The Student Bar Association at the University of Illinois College of Law is demanding the immediate resignation of a professor who a university investigation found had acted inappropriately with students prior to 2015, but who was not deemed in violation of the campus sexual misconduct rules.
The student group on Oct. 19 sent a letter calling for Jay Kesan to resign, stating that its leaders and other members of the law school community are “shocked, angered, and disappointed not only by Professor Kesan’s horrible behavior but also by the muted response of the iniversity administration.”
The university began investigating Kesan in 2015 after three women lodged complaints against him. The resulting 2017 report found that Kesan had crossed boundaries with female students and other faculty by being overly friendly, asking personal questions, and touching them inappropriately. The report came to light last week after Northern Illinois’ NPR affiliate WNIJ obtained the investigation report through an open records request.
Among the allegations against Kesan:
- A female student reported to investigators that he rubbed her thigh.
- A faculty member said Kesan asked invasive questions about her sexual life and made comments about his.
- A female student told investigators that Kesan invited her to stay at his Chicago apartment.
Kesan denied acting in a sexually inappropriate manner with students and fellow faculty, but told investigators he had been accused of sexual harassment twice before, one occasion was a decade ago, according to the report, which didn’t identify where the accusation occurred. (He did not respond to requests for comment Monday, but he did issue an apology to the NPR affiliate saying he never intended to offend anyone.)
The university’s Office of Diversity, Equality, and Access ultimately concluded that Kesan’s behavior violated the campus code of conduct, but was not egregious enough to run afoul of its specific sexual harassment and misconduct policy.
“Collectively, witnesses portrayed Professor Kesan as someone who at times was overly friendly, verbose, and does not edit his thoughts before speaking,” the 2017 report reads. “He tends to stand close to others when speaking with them, is oblivious to normal social cues (such as when someone is uncomfortable or in need of more personal space), and tests the boundaries of what is appropriate contact and communication, but makes it a point to never blatantly cross the line.”
But Student Bar Association argues that distinction should not protect his job.
“Professor Kesan has compromised the sacred trust between students and faculty,” the letter reads. “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. Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated at any level.”
As a result of the investigation, Kesan was required by the law school to undergo sexual harassment training. A university spokesman also told WNIJ that students in Kesan’s patent law class will have the option to switch to a different professor for the remainder of the semester, and that administrators are weighing whether or not he will teach any mandatory courses in the future.
Law Dean Vikram Amar declined to comment on whether Kesan should remain on the faculty, during an interview Monday. But he said he’s heartened by the students’ response.
“I’m proud of my students, who are raising these important questions of access and equity,” Amar said. “I’m especially proud that they are focused on the need for institutions to change the way they do things.”
Change at the university level requires more than the will of administrators, he added. Faculty also need to buy into new procedures to investigate and punish misconduct.
The law school has scheduled a town hall on Wednesday to discuss the matter. Amar said he hopes students leave that event with a better understanding of the misconduct procedures now in place, the constraints that exist, and how the process can be improved.
“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,” reads the Student Bar Association’s letter. “These institutions must be held to task when they fail the students they exist to serve.”