Columbia University Professor Steps Down Amidst Sexual Harassment Allegations

Posted November 11th, 2017.

As It Appeared On
Legal Reader

By Ryan J. Farrick

A distinguished professor at Columbia University stepped down after being accused of kissing and groping a graduate student.

The news, as relayed by The New York Times, was circulated by the university to its student and staff early last week.

According to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan court against Columbia and Professor William V. Harris, 79, the professor repeatedly foisted himself on a young doctoral candidate. Harris, who is an expert on Greco-Roman history, purportedly belittled and insult the woman after she spurned his unwanted advances.

The e-mail shared by Columbia said that Dr. Harris had “agreed with the university to withdraw from his teaching, advising and other student-related activities.” The Times reports that the e-mail described the allegations against Harris as “a subject of considerable discussion and concern.”

“Columbia is doing the right thing,” said David Sanford, the plaintiff’s lawyer.

Nevertheless, Columbia said that Dr. Harris would remain employed by the school – albeit in a capacity that would keep him away from students.

Columbia University campus. Image via The New York Times.
The complaint against Harris alleged that the university had known of the professor’s longstanding reputation for sexual harassment and abuse. Action was never taken, and Harris was able to continue teaching at Columbia for more than 50 years.

According to the Times, the plaintiff “feels vindicated” and is seeking financial compensation for the damage dealt to her career. After spurning Dr. Harris’s advances, the 29-year old doctoral student took a year-long leave from her studies, as a direct result of the harassment.

What began as weekly mentoring meetings between the student and Dr. Harris soon took a turn for the worse.

The student says that, on one occasion, the professor forced her against his desk and kissed her. In another incident, he placed his mouth against his breast.

On numerous occasions, Dr. Harris would insist or propose they have sexual intercourse, despite the student’s obvious discomfort.

Over the course of their tenuous and supposedly professional relationship, Dr. Harris’s advances became regular occurrences. Planning for an academic conference in 2015, the historian insisted that his student accompany him, promising to book two rooms.

But after arriving to the event, the 29-year old woman found that Harris had only made reservations for one. He spent much of the night pressing her for sexual contact.

The plaintiff said she first filed a complaint against Harris in 2015, going so far as to tell other professors about the doctor’s misconduct.

Unsatisfied with the response she was given, the doctoral candidate filed a formal complaint with Columbia’s administration in May.

The Times reports that the university has come under fire in the past for its investigation and treatment of sexual harassment cases.

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