lieb told the University that he had engaged in an affair with a grad student in his lab at UNC-Chapel Hill. The University was aware of the complaint and investigated; as a precaution, they had Lieb undergo training before starting his job. Although this shows that the University tried to take some precautions when hiring Lieb, these actions were not enough. Instead, the fact that Lieb’s behavior was concerning enough to require job training alarms us, and seems to indicate that the University was aware of the danger he posed to graduate students.

The University’s public response surrounding Lieb’s resignation is also disconcerting. Sexual misconduct, especially towards women, is a significant problem in the academic scientific community. In hiring Lieb, the University propagated this serious ongoing issue, and the Editorial Board expects nothing less than a full apology from the University for this incident. However, no such statement has been made, even after a New York Times investigation. Furthermore, while the University is not required to report the incident under the Clery Act because the incident did not occur on campus, it occurred on a University-sanctioned retreat and should be acknowledged by the University in official reports of counts of sexual assault on campus.

We are concerned that the University prioritized the reputation of the institution and its research over misgivings about Lieb. Female graduate students face many challenges in their professions, ranging from the huge amount of power professors hold over their grad students and the system of challenges women face in climbing the ranks of STEM fields in academia. We need to be able to trust our administrators to do better, and we implore them to reevaluate these priorities at once. The pursuit of rigorous inquiry should never be an excuse for enabling the mistreatment of women.

—The Maroon Editorial Board

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