May 18, 2024


Built General Tough

U of M computer science assistant professor resigns as sexual misconduct allegations come to light

Walter Lasecki, a well-known University of Michigan computer science assistant professor, is resigning as of August 30 amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him. 

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering said Lasecki, in the meantime, will not be able to have in-person interactions with students.

The Michigan Daily, U of M’s independent student newspaper, initially detailed the allegations against Lasecki from four people dating back to 2016. Many of these incidents allegedly happened during industry social gatherings or conferences. One person described incidents allegedly happening on campus.

An internal investigation by the University that started in November 2019 concluded that Lasecki did not violate its sexual harassment policy.

But according to The Daily, there was a similar investigation into Lasecki’s behavior conducted by the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest computing society. ACM’s conclusion was to ban Lasecki for its events for at least five years.

U of M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote in a statement that the university cannot publicly discuss personnel matters due to employee privacy. In regard to the ACM investigation, he wrote, “It’s not possible to say that two investigations – conducted by two different organizations – into the same matter are identical. The investigative process can be different. The standards of proof can be different. The underlying policies and what constitutes a violation of a policy can be different. The definition of investigation can be different.”

A follow-up article by The Daily reports that the Title IX coordinator is seeking information on 22 previously unreported incidents related to the assistant professor.

Fitzgerald said in an email, “The U-M Office for Institutional Equity always follows up on any reports or information it becomes aware of. That said, we also encourage anyone who has information about any form of misconduct to share that with OIE so the office can thoroughly review and investigate all reports of misconduct.”

Lasecki did not respond to requests for comment.

The release of the investigation led to an outcry among graduate students and staff on social media, expressing intense frustration with the university and the culture of academia.

Lindsay Blackwell, a PhD student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, said she helped the four people with initial allegations about Lasecki get in contact with each other after hearing about the alleged misconduct. She said she had been in touch with the four throughout the investigation process and beyond.

“I’m glad he’s gone or soon to be gone. But my very next reaction is why the hell was he allowed to resign?” she said. “By resigning and not being formally dismissed, or disciplined in any way, that’s leaving the door open for him to very easily slink off into another career path.”

“I’m worried about the possibility of him being able to hurt more people, even possibly end up in a different university contract or at a different educational setting where he’s going to have access to young (people) again. I mean, anything is possible because he was given the opportunity to resign.”

More than 100 academics and professionals across the computer science and human-computer interaction fields signed a letter asking for, among other things, an outside review: “The Michigan OIE process and decision should be reviewed by an independent entity” and “(o)ther universities and departments should examine their own reporting policies and practices, and commit to addressing sexual assault and sexual misconduct in their own communities.”

CSE Department Chair Michael Wellman, in a letter independent of the university, said social media posts had “smeared Michigan CSE beyond recognition.” Wellman wrote a 19-page document Tuesday detailing his experience during the investigation and saying that it was courageous for the people to come forward. He also added people should not be quick to “take a side.”

Wellman’s writing also makes references to the Tulsa Race Massacre and the McCarthy era. Michigan Radio reached out to Wellman, who pointed to the document.

Blackwell said Wellman’s document angered her.

“The fact that Michael Wellman thinks that these two weeks have been just absolutely agonizing for him personally and for the department that has done nothing but let these people down over and over again,” she said. “It is just so infuriating that I can hardly find the words to appropriately describe my rage.”

“All that we’ve gotten in return is blamed for creating an internet circus and ruining their reputation or something when they’ve done an excellent job ruining the reputation all on their own.”

The news about Lasecki comes after a long line of incidents at the University of Michigan

The former interim department chair of CSE, Peter Chen, was arraigned in January on criminal sexual conduct with a child under 13.

Instructor Jason Mars is another case at the CSE department, after an investigation by The Verge in February 2020 revealed alleged sexual harassment and other abusive behavior from Mars toward employees at his Ann Arbor based start-up.

Fitzgerald wrote that CSE department formed a climate committee after a request from faculty in February 2021.

Outside the department, The New York Times recently revealed sexual harassment allegations against former U of M lecturer Bruce Conforth from several students. An independent report by firm WilmerHale into the University of Michigan revealed “countless” cases of sexual misconduct toward athletes by the late Doctor Robert Anderson.

According to a U of M Office of Institutional Equity report released in January 2021, the university has received 177 sexual misconduct reports involving faculty, staff and third parties between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. Twenty-one matters were investigated by OIE, and 134 were “consultations.”

Editor’s note: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio’s license.

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