MIT Has Company: A Brief History of College Scandals

M.I.T. campus with students on grounds.

On Monday, MIT announced that an internal investigation found that retired professor Walter Lewin had sexually harassed a female student who was taking an online course he was teaching. Worse still, the woman claimed she wasn’t the only victim and offered the school information on other inappropriate interactions between Lewin and his students.

The school said it would be “indefinitely removing Lewin’s online courses, in the interest of preventing any further inappropriate behavior.’’

Unfortunately, it seems like there will always be people in authority at colleges sexually harassing or assaulting their subordinates. And if you need proof of that, well, there’s plenty.


2011: Colby Professor Resigns After Allegedly Hiding Cameras in Women’s Bathroom

Philip Brown, a tenured economics professor at Colby College, resigned in February 2011 after allegedly videotaping a female student while she was in the bathroom on a school trip to China. Two other students on the trip found images of a partially-clothed female student on Brown’s computer. Brown had not been charged with a crime when he left the school, but the college’s president announced that they were prepared to fire him over the allegations. Brown reportedly told school officials that the allegations were true.

2011: The Penn. State Sex Abuse Scandal

Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse after at least eight children came forward to accuse him of incidents of sexual misconduct dating back to 1994. Several other officials at Penn. State were implicated in the scandal for allegedly covering up Sandusky’s actions. University President Graham Spanier resigned while Athletic Director Tim Curley and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno were fired. Spanier, Curley, and Penn. State Vice President Gary Schultz all faced criminal charges for their role in the cover up. In October 2012, Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison.

2010: Columbia University Professor Charged with Incest


David Epstein, a 46-year-old political science professor at Columbia, was charged on December 9, 2010 with one count of felony incest in the third degree after allegedly engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with his daughter. He would later plead guilty to attempted incest, a misdemeanor charge. His wife, who also taught in the political science department, is still a professor at Columbia.

1985: Harvard Professor Resigns Amid Sexual Harassment Complaint

On February 5, 1985, Harvard professor Douglas A. Hibbs Jr. quit after a female MIT student accused him of sexually harassing her while she was a student in a seminar that was open to students of both schools. The details of the allegations were never released, but the complaint filed in December 1985 referred to an allegedly inappropriate interaction from May of 1983. Hibbs Jr. became the third tenured professor in the government department to be accused of sexual harassment in just six years, and the first professor in the school’s history to leave amid a sexual misconduct scandal. The other two government professors accused around that time were reprimanded but could not be dismissed due to their tenure.

1983: Yale University Professor Allegedly Harasses Senior English Major

It took 20 years for Naomi Wolf to name the man who she claimed touched her inappropriately during her senior year at Yale. She was an English student who had been given the chance to meet one-on-one with Professor Harold Bloom, a man she described in her account as “a vortex of power and intellectual charisma.’’ But when the time came for them to sit down and discuss Wolf’s poetry, Bloom allegedly wielded that power and charisma in an alarming and troubling way. After sharing a meal and a couple glasses of sherry, Wolf set her manuscript on the table. Bloom promptly ignored it, instead extending his hand and placing it on her inner thigh, then advancing on Wolf when she moved away from the table where they were seated. Wolf wrote that it “was not a sexual crisis… nor was it an emotional crisis,’’ but it created “a moral crisis, shaking [her] confidence in the institution [she] was in.’’

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