Medill Justice Project director Alec Klein, accused of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior by 10 MJP alumnae in an open letter Wednesday, will take a leave of absence until a new investigation of his conduct is complete.
University spokesperson Al Cubbage said in a statement that the university believes the leave of absence, which Klein requested, is “appropriate action” until the investigation concludes. Klein, also a Medill associate professor, was teaching an undergraduate MJP course this quarter.
The open letter, signed by graduate and undergraduate MJP participants along with former MJP employees, outlined over 25 alleged instances of sexually inappropriate and generally abusive behavior by Klein. These included making unwanted advances toward women, making graphic sexual comments in front of students and employees, aggressively reprimanding students, and retaliating for disagreements by lowering grades or performance reviews. This also included allegations of discriminatory remarks and behavior by Klein, which comes less than two years after Huffington Post reporter Amanda Terkel reported that Klein made sexist comments about her voice in a 2016 phone call.
Klein responded in a statement Wednesday by “categorically” denying the allegations and saying he planned to take unspecified legal action. Many of the allegations, he said, came from a “disgruntled former employee,” while other allegations went through the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access with no found violations.
The university confirmed in a statement Wednesday that many of the allegations were from a former employee, and were “not substantiated” after an investigation. The university will investigate new allegations, Cubbage said.In today’s statement, Cubbage echoed the university’s commitment to investigating the new allegations against Klein.
“The University takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention and is investigating those allegations promptly and thoroughly,” Cubbage said in the statement. “The University has agreed that [Klein’s leave] is the appropriate action.”
Medill master’s student Hannah Wiley started a Change.org petition yesterday calling on Medill to remove Klein as MJP’s director. The petition now has over 100 signatures from undergraduate students, graduate students and alumni.
Wiley said she never took Klein’s course or participated in MJP because she had heard allegations of Klein’s behavior. She began the petition to show support for the women speaking out against Klein.
“Him taking the leave of absence – for me, it’s like, why isn’t the university taking a leadership stance on this?” Wiley said. “I understand that nothing’s been proven and it’s at the accusation point, but when you read what’s in the letter and understand that students don’t want to take his class … you just think the university would take a more proactive role in addressing this issue.”
Since the letter’s release, students and alumni have reacted on social media by sharing stories about Klein and calling for his removal as MJP director.
Alec Klein once lectured me for an hour about why my project proposal was “unrealistic” before admitting he actually hadn’t read it. He bullied and intimidated my classmates to tears. https://t.co/9hIghwGcc8— Caroline Maria (@coralinexmaria) February 8, 2018
Alec Klein took over the Medill Innocence Project while I was a student in the class in 2011. Based on my interactions with Northwestern during that ordeal, the school's inaction on this is not surprising.— Kira Lerner (@kira_lerner) February 7, 2018
It was somewhat unspoken, but common knowledge that if female students wanted to enroll in the Justice Project at Medill, they'd have to put up with this kind of stuff, which I know deterred many fantastic journalists from doing so:https://t.co/PbzuU0hqRV— Shannon Lane (@shannonlanenfl) February 8, 2018
Wiley said she changed her course schedule in the master’s program to avoid taking classes with Klein, but she knows women who could not do the same thing. She wanted the petition to bring further visibility to the allegations against Klein and the women’s stories.
“We want to make sure through the petition that these women’s voices are heard, that they’re honored and respected,” Wiley said. “I’m simply in a supporting role for these women and the other students who are concerned that our education is being jeopardized.”
In their letter, addressed to Medill Dean Brad Hamm and Provost Jonathan Holloway, the 10 women – many of whom went on to become successful investigative reporters – asked for Klein’s removal. They called him “a liability and a predator” among Medill faculty.
“Alec Klein is no hero,” they write. “And journalism, especially the emerging journalists who come to Medill to learn in a safe space, will be better served without him.”
Read the university’s full statement on Klein’s leave of absence below.