Two University of Minnesota professors disciplined for sexual misconduct have been reinstated to their positions in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and a student group is upset that administrators failed to alert the entire Humphrey student body ahead of registration opening and classes beginning this semester.
The Gender, Sex, & Policy Events Committee, an organization for Humphrey School students, said in a statement that its leadership “is disturbed” by the return of Jason Cao and James Ron, and that some students weren’t informed of the reinstatements until after classes began.
The complaints against the professors were investigated by the university Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. Messages were left with both men seeking their reaction to being back in the classroom.
Cao and Ron each were given letters of discipline with details about their alleged misconduct in late 2018 from Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg. The letters, obtained by the Star Tribune, said the complaints against Cao included making jokes of a sexual nature and commenting that a student should be “submissive.” He also invited a student to work with him at home and required the student to sit next to him while he worked. In Ron’s letter, the university determined he made unwanted comments about his sex life to a student and shared the ideal younger age range of women he would like to date.
The letters also detailed disciplinary action against the professors. Cao was suspended for eight months, which ended Aug. 31 of this year. He will also be prohibited from individually advising students for two years but can advise masters students in a public area or with his office door open.
Ron was suspended for five months without pay this year and won’t be allowed to advise students or supervise Humphrey School student research or teaching assistants for two years.
In his disciplinary letter, Cao denied several of the complaints against him, but the university said it found the student’s account to be more credible. The student had told a witness about her concerns, and the witness verified her story, the letter said.
Ron responded to his complaints through a letter to the university from his attorney. Ron and the student were friends and had discussed romantic issues — their own and those of each other. The university acknowledged that he was under significant psychological stress at the time of the complaints following a divorce, and it did not believe he was a predator.
“We disagree strenuously with the university’s factual and legal findings,” his attorney wrote. “And if the university was correct on the facts and law — and it is not — the sanctions imposed would still be improper.”
Course selection for the fall 2019 semester began the previous spring for returning students, and classes began on Sept. 3, two days before Humphrey Associate Dean Carissa Schively Slotterback sent all Humphrey students an e-mail informing them of the recent sexual misconduct cases.
Slotterback did say some Humphrey students were made aware of the reinstatements earlier and had been invited to student discussions led by Bloomberg or had already attended informational sessions.
Slotterback’s e-mail on Thursday broadened the invitation to all Humphrey students and said they would be “learning more about the two cases, the investigation processes, the disciplinary actions, and the plans put in place to monitor and mentor the individuals involved to ensure compliance with our expectations and with university policy.”
Gender, Sex, & Policy Events Committee leaders Olivia Reyes, Lilly Richard and Aaron Sepulveda responded quickly after the e-mail was sent on the third day of classes.
“We feel that the students deserve notice of and transparency around incidents such as these in order to make informed choices about courses and professors, and to be able to effectively voice their opinions to the administration,” they wrote. “Harassment and other abuses of power by professors and authority figures make spaces unsafe and unwelcoming for women, trans and nonbinary people, and people of color.”
Reyes said Monday that Bloomberg met with her and another student leader, and she was told that “the sanctions in place for the professors [were] satisfactory and aligned with restorative practices.” Reyes added that left her to conclude, “from my perspective, [there is] little to no chance of changing the way these professors will continue to work within this institution.”
Separately, Richard shared on Facebook what she wrote to Bloomberg: “My personal view is that professors who have a history of harassing students should be removed from teaching positions or strongly encouraged to resign.”
Ron joined the university faculty in 2011. He specializes in international human rights, opinion polling, nonprofit organizations and the study of political violence. Along with Humphrey, Ron is also in the Political Science Department. Cao started at the university in 2007. He specializes in sustainable development, transportation planning, and urban and regional planning.
In both their disciplinary letters, Bloomberg wrote that professors were valued members of the school’s academic community and that “she was committed to doing whatever we can to ensure a respectful and successful re-entry” into the school after the suspensions had ended.