Editor's note: The university announced Thursday that Klein will take a leave of absence until the new investigation of his conduct is complete. Read the follow-up story, posted Feb. 8 at 7:18 p.m., for more.
A group of 10 Medill Justice Project alumnae released a letter today accusing director Alec Klein of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior, calling it “Medill’s #MeToo Moment.” This comes less than two years after Huffington Post reporter Amanda Terkel accused Klein of making sexist remarks about her voice. Klein is currently teaching an undergraduate MJP class.
In the open letter, addressed to Medill Dean Brad Hamm and CC’d to Provost Jonathan Holloway, the women detailed over 25 allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and sexism by Klein. They call his actions “an open secret at Northwestern University.” Some of the women said they were part of his first class after his 2008 hiring.
“We all know about it. We’ve experienced it,” the women wrote about Klein’s alleged actions. “It’s time you heard us. It’s time you listened.”
In an emailed statement, Klein “categorically” denied the allegations and wrote that he plans “to take legal action.” He did not clarify the nature of the action.
“Many of the allegations involved a disgruntled former employee who had been on a corrective-action plan for poor work performance several years ago,” Klein wrote in the statement. “The complaint was determined to be completely unfounded. I was cleared of any wrongdoing and the claim was dismissed.”
Klein did not specify who the “disgruntled former employee” was and said other allegations had gone through the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, with no violations found.
University spokesperson Al Cubbage confirmed in an emailed statement that many of the allegations came from a previous complaint by a former employee, which “was not substantiated” after an investigation at that time. Cubbage said the university would review the new allegations, and added that students should report sexual misconduct and harassment to the Office of Equity.
Hamm, in an emailed joint statement with Associate Dean Charles Whitaker and Assistant Dean Beth Bennett, echoed that Medill itself is unable to investigate claims of sexual misconduct or harassment. The statement directed students to Cubbage’s statement.
“Medill takes seriously all complaints of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct,” the statement said. “Investigative journalists have been at the forefront of the conversation around allegations of sexual misconduct. As journalists and educators, we are especially sensitive to these types of complaints.”
The women’s letter alleges that Klein made or attempted to make multiple unwanted physical advances, from trying to kiss an MJP applicant to repeatedly grabbing a student’s hand. Further, the women allege that Klein often made sexual remarks about women he worked with, including students, and his own sex life. In their letter, the women say Klein retaliated after he found out students expressed concerns regarding him to Medill staff. They add that they brought their concerns to the Title IX coordinators, with no action taken.
Separately, the letter accused Klein of generally abusive and sexist behavior, such as heavily scolding students for small mistakes and demeaning the abilities of women and a student with an accent. Sometimes, the women wrote, he would lower grades or give bad performance reviews based on disagreements he had with students and employees.
“He repeatedly accused students of insubordination and reprimanded them to the point of tears over minor or perceived offenses, such as pushing back on an editorial misjudgment or offering an alternative method to pursue an investigation, or agreeing with a peer’s suggestion instead of what Alec Klein proposed,” the women wrote regarding one detailed allegation. “Several of us were summoned into his office individually, made to sit on a short cushion in a corner as he hurled accusatory vitriol about our mistakes and then refused to accept any apology.”
Many Medill students and alumni have already reacted to the allegations on social media, either saying they had heard about Klein’s alleged behavior or calling on Medill to fire Klein.
I went to @MedillSchool@NorthwesternU because I was dead set on being an investigative journalist. I dropped Alec Klein's class before it even began upon hearing rumors of his conduct during my sophomore year.— Megan Hernbroth (@Megan_Hernbroth) February 7, 2018
Being in Medill and a woman, I've heard stories about him and to plainly stay away. I wholeheartedly believe these women. Unfortunately knowing the University, I'm going to be surprised if they do anything about this. https://t.co/pCkm2ixQTz— Alani Vargas (@alanimv) February 7, 2018
Definitely an open secret in Medill. These 10 brave women are probably not alone. https://t.co/MiS2xGaxRh— Sydney Alman (@SydneyAlman) February 7, 2018
In his statement, Klein also noted the high CTEC course evaluations he received for his Medill Justice Project courses. “I have tried to lead The Medill Justice Project with honor,” he added.
The 10 women, many of them acclaimed investigative journalists, include Master of Science in Journalism alumnae Alison Flowers (‘09, MJP ‘11-‘13), Meribah Knight (‘09), Kalyn Belsha (‘09), Yana Kunichoff (‘09) and Lauryn Schroeder (‘13, MJP ‘13-‘14); Bachelor of Science in Journalism alumnae Lorraine Ma (‘13, MJP ‘11) and Natalie Krebs (‘13, MJP ‘11); Master of Science in Law alumna Fariba Pajooh (‘16, MJP ‘16-‘17); and former MJP employees Olivia Pera (‘14-‘15) and Suyeon Son (‘12-‘13). They invite others to share their experiences with Klein at email@example.com.
At the end of their letter, they call on Medill to fire Klein, an associate professor with tenure.
“He is a liability and a predator among your faculty,” the women write. “Yet his actions have gone unchecked for years, further traumatizing more and more women. Medill has not only let us down — it has also failed to protect us.”
Read the full letter, Klein’s full statement and the full university statements below.