Jason Lieb is now publicly exposed as a sexual predator

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After other institutions ignored Jason Lieb’s pattern of sexual misconduct, the University of Chicago put an end to this pattern of “kicking the can down the road. From The Millenium Report

The New York Times’ Amy Harmon’s article this morning made public the dismissal….er resignation of Jason Lieb from the University of Chicago. This is big news. A full Professor at an elite university is gone because of sexual misconduct. How often does this happen? Not clear (because it is typically hushed up as much as possible) but not tremendously often. How often is such a happening made public? Almost never.

UChicago has been my home for nearly a quarter of a century and I love her. I am also a woman and a person. So I have feelings which I will share here.

The buck stops with the University of Chicago

There is good and bad in this story. First the good. The good is that after Princeton and University of North Carolina appear to have kicked the can down the road, the University of Chicago put an end to the charade that Jason Lieb is an innocent victim of baseless accusations. The University of Chicago received a complaint, took immediate and appropriate action including affording Mr Lieb due process and came out with a conclusion. Mr Lieb violated the University’s sexual misconduct policy. This is now a matter of public record and any university that chooses to employ Mr Lieb, I am hoping this is unlikely, cannot plead ignorance.

There were rumors that Mr Lieb had left one or both of his previous institutions due to sexual misconduct. Yet, that is all that they were – rumors, hearsay. I know this because a colleague of mine told me about this case about a month ago, after Mr Lieb, in the words of Ms Harmon, “engaged in sexual activity with a student who was ‘incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent.'” This abomination occurred at a scientific retreat that constitutes part of the academic training of students. After hearing this story, I seethed with smoky, dark anger. I immediately went back to my office and used all manner of search gimmicks that I could think of to try to find something on Mr Lieb’s past deeds. I hoped for a student blog, a campus newspaper article, a Facebook slam, anything. I could not find a thing. And so, ammunition-poor that I was, I did nothing.

Having talented smart administrators pays off

Luckily, there were numerous individuals from the retreat who came forward to document, in a single consistent voice, Mr Lieb’s latest hateful acts. And thankfully, Sarah Wake, the University of Chicago’s very impressive new director of equal opportunity programs and Title IX compliance, was there to listen to those complaints. Ms Wake performed a thorough and fair investigation, and ultimately made the recommendation to dismiss Mr Lieb. From complaint to recommendation was short, under the required 60 days and I think closer to one month. In sum, the University of Chicago shined in performing its legal and ethical responsibilities to those on our campus and to the academy at large. I credit Ms Wake in particular and the university administration in general for this accomplishment.

Why was Mr Lieb hired to begin with?

Now there is a bad part to this story, even beyond Mr Lieb’s hateful and harmful actions. Why was Mr Lieb ever hired by the University of Chicago to begin with?  While this was obviously a mistake in hindsight, it is instructive to take ourselves back in time to the point when the hiring decision was made. Critically, the main thing available to the search committee was hearsay. Accusations can be baseless, appearances can be misleading, and everyone is entitled to due process. And I believe that is the tact that the search committee took, and I believe that this decision is defensible.

What is entirely regrettable and less excusable is that the hiring decision ignored at least one important piece of information. The search committee was aware that Dr. Lieb had admitted to “a months long affair with a graduate student in his laboratory at the University of North Carolina.” (from Ms Harmon’s article). This is an enormous red flag and should have thrown a big old wrench into the works. As quoted by Ms Harmon, Professor Joe Thornton, a member of the hiring department, said, beyond the “legal standard, …we should be capable of making more nuanced judgments about the environment we’re creating for human beings that are doing and learning science.” Professor Thornton is right. Sadly, the department ultimately chose to ignore the writing on the wall and hired Mr Lieb.

In the end, and admittedly greatly aided by hindsight, I think that the Department of Human Genetics’s decision to hire Mr Lieb was a mistake. Character matters. I sincerely hope and believe, lesson learned.

 

 

 

31 Comments »

  1. “Accusations can be baseless, appearances can be misleading, and everyone is entitled to due process. And I believe that is the tact that the search committee took, and I believe that this decision is defensible.”

    Like Prof. Thornton, I’m not sure the traditional standard of “due process” is relevant here. Search committees do not decide whether to imprison candidates; they’re deciding whether to offer them jobs. Search committees make judgments about candidates’ research potential that are filled with speculation and uncertainty. It is not reasonable to hold uncertainties about character to a dramatically higher standard of evidence. In this case, as you note, there was at least one enormous red flag… effectively an admission of violating UNC’s sexual harassment policy at the time.

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  2. I am not all that impressed with the U of C, quite the opposite. Isn’t having a sexual relationship with your student a violation of sexual misconduct policy? The fact that he was hired in the first place is a disgrace. It is good that the U of C encouraged him to resign, but that’s probably because he went further or there was more evidence than in the cases at UNC and Princeton. I know of at least one case during my time at the U of C where a faculty member who made advances on women in his lab was encouraged to leave, and he just went ahead and joined a different university, without anything appearing in his file (there was no official complaint).

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  3. Thank you to Sarah Wake for breaking this cycle. Thank you UofC for letting this go public. Lieb’s disgraceful face and story are plastered everywhere. He won’t be able to get a job on this continent ever again. He won’t be able to prey on grad students ever again.

    However, we need to think about all of the many other offenders that have been silently dismissed only to go on to other institutions to repeat their predatory behaviors. I can think of a handful of dirty secrets that the Provost’s office has brushed under the rug. Incidents of misconduct need to be made available if they are investigated properly and found to be credible.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think the correct way to write will be “Dr.” and not Mr. Lieb.
    If his PhD was revoked, do you have a reference for that? I bet you don’t.

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  5. Peggy- I am sure you and your Department must be very effected by this disclosure- and yes kudos to the brave new OEO/Title IX administrator who was ot afraid to speak truth to power and thank goodness she was listened to and respected for her findings.

    I am constantly amazed in academia- the one place where you might think ethical standards would be higher, where principles would be grounded and actions based on truthfulness- that problems such as sexual and ethical violations as well as downright incompetence are often covered up or “dealt with in the dark”.

    Speaking from Boston where the film Spotlight originated, I am always amazed that the two institutions one would think one could trust for dealing with problems in the most ethical of ways often choose the “geographical cure” rather than lose face or deal with messy human violations in the light of day.
    So you should be proud of U of C today and I am as well.
    Mary Byrne

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  6. Jason Lieb was doing this sort of thing forever….I am aware of a graduate student at the University of Toronto that was another of his victims while attending an International meeting at Cold Spring Harbor. Good work Chicago for ending his run finally.

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  7. UChicago person in the middle of a sexual assault investigation, here. While Sarah Wake is AMAZING, she was only hired in October, and the university has a lonnnnnng way to go in terms of equitable, ethical determinations about sexual assault and misconduct. For “student vs. student” complaints (which can include allegations against graduate students and PhD candidates in teaching positions), it seems like there are very different standards. It is a massive relief to know that Jason Lieb is no longer a threat to the school, but there are many student rapists walking around campus, attending classes, and making full use of university programming without any restrictions whatsoever.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Moral turpitude” is a phrase written into the contracts of most Universities. Like pronography you know it when you see it. As Biologists we all know women are drawn to powerful (just ask Hillary) men as a past faculty wife I can tell you this is true.

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    • I think that being drawn to powerful men doesn’t really factor in when you’re too drunk to consent. He’s a predator, which has nothing to do with his status, except having been the rapist that took advantage of someone who thought they were in a safe space. Freshmen in highschool are taught better how to handle themselves in these situations.

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  9. I can’t for the life of me understand how faculty members like Joe Thornton, who according to the NY Times raised concerns about hiring Lieb, allowed Lieb to be left along with drunk graduate students at a departmental retreat.

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  10. These 3 institutions (Chicago, Princeton and UNC) all failed here. I’m glad that Chicago finally did something about this, instead of just passing the problem to someone else like Princeton and UNC. However, at the same time, its difficult to imagine why Chicago did not react to the big red flags surrounding Lieb and hired him anyways. Oh yes, he’s a famous scientist and also brought funding with him.

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  11. I also an alumna of Chicago, former chair of a university search committee and involved in getting women into stem careers. This case was a black eye for the search committee. I cannot tell you how many telephone calls I made and received in order to get the details of a person leaving an institution. No one wants to write anything because of the fear of law suits. I think that the search committee and the university over looked all of the red flags because of his grant money.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. One of my neighbors told me that many people had heard stories about a certain priest abusing children but no one acted because it was just gossip. Sometimes some should investigate gossip. On another point, as soon as he admitted to the search committee that he had an affair with a student that he was supervising, they should have shown him the door.

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  13. Dr Mason, you say Lieb was afforded due process when investigated. Do you know whether he was interviewed to obtain his side of the story, and do you know whether an appropriately constituted panel investigated the claims against him?

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    • UChicago follows an established procedure in the investigation of any complaints of sexual harassment. This is directed by our title IX officer, Sarah Wake, who is an accomplished lawyer. So while the procedures are not made public, of course and of course in response to your questions.

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      • Thanks. That was a bit cryptic though. Were there many individuals on a panel or was Wake the only investigating authority? I ask because all the news reports I’ve read seem to indicate there was no investigation.

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      • Again I ask , why was he hired in the first place? Did the search committee do any kind of investigation because of all of the red flags?

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  14. When Lieb resigned from Princeton, he inquired about a position at my institution. After a few calls from upper administration and senior faculty to his former employers, it was clear there was a huge problem with him, although neither former institution would come out and really say exactly what it was. Additionally, many faculty at my institution received weird anonymous emails describing clear issues with Lieb. That was enough red flags for my institution to pass on him, regardless of his scientific reputation. The UChicago search committee clearly looked the other way, or just completely failed.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I received my PhD from UC and while UC had women who could and would stand on their own two feet ( i.e. Spear, Frenkel, Lindquist, Fuchs, Rothman-Denes, Rowley, etc.), there were examples of male faculty behaving “inappropriately”. One distinguished member of the faculty was well known for corning women in his office and He and another “star” referred to a group of up and coming women faculty as “The Cunt Brigade”. I give Hanna Gray credit for laying the law down with these characters no matter how much prestige and money they brought to the table. A couple of them are still around surprisingly. I transferred departments (and still finished first in my class) and the head of biochemistry told me at the time not to come into his office and make negative comments regarding one of these people (who brought his mistress/post doc to faculty retreats where she paraded around topless to his amusement and the faculty’s annoyance) as ” I’ve heard 10 times worse from a hundred times more people so you’re not telling me anything about the son of a bitch that I don’t already know-let’s focus on getting you back on track” Bless you Howard Tager ! In my career, I have run into a few of these sociopaths and recently watched the demise of a Vice Chancellor who thought that he was above everything. I gave the university Chancellor credit for calling the press ahead of time as State Police walked his sorry philandering ass out the door right into the media’s hands.

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