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Northwestern professor resigns after school probes misconduct allegations

Prof. Alec Klein has parted ways with Northwestern University after an investigation into allegations of misconduct. | Sun-Times file photo

Embattled Northwestern journalism Prof. Alec Klein has resigned after a university probe into allegations of misconduct leveled against him by dozens of former students and staffers.

A spokesman for the Evanston school said the university concluded its investigation in June and that effective Friday, Klein was “no longer employed by Northwestern University, and will not be present on Northwestern’s campus or attend any University events.”

Klein, who has vehemently denied the allegations, said in an email Friday that he resigned voluntarily “because I believe it is in the best interests of all involved as I pursue other endeavors.”

The university would not comment on the results of its investigation.

Alec Klein | Northwestern University faculty photo
Alec Klein | Northwestern University faculty photo

“The University takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention and investigated those allegations promptly and thoroughly, following established University procedures,” the school said in a statement. “Northwestern is committed to fostering an environment in which all members of our community are safe, secure and free from sexual misconduct of any form.”

Klein had been on a leave of absence from his position leading the school’s nationally acclaimed investigative journalism program since February, when 10 women publicly accused Klein of misconduct ranging from bullying to persistent sexual harassment. Another 19 women came forward with similar allegations a month later. Twenty-two people had formally brought their claims to the university, a source said.

The women branded it as the school’s #MeToo movement, and alleged “controlling, discriminatory, emotionally and verbally abusive behavior” in a letter shared with the public.

“Testimony of Alec Klein’s awful behavior continues to spread through a whisper network of female students and alumni at Medill,” they wrote to university administrators. “Some of us, years later, can’t shake the hurtful and demeaning things he said to us.”

Among the allegations leveled against Klein were giving unwanted neck massages, trying to kiss a prospective employee, asking a worker if she was a stripper, commenting on their bodies and inviting an employee to his hotel room on a business trip. One prospective employee claimed he tried to kiss her before he asked her to smoke marijuana with him. Another student said he sent suggestive texts he later claimed were “intended for his wife.”

The women also described being “belittled, insulted and berated” by Klein, claiming he would press students in “unnecessary closed-door meetings” to give up information about their personal lives, only to later use it against them “as a tool of manipulation.”

Klein previously denied any wrongdoing, saying the allegations “involved a disgruntled former employee who had been on a corrective-action plan for poor work performance several years ago.” He wrote that one previous complaint was deemed unfounded after a university investigation, and said that school officials found no violations in the “bulk of the other allegations.”

“In their anonymous evaluations, my students have overwhelmingly said the class was among the best they have ever taken, and they have specifically noted how much I care for them,” Klein wrote in response to the initial allegations. An attorney for the professor later accused the women of “trying to destroy Prof. Klein’s life . . . through innuendo, implication, conflated half-truths and even some outright lies.”

Several Northwestern faculty members released a letter after the initial allegations surfaced, expressing support for the women without mentioning Klein by name.

Klein started working at Northwestern in 2008 and took over the Medill Innocence Project in 2011, rebranding it as the Medill Justice Project following the controversial tenure of project founder David Protess, who came under fire for allowing students to misrepresent themselves and closely coordinate with defense lawyers.

In May 2016, Klein was accused of sexist behavior for telling a Huffington Post editor during a phone call that her high-pitched voice indicated she “probably had issues” as a writer.

At the time, Klein apologized and called it a “misunderstanding.”