CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Dartmouth College will respond to a recent lawsuit accusing it of ignoring professors’ sexual misconduct with a sweeping plan to combat harassment and assault, the president of the Ivy League college said.
A lawsuit filed last month by seven current and former students accuses Dartmouth of ignoring years of harassment and assault by former faculty members in the psychology department.
College officials deny ignoring the complaints and will explain their “careful and rigorous actions” soon in court filings, President Philip Hanlon said Wednesday. In the meantime, he said, the college is working on a comprehensive plan to be announced when students return to campus in January.
“Let there be no doubt: Dartmouth is redoubling its efforts to ensure that every member of our community can thrive in an environment that is safe, welcoming, respectful, and inclusive,” he wrote in an email to the Dartmouth community.
The lawsuit alleges that professors William Kelley, Paul Whalen and Todd Heatherton harassed women and touched them inappropriately, often while partying at bars or at their homes. Kelley and Whalen also are accused of assaulting a student, attempting to seduce women under their supervision and punishing those who rebuffed their advances.
The college began investigating them in October 2017 and was preparing to fire them when Heatherton retired last summer after being told he would be fired and denied tenure. Whalen and Kelley resigned soon thereafter.
“I deeply regret that an environment existed on our campus that was so at odds with our values,” Hanlon said.
Through his attorney, Heatherton has said he never socialized or had sexual contact with students, was not aware of the alleged behavior by the other professors and would not have condoned it. Whalen and Kelley could not be reached for comment, and it is unclear if they have attorneys.
Hanlon said the new plan will build on a 2016 effort to increase faculty diversity and a 2015 initiative to respond to problems Hanlon said were “hijacking” the campus: high-risk drinking, sexual assault and a lack of inclusion. The changes, dubbed the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan, include a ban on hard liquor, the development of a mandatory four-year sexual violence prevention curriculum and the creation of new residential communities.
Attorney Chuck Douglas, who represents the women, said he was pleased by Hanlon’s latest message.
“It looks like they’re attempting to set the right tone,” he said in an interview Thursday. “One of the first things you need to do is admit you have a problem. They are admitting that and saying they want to fix it.”