College Concludes Professor Misconduct Investigation

In late October, President Hanlon sent out a campus-wide email informing the Dartmouth community that three faculty members (later revealed to be Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen and William Kelley) were under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct. The announcement came on the heels of the accusations of fifteen students who told the The Dartmouththat the three men, who were in the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences (PBS), created “hostile academic environment in which sexual harassment is normalized.” It was almost 8 months until the administration’s next update on the investigation, consistent with the swiftness we have come to expect from President Hanlon.

baker-895032_960_720On June 14, President Hanlon informed the student body that Heatherton had retired following the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Elizabeth Smith’s, recommendation that his tenure be revoked, and he be fired. On June 26, Whalen resigned under similar circumstances and on July 17, we were told that Kelley had also resigned after Dean Smith’s recommendation that his employment be terminated, and that Dartmouth’s internal investigation was concluded. Other than the fact that the College used an external investigator, no information about the investigation has been released to the anxious students, many of whom fear that sexual harassment has been normalized in certain areas of the College. Again, this only confirms what we already knew about President Hanlon’s regard for the undergraduate population.

It must be noted that the Attorney General of New Hampshire is conducting a separate legal investigation with which the administration tells us they are cooperating. If the College recommended termination of employment because they found that the allegations against the accused were credible, one hopes that they have shared their evidence with the State of New Hampshire to help them charge the alleged perpetrators as quickly as possible. There is no reason not to since the administration clearly doesn’t care about separating the College from the authorities, evident by the fact that it did everything it couldto help the police punish an underage student whose only crime was consuming a few drinks off-campus, only a few years ago. If they have, in fact, given the police all the evidence they have, it is only natural to ask what continues to preclude them from charging the former Professors. We can only hypothesize as to the nature of the evidence the College possesses since they refuse to release any of it to the public.

Even if it is true that Dartmouth is doing everything it can to help the State, it might not very be useful since Mr. Heatherton’s attorney claims that the investigation against her client concern an out-of-state matter when he was on sabbatical, during which time he met with students with the knowledge and approval of the College. This is made worse by the fact that Heatherton was credibly accused of sexual assault as far back as 2002. A female student allegedthat Heatherton had touched her breasts during a recruitment event “while stating that she was not doing very well in her work.” Heatherton’s attorney said that Dartmouth had investigated the incident and found that “it was not a sexual touching at all.” In addition, Simine Vazire, now a tenured professor at UC Davis, alleges that Prof. Heatherton “squeezed her butt” during a conference at a hotel in Savannah, Georgia in 2002. Heatherton, expectedly, claims to not remember the incident, adding “… if I touched her as she described, all I can say is that I am profoundly sorry.” Looking at his non-denial, we must wonder whether squeezingsomeone’s butt is something Todd Heatherton does so often that it isn’t even a memorable event.

Finally, it would be remiss of me to not point out the impact that Dartmouth’s handling of this incident has on campus culture. While Mr. Heatherton’s history of sexual harassment is well-documented, not much is known about Whalen and Kelley. Few at Dartmouth want to impugn the administration’s integrity, but their lack of transparency has left the student body with no alternatives. Over a third of undergraduate women claim to have beensexual harassed/assaulted. This has caused some students to see a Ted Bundy around every corner, and others to see a “mattress girl” on every bed. Students who believe that sexual assault is normalized on campus will assume that the withholding of information is indicative of a larger phenomenon of suppressing evidence against rapists, whereas students who believe that sexual assault is an over-hyped issue will assume that the administration had no evidence at all and forced the Professors out anyway because of their misplaced faith in all alleged victims. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it almost certainly won’t matter to many undergraduates. If the administration wants our trust, perhaps they should tell us why they deserve it.