News Local/State

Documents Show Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Jay Kesan Date Back To 2002

Jay Kesan

University of Illinois Law Professor Jay Kesan will take a voluntary, one-year unpaid leave of absence, beginning January 1, 2019, according to a letter from the law school to the College of Law community. University of Illinois College of Law

A campus document obtained by Illinois Public Media shows the University of Illinois knew about sexual harassment allegations against Kesan as early as 2002. 

The document is referenced in a letter that was sent to members of the College of Law community Friday, announcing law professor Jay Kesan will take a one-year unpaid leave of absence.

The announcement comes three weeks after Illinois Public Media first published the findings of a campus investigation into Kesan that concluded in 2016 but had not been released to the public.

Since then, there’s been a campus-wide call for Kesan to resign, and for the campus to overhaul its sexual misconduct policies.

Kesan previously denied the accusations of unwelcome references to sex, as well as unwanted touching and ogling.

In a statement released with the letter from the law school Friday, Kesan acknowledged the victims' accounts are correct and wrote he is deeply sorry.

U of I law professor Colleen Murphy said Kesan’s leave of absence underscores the seriousness of his behavior.

“It gives Professor Kesan an opportunity to reflect on his misconduct" and repent and reform his behavior moving forward, said Murphy, who is among several law school faculty members who signed the letter.

It states that Kesan will continue receiving professional counseling and “accepts full responsibility for his past words and deeds.”

Also, Kesan has waived confidentiality rights with respect to information surrounding the misconduct described in the 2016 campus investigative report and a 2002 letter from then-Dean Heidi Hurd, which details a situation in which a student told Hurd she was uncomfortable with some of Kesan's words and conduct. 

That 2002 letter was obtained by Illinois Public Media through an open records request.

It shows the student chose not to file a complaint under the U of I's sexual harassment policy, hoping instead that a conversation between Hurd and Kesan would "bring the alleged behavior to an end."

Kesan was told to refrain for further conversation with the student and was informed that the law school had heard "other rumors" regarding his behavior.

"We brought them to your attention so that you would know the extent to which your reputation may be at risk, and to emphasize the importance of engaging in future conduct that is above any possible reproach."

Hurd told Kesan in the 2002 letter to avoid the following behaviors going forward: commenting on students' appearance, discussing his personal life or inviting discussion of students' personal lives, socializing with individual students, making appointments to meet students to discuss academic or career matters outside of normal school hours, and inviting students to accompany him to private or secluded places or out-of-town conferences and events.

In a 2016 campus investigative report, Kesan is accused of, and now admits to, doing many of these things he was told not to do back in 2002.

Kesan's letter states that he understands the U of I is reexamining its policies and procedures for dealing with sexual harassment in light of this situation being made public, but that "future policy changes can never address the past harms I caused."

Kesan acknowledged that many within the campus community remain concerned, and “the law school is trying to address those concerns, but it is limited in what it can do."

U of I Student Body President Walter Lindwall said one thing Kesan can do to address student concerns is resign.

He said he's disappointed and feels Kesan’s one-year leave of absence is not enough.

“In any other circumstance, were he not a tenured professor, he would likely just be removed outright,” Lindwall said.

The Illinois Student Government's call for Kesan to resign remains in effect indefinitely, he said, and the student government will continue to work with the Student Bar Association to address systemic issues that may be underlying recent issues of sexual harassment on campus.

“I hope that in the next few weeks we can address these systemic issues on campus to create a better future for all students, one where everyone can enjoy a learning environment without fear of advances of this nature coming forward,” Lindwall said.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman