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Northwestern professor takes leave of absence amid harassment allegations

Alec Klein | Northwestern University faculty photo

Northwestern University Professor Alec Klein has taken a leave of absence a day after 10 women came forward accusing him of persistent sexual harassment and bullying under his leadership of the school’s nationally renowned investigative journalism program.

“Professor Klein has requested a leave of absence from all of his positions at Northwestern until the University completes its investigation, and the University has agreed that is the appropriate action,” the school announced Thursday afternoon.

Eight former students and two former employees of the Medill Justice Project released an open letter on Wednesday outlining dozens of instances of alleged misconduct by Klein dating back to 2011, branding it the school’s “#MeToo moment.” The women described “controlling, discriminatory, emotionally and verbally abusive behavior.”

“Testimony of Alec Klein’s awful behavior continues to spread through a whisper network of female students and alumni at Medill,” they wrote in the letter 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. The women also accused him of retaliatory grading and continual verbal abuse.

Klein released a statement categorically denying the claims, pointing out that one formal complaint was ruled unfounded by the university several years ago, and saying many of the claims “involved a disgruntled former employee who had been on a corrective-action plan for poor work performance several years ago.”

“The university determined the complainant was not credible and documented, through records and her own words, several falsehoods in her charges. The university took the additional step to require that she never apply for a job at Northwestern again,” Klein wrote. “And the university reached out to every person interviewed as part of its investigation to notify them that I had not done anything wrong and the case had been dismissed.”

The school confirmed a previous complaint against Klein was deemed unfounded and said it would review the new allegations raised Wednesday.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 100 Medill alumni had signed an online petition calling on the school to remove Klein.

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 having students misrepresent themselves in the field while closely coordinating with defense lawyers.

The university is encouraging any potential victims of harassment or misconduct to contact its Office of Equity at (847) 467-6165 or titleixcoordinator@northwestern.edu.