Students: Dartmouth professors on leave created hostile environment

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. –Jim Cole / AP, File

HANOVER, N.H. (AP) — Dartmouth College students say three psychology professors facing sexual misconduct allegations created a ‘‘hostile academic environment’’ marked by excessive drinking, favoritism and at times inappropriate behavior.

The attorney general’s office began a criminal investigation last month after learning about allegations against psychology professors Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen and Bill Kelley, all of whom have been put on paid leave and have had their access to campus restricted.

Authorities haven’t released any details, but 15 undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students recently wrote to the school newspaper, The Dartmouth, alleging the three created a hostile environment ‘‘in which sexual harassment is normalized’’ and violated at least one campus policy related to sexual misconduct, sexual harassment or consensual relationships between students and faculty.

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In interviews with the newspaper, several students described an uncomfortable workplace culture that blurred the line between professional and personal relationships and said they often felt pressured to drink at social events. One woman said she felt like she was being tested at one event when a professor put his arm around her and slid it down her body.

The newspaper did not identify the students but said it confirmed their association with the psychology and brain sciences department.

A college spokeswoman said Monday that officials appreciate hearing from the group and encourage anyone with additional information to reach out to the college or law enforcement.

‘‘At the heart of our ongoing investigations is an extensive fact-finding process led by an experienced external investigator,’’ Diana Lawrence said.

Attorneys for the professors did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday from The Associated Press.

Julie Moore, who represents Heatherton, told the newspaper her client is confident he has not violated any of the policies mentioned in the letter, that he has never had sexual relations with a student and rarely has socialized with students or the other two professors.