The University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs must take specific actions to prevent sexual harassment and pay a graduate student who was harassed by her professor $75,000, part of a settlement reached with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
The state's civil rights enforcement agency, which announced the settlement Friday, investigated and found that the professor used his position to sexually harass a graduate student in 2018. According to the department's investigation, he made sexual comments around her, told her about his sexual encounters with other women, commented on her looks in front of her peers, told her he wanted to be her boyfriend and asked her to move in with him.
"What should have been a safe and sacred relationship between a professor and a student instead became an unsafe and abusive space," state Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said in a statement. "Sexual harassment must stop. Students deserve better."
The investigation didn't name the professor, but an e-mail from the Humphrey School identified him as former tenured professor James Ron. He held power over the student's academics and employment; she was his paid research assistant.
The professor served a five-month suspension for sexual misconduct after the U's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action found he violated the school's policies prohibiting sexual harassment. His post-suspension return to work in fall 2019 prompted a Humphrey School student group to issue a statement saying students were disturbed by his return and that some had not been told he was back until after classes began.
Ron resigned from the Humphrey School in 2020 and was paid $86,198.40 in severance, $28,107.36 in insurance premiums and $80,685 to cover attorney fees.
In addition to the $75,000 payment ordered by the Department of Human Rights, the Humphrey School must allow the graduate student to complete her degree tuition-free.
The school must also provide mandatory sexual misconduct and bystander intervention training to all faculty members annually. Students must receive the bystander training, too. And the Humphrey School must send quarterly reminders to all its faculty reminding them of their duty to report sexual harassment, inappropriate relationships and other questionable behavior.
Humphrey School leaders will have to report outcomes of the trainings and reminders to the state Department of Human Rights. They also must report any complaints in which students accuse faculty of harassment or discrimination and all steps taken to investigate them.
The Department of Human Rights will monitor the Humphrey School for the next four years to ensure compliance.
In a message to students and employees Friday, Humphrey School Interim Dean Catherine Squires acknowledged the settlement terms and said administrators continue working to ensure the school is a place "where inappropriate behavior is not tolerated."
"I recognize that the announcement generates difficult feelings for all of us and some members of our community may relive some painful experiences as a result," Squires wrote in her message. "Please reach out to the available resources within our School, the University, or the broader community if you need support or assistance."