Documents: Former U Of I Architecture Administrator Sexually Harassed Female Students
Documents obtained by Illinois Public Media through an open records request show an administrator at the University of Illinois School of Architecture resigned in August 2017—less than two weeks before campus investigators concluded he sexually harassed students in violation of campus sexual misconduct policies.
Lee Waldrep worked in undergraduate student services at the architecture school on the U of I Urbana campus.
A campus investigative report from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Access, dated August 28, 2017, states that eight female students came forward in March and April 2017, accusing Waldrep of singling out female students with unwanted attention, touching and other inappropriate behavior.
According to the report, the School of Architecture directed Waldrep to avoid any one-on-one contact with female students during the investigation and removed all meetings with female students from Waldrep’s calendar. However, on April 5, Waldrep was placed on administrative leave after ODEA received reports that he continued to touch female students.
The students described incidents where Waldrep “blocked their path on a stairwell, backed them into a railing or wall, pinned their legs between his while sitting across from them or stood uncomfortably close to them.”
During these incidents, they said they felt trapped, as Waldrep gave them unwanted hugs, held their hands, touched or massaged their legs and thighs, rubbed or patted their backs and shoulders and touched their buttocks.
They said Waldrep also engaged them outside of school via text, phone, email, and Facebook, according to the report.
In addition to interviewing seven of the eight female students who said Waldrep sexually harassed them, campus investigators spoke with seven witnesses, including faculty, staff and other students.
In these discussions, investigators learned that Waldrep’s pattern of behavior was “so pervasive and well known within the School that on more than one occasion male members of the community felt the need to intervene on behalf of the female students” who were subject to Waldrep’s behavior.
After gathering the details of the allegations, campus investigators also interviewed Waldrep. He contended that he never behaved inappropriately.
Waldrep acknowledged that he interacted with students through social media, texting and calling their personal cell phones, but said he did so for “legitimate reasons related to his position,” according to the report.
He said he does not treat female students differently from male students. Waldrep denied engaging in inappropriate touching, telling investigators he “possibly has held the hands of female students and has hugged students,” but not without permission, and never inappropriately, according to the documents.
Campus investigators concluded that Lee Waldrep engaged in “harassing conduct of a sexual nature that was so pervasive and so undermined and detracted from those students’ educational experience as to effectively deny those students equal access” to the architecture school’s educational opportunities and benefits.
They said that Waldrep abused his power as an administrator of undergraduate services and caused emotional stress to the students he sexually harassed.
Waldrep’s behavior made the students uncomfortable, embarrassed, shocked and nervous, investigators wrote in the report. Two of them became distracted in their studies, and one sought counseling and experienced a panic attack. The students feared they’d jeopardize future employment opportunities if they spoke out.
The investigators concluded that Waldrep's behavior constituted a violation of both the university's sexual misconduct policy and the general code of conduct. This is in contrast to an investigation into sexual harsasment allegations against U of I law professor Jay Kesan, which concluded a month after Waldrep's case and was made public by Illinois Public Media in October 2018.
Investigators conluded that Kesan's behavior was "highly inappropriate" but did not rise to the level of a sexual misconduct violation.
U of I spokesperson Robin Kaler said in a statement that while both cases involved unwanted advances, "the application of the facts to the policy in the two situations led to different decisions. The Kesan case predominantly involved isolated comments, while the preponderance of evidence in the Waldrep case showed a pattern of touching and predatory behavior."
In a letter to campus investigators, the School of Architecture’s then-Interim-Dean Peter Mortensen wrote that he would’ve recommended “adverse employment action” if Waldrep hadn’t decided to resign on August 15, 2017, just before the campus investigative report was completed.
Mortensen wrote that the School of Architecture would reinforce knowledge about when and where to report sexual harassment, per the recommendation of ODEA.
Waldrep is now listed as an academic adviser at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s School of Architecture. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated on Monday, December 17, 2018 to include comment from the University of Illinois regarding the differences between the Waldrep and Kesan sexual harassment cases.