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Turku University hires American professor accused of harassment

The rector of the University of Turku said the accused professor was acclaimed in his field and deserved a second chance.

Turun yliopiston kyltti lähikuvassa.
Image: Philip Stenkula / Yle

The University of Turku has hired an American professor accused of gender-based harassment and discrimination to take up a research position at Tuorla Observatory. The accused is an esteemed professor in the field of astronomy and is due to begin research in Spring 2018.

Turku University rector Kalervo Väänänen said that the professor has signed on to a two-year contract in a researcher position and notes that he will have no staff working under him.

Väänänen goes on to state that the University of Turku was aware of the allegations against the American professor, and that thorough discussions on the matter were held before the decision to hire him was made.

In addition, he states that they were informed of details about the case that were not presented in public, for example accounts of the matter made by the professor’s previous superior, as well as the measures that were taken following the allegations.

Unreasonable to punish him repeatedly

The professor is accused of harassing two female students at a California University. Following the allegations, the professor resigned from his position at the university of his own accord.

According to reports in the respected science journal Science and investigations by Buzzfeed news, in one instance the professor was infatuated with a student and began to pressure her before eventually forcing her to leave the institution. Buzzfeed referred to messages that he exchanged with another student, in which the professor said he was concerned that the student he loved was "using her sexual influence" over him to avoid doing any work. Eventually, the professor voluntarily quit his position over the allegations of impropriety.

Rector Väänänen states that the decision to hire him was not taken lightly.

”It would be unreasonable for him to be constantly punished for this matter, without any prospects of finding work again. We want to give him a second chance.”

Whilst the University of Turku has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and bullying, Kalervo Väänänen says that it would be unreasonable to retroactively hold the matter against the professor, however he would have to adhere to the University’s strict zero tolerance principles.

Academic merits a deciding factor

In January discussions on whether to hire the professor were held with the staff of Tuorla Observatory. At the time opinions swung both for and against his hiring. Eventually the decision was made to hire him, partly due to his impressive academic merits in his field of expertise.

The news on the hiring of the American professor was first reported by Turun Sanomat.

Edit: This story was updated on 2 February at 10.30 to correctly name the allegations against the professor as "gender-based harassment" and discrimination, instead of sexual harassment as previously reported. Additional details of the case based on Buzzfeed's reporting were also added.

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