Metro

Dartmouth students say professors created hostile environment

Students walked across the Dartmouth College campus green.
Jim Cole/Associated Press/File
Students walked across the Dartmouth College campus green.

Fifteen Dartmouth College students allege that three psychology professors at the center of a criminal probe over sexual misconduct created a hostile academic environment, offering a first glimpse into the complaints that may have led to their removal from campus earlier this year.

The students, including undergraduate, graduates, and post-doctoral candidates, submitted a statement to a college newspaper, The Dartmouth, on the condition that their names not be disclosed. They said in the letter that they wanted to clarify the nature of the allegations against the three brain scientists.

“In our collective experience, these professors have all created a hostile academic environment in which sexual harassment is normalized,” according to the statement published in the school newspaper on Saturday.

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In additional accounts to the college newspaper, the unnamed students said they felt pressure to drink and socialize with the professors to further their careers.

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The paper said it had verified that all 15 signers to the letter had spent time in Dartmouth’s psychology and brain sciences department, where the professors taught. The students have also spoken to the independent investigator that Dartmouth hired after receiving complaints about the professors, according to the letter.

The professors, Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen, and Bill Kelley, have been on paid leave pending the results of the investigation. The three brought millions of dollars in research funding to the school and published papers that attracted the attention of both the scientific and mainstream news media.

On Monday, Dartmouth officials declined to comment on the statement from students.

In late October, after reading about the Dartmouth investigation into allegations of misconduct by the professors, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald launched a criminal probe.

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Heatherton, who is on a long-scheduled sabbatical, rarely socialized with students, or with Whalen and Kelley, outside of work-related events, his attorney, Julie Moore, said in a prepared statement.

“He has also never made his mentorship with students or post-docs contingent on socializing,” Moore said. “Professor Heatherton strongly supports the rights of all students and staff to study and work in an environment free of sexual harassment and discrimination.”

Whalen and Kelley could not be reached for comment.

Dartmouth College officials and the state authorities have said little about the allegations that sparked the investigations. But the school has said that it is investigating multiple and separate complaints against the professors, and none involve their research or study subjects.

In recent weeks, allegations that Heatherton groped two women in 2002 have surfaced.

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Jennifer Groh, a Duke professor who taught at Dartmouth for nearly a decade, has said she sent a letter to college investigators detailing how a student came to her alleging that Heatherton had touched her breasts during a recruiting event.

Groh informed an associate dean about the incident. Heatherton’s attorney has said that the college investigated the complaint at the time and found that it was an accidental touch.

Separately, a psychology professor at the University of California Davis said that when she was a graduate student at a conference in 2002, Heatherton squeezed her buttocks while they were standing in a group together.

The professor, Simine Vazire, recounted her experience in the online magazine Slate.com. Heatherton said he did not recall touching Vazire and only recently heard of the allegation.

The 15 Dartmouth students said in their statement that they hope the college is transparent about the results of its investigation.

“We hope that this endeavor will help combat a pervasive toxic culture that affects women in all stages of their careers,” they wrote.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.