College of Law increases transparency


Toni Pantone

Source: At Illinois We Care

By Julie Kang, Staff Writer

Jay Kesan, professor in Law who was accused of sexual harassment in 2017, will be facing stricter consequences than those he was given last year, while the College of Law works to increase transparency to students by informing them of Kesan’s investigation results.

Kesan violated the code of conduct and the University’s policies that ban sexual harassment and misconduct.

Although the 2017 Office of Diversity, Equity and Access investigative report revealed evidence which showed a pattern of Kesan engaging female students and colleagues in uncomfortable and highly inappropriate situations, Kesan was not given severe consequences upon investigation last year due to tenure and being cleared of proper charge.

The report stated inappropriate actions including asking about others’ sex lives and inviting colleagues to stay at his apartment.

Many people in the College of Law faculty, including Vikram Amar, dean of the College of Law, signed and sent a letter to the University protesting the weak consequences. Students demanded his resignation.

This semester, students were given the option to move out of Kesan’s classes. Kesan will also take an unpaid leave of absence beginning January 2019 for a year and will receive professional counseling.

In addition, to promote transparency between students and the school, students who enroll in Kesan’s courses will be notified of the investigation results. Not all cases like this provide information about the investigation.

Amar said Kesan’s sexual misconducts stated in the 2017 ODEA investigative report included misconducts before Amar arrived at the University as dean. Regardless, Amar views it as his duty to do everything he can to prevent future misconduct by anyone at the college.

“Personally, and on behalf of my law school, I am very sorry that any faculty and students were harmed by this shameful conduct,” Amar said.

Campus rules, as well as federal constitutional due process, prohibit severe sanctions to the accused if complainants wish to stay anonymous. Amar said this was a big reason why the penalties imposed on Kesan last year were not harsher; the three complaints in Kesan’s case initially chose to remain anonymous.

Amar said he does not want to call the recent developments in Kesan’s case “penalties” because they occurred in a voluntary agreement on Kesan’s part. Although these actions can not and do not undo the harm Kesan caused, Amar hopes they can provide help to all involved.

Lesley Wexler, professor of Law, also said measures may seem punitive, but it is crucial to note Kesan is not necessarily receiving “punishments.”

“Professor Kesan voluntarily undertook these measures in recognition of the harm he caused to the women he harassed as well as the injuries he inflicted on the law school community and the university community more broadly,” Wexler said in an email.

Wexler said in regard to reforms about transparency, people should consider the interests of complainants in remaining confidential.

“Melissa Wasserman, Pamela Foohey and Prachi Mehta took a brave stand by coming forward and naming themselves to the public,” Wexler said. “But other past and future victims may wish to maintain confidentiality because of concerns about retaliation or because they do not wish others to know painful, intimate details about their mistreatment.”

Amar said he understands why complainants may not want to reveal their identities, but he hopes to create a safer and more supportive environment so more efficient results can be made from cases such as this.

One step to creating a more supportive atmosphere for complainants and victims is by looking at existing resources on campus for students and faculty.

The Women’s Resources Center at the University has confidential advising available for survivors of sexual misconduct or harassment, such as the complainants of Kesan’s case.

Sarah Colomé, director of the Women’s Resources Center, said the center promotes sexual misconduct prevention and provides awareness education on campus.

“The entirety of our role is focused on supporting those who have experienced harm,” Colomé said.

Amar said the University must create a culture in which complainants are supported and feel willing to come forward.

“Only then can appropriate corrective actions be taken,” he said.

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