Students in the computer science and engineering department at the University of Michigan were recently shocked and dismayed at the news that a popular CSE professor had been placed on administrative leave over pending criminal charges of sexual misconduct with a minor—the second professor to be accused of sexual misconduct in that department within a year.
According to police reports as reported by local media, the professor in question faces criminal charges for sexual conduct of the first degree with a victim under the age of 13. The alleged offenses occurred in 2017-2018 when the alleged victim was 11 years old. A probable cause hearing was to have taken place on Feb. 4 to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to move forward with a trial. As of this writing, there is no information available on whether the trial will move forward.
In an email circulated to CSE students, the dean of the College of Engineering stressed to students that there was no apparent link between the professor's criminal charges and his activity at the school, although any possible victims or witnesses at the school have been invited to come forward. For this reason, the school has given no indication that they are investigating the professor internally since the alleged crime didn't occur in a school context.
In a subsequent meeting with students, the dean urged students to refrain from rushing to judgment until the facts were known and the professor was proven guilty. However, several student comments posted on a related Reddit thread suggest that not everyone is taking that admonition seriously and that some have already decided on his guilt.
A Career in the Balance
Allegations of sexual misconduct can be extremely damaging to a person's career even if the allegations prove to be patently false. This is especially the case when the alleged perpetrator sits in a position of trust, as with a college professor. There are several reasons why people may be inclined to rush to judgment in this case:
- Allegations of sexual misconduct from a professor are both deplorable and frightening, regardless of whether the allegations are true. Students who held the professor in high regard are incensed at the very idea that their trust may have been betrayed, and emotions may be quick to take over.
- There is added pressure in the current culture to believe the alleged victim without proof. Victims of sexual misconduct have admittedly been overlooked and ignored for years, and the recent movement to reverse that trend can have the unintended result of attributing guilt too quickly.
- This is the second professor in a year to be accused of sexual misconduct in that department. While it's rare for two professors to face these types of allegations in the same year at the same school, the context itself may cause students to assume guilt.
Even so, the dangers of rushing to judgment can be devastating to the person accused. The current accused professor already faces the following as a result:
- Loss of an otherwise stellar reputation. The accused was one of the school's highest-rated and decorated professors before the allegations surfaced.
- Extended presumptions of guilt. Even if exonerated, this professor may spend a great deal of time fighting people's preconceived notions about him.
- Possible end of a career. In many cases, even with full exoneration, a professor may never again have the trust of his students simply because the allegations were made at one point.
This story underscores the importance of having a solid support system when facing sexual misconduct allegations at a college or university. Attorney Joseph Lento has nationwide experience defending students and professors in an advisory role when they are accused of misconduct on campus. To learn more, call 888-535-3686.