Hours after a scathing investigation was published about a San Jose State University professor being embroiled in sexual harassment claims, the school president issued an email to the campus reminding everyone that “we are just as obliged to provide a safe, equitable working environment for every faculty and staff member.”
Newly hired university President Mary Papazian sent her email at 9 p.m. Tuesday. That's just after the Mercury News reported that Professor Lewis Aptekar had been singled out by three students for making inappropriate remarks to them, and for holding his title as chairman of the department until the newspaper started asking questions.
Aptekar was put on paid leave, the Mercury News reported, last week. The first allegations against him surfaced two years ago.
In her email, Papazian called the “actions alleged and related issues enumerated in news coverage (very) troubling.” She titled her email: "Building a Welcoming Community."
In the most recent claim, Aptekar, who taught in the College of Education’s counselor education department, was accused of repeatedly asking a student during class if she was single and of making comments about wanting to date her, the Mercury News reported.
The professor declined to comment to the newspaper. But his attorney, Elisa Stewart, told the Mercury News that his comments were made in the context of class discussions about romantic relationships. When the student remarked that “everyone leaves” her, Aptekar’s response — that he would never leave her — was meant to be supportive, the attorney told the newspaper.
But a university investigation found the professor’s methods were not appropriate for the classroom, according to documents obtained by the Mercury News. And still, Aptekar was not removed as chairman of the department. He resumed his duties after a 10-day suspension last spring, the Mercury News reported.
In 2014, an associate dean filed a complaint against the same professor on behalf of two other students. But the Mercury News discovered that those complaints seemed not to be included in the 2015 investigation.
"It makes me question what other things have they pushed under the rug?" student Daniel Moreno said.
Another student, Nina Malbasic, said the news is shocking.
"I haven't heard anything until right now, so it makes me uncomfortable," she said.
A university expert on sexual harassment said the campus will need to look deep into the issue.
"The devil is going to be in the details," said Janet Stemwedel, San Jose State's philosophy department chair. "By acknowledging that this is not something we should approach as just one bad apple, but we need to look at our entire system."
In her email, Papazian said that faculty have an important role in “encouraging students to report inappropriate behavior to our Title IX office, and reminding faculty and staff members and administrators of their duty promptly to report potential violations, whether they occur on or off campus.”