News Local/State

U Of I Prof. Jay Kesan To Go On ‘University-Sanctioned Leave’ In 2020

Jay Kesan

Jay Kesan University of Illinois College of Law

A University of Illinois law professor previously accused of sexual misconduct and slated to return to teach in January will instead go on "university-sanctioned leave."

That’s according to an email sent this week to College of Law faculty and students on behalf of the college’s dean, Vikram Amar, and reviewed by NPR Illinois. The email says Jay Kesan, faculty at the U of I’s flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign, will not teach two courses he had previously been scheduled to begin in January 2020. Instead, on January 1, he will go on leave “during which he will not be teaching” the email says.

The university said in a statement that it will not comment on this “ongoing personnel matter.” Kesan did not return several requests for comment via email and phone. A university spokesperson did not answer questions as to whether Kesan would be paid while on leave or allowed to go on campus before the publication of this story.

Before it was announced to College of Law members that Kesan would not be teaching in early 2020, a notice about his history as a sexual harasser was shared with students who had the option to register for classes, which NPR Illinois also reviewed. 

The notification, shared on the "intranet" site students log into, said that during a university investigation that began in 2015, complainants “were able to offer credible evidence establishing that they had been subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct by Professor Kesan.” The statement went on to detail some of the unwanted behavior, including “rubbing a female student’s thigh” as well as sexual references and other touching. 

In 2018, details of that university investigation were made public after a friend of a victim asked what was being done to protect students at a #MeToo forum on campus. The investigation had begun in 2015 and took more than 700 days to complete, even though university policy states investigations should be done as "expeditiously as possible" and typically take 60 days or less to complete. Media uncovered the investigation through public-record requests.

University investigators found Kesan had violated the “spirit” of the campus' sexual harassment policy and the code of conduct. Some, like College of Law professor and associate dean Lesley Wexler, said the standard for sexual harassment according to campus policy was very narrow. She told NPR Illinois and ProPublica that behavior must be severe or pervasive, which “sets a very high bar.”

The case became national news in 2018 and sparked sexual harassment policy reform efforts at the U of I. A report was released with recommendations last month, but the timeline and details of implementation for the sprawling policy changes are not yet clear. 

Kesan took a year-long voluntary unpaid leave for 2019, in the wake of calls for his resignation. After the allegations were made public, he penned a letter admitting to behavior as described by complainants and apologized. 

A 2019 investigation by ProPublica and NPR Illinois detailed several cases where U of I professors had been found to have violated university policy after facing accusations of sexual misconduct and had their reputations protected by the university. Some were promised the university would not disclose the details of their resignations. Others, including Kesan, were allowed to remain on faculty.