News Local/State

U Of I Law School Dean Apologizes For Sexual Harassment Case Involving Professor Jay Kesan

Ashley Kennedy, Vikram Amar, Eric Johnson

Illinois Student Bar Association President Ashley Kennedy addresses attendees of a public town hall meeting at the College of Law library on Wednesday, October 24, 2018. Panelists included law school Dean Vikram Amar (middle) and Associate Dean Eric Johnson (right). Christine Herman/Illinois Public Media

At a standing-room-only town hall meeting held at the College of Law library in Champaign Wednesday night, law students grilled University of Illinois administrators over their handling of a sexual harassment case involving professor Jay Kesan.

Students voiced their questions and concerns about the Kesan sexual harassment case at a public town hall event Wednesday, October 24, 2018 at the College of Law library in Champaign.

Photo Credit: Christine Herman/Illinois Public Media

Over the course of two hours, roughly 30 students stood to voice their questions and concerns about a campus investigation made public last week, which found Kesan violated the campus code of conduct and the spirit of campus policies prohibiting sexual harassment with “clearly inappropriate” behavior.

The panel of administrators included Law School Dean Vik Amar, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Eric Johnson and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Bill Bernhard.

Students said they want to know why Kesan didn’t face harsher consequences for violating campus policy, why he’s still teaching, and why students weren’t told about the findings a year ago when the investigation was completed.

Administrators said their hands are tied by campus policies that prevent them from enforcing sanctions beyond what’s recommended and allowed by the U of I’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Access. In response to the investigative report, Kesan was required to receive in-person sexual harassment training and was barred from certain salary programs and lucrative endowment positions for a limited time.

Amar said ODEA policies also prevent anyone involved in or aware of any investigation from speaking publicly about it, even after it is completed and a violation is found.

He said the reason has to do with protecting the confidentiality of both the complainants and witnesses who came forward as well as the accused. The investigative report on Kesan had been completed in 2017 but was not made public until last week, when an attendee at last week’s “#MeToo and Academia” panel discussion at the law school spoke about it. Documents were obtained via an open records request by Illinois Public Media and published shortly thereafter.

The panel of administrators expressed their own frustrations with the lack of clarity in campus policies and invited students to get involved in efforts to revise them.

They also repeatedly emphasized that anyone who is uncomfortable with having to interact with Kesan in a classroom or other setting can speak to law school administrators, who will help make appropriate accommodations.

U of I Student Bar Association President Ashley Kennedy said students feel downtrodden and disheartened and want to hear an apology for how things have played out.

Dean Amar readily responded: “On behalf of the administration, I apologize that any creepy behavior ever happens. It kills me that it happens at an institution that I have anything to do with.”

Near the end of the event, Kennedy presented Amar with a letter from the law community demanding Kesan resign, which she said is signed by more than 220 people, including several faculty and staff.

She also announced that the U of I Student Government, in a separate meeting on campus that, had just joined law students in passing a resolution calling for Kesan’s immediate resignation. The Student Body also wants U of I administrators to explain why Kesan was not put on administrative leave during and after the investigation and how it will protect students who remain in Kesan’s classes.

“It’s amazing, because now it’s a university issue, and not just a College of Law issue,” Kennedy said. “The students of the university have recognized... this behavior is not acceptable.”

Afterward, Kennedy said students are frustrated by the lack of clarity regarding what the university will do to protect students now.

“There’s a lot of questions still unanswered,” she said.

Listen to the full audio from Wednesday’s event on SoundCloud:

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman