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Emerson College professor found dead had been suspended for sexual harassment

Emerson College.
Emerson College.Globe staff/file 2006

An Emerson College professor and noted filmmaker who was found dead in a Jamaica Plain park in mid-August had been suspended for the fall semester for sexual harassment, the school’s president notified faculty Tuesday.

Robert Todd, 54, was an associate chair of Emerson’s Department of Visual & Media Arts and had worked at Emerson for more than 18 years when he died. He had been reported missing Aug. 16 and was last seen entering Franklin Park, where his body was later discovered.

Immediately after, colleagues and former students took to social media to mourn Todd’s death and reflect on his influence.

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But there have also been misleading and false statements surrounding the circumstances of his death “promulgated with the sad patina of truth,” said Lee Pelton, Emerson College’s president, in an emotional speech that was posted on the college’s website.

Those rumors compelled Emerson to publicly address the personnel matter, Pelton said.

Todd was suspended without pay for the semester and required to work with a professional coach after he was “found responsible for engaging in sexual harassment,” Pelton said.

In December 2017, an Emerson staff member alleged that Todd in multiple, linked incidents had violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy. Emerson brought in an outside investigator who conducted a monthslong study, ultimately finding that Todd had “engaged in sexual harassment,” Pelton said.

During the investigation, Emerson administrators also received additional third-party reports of inappropriate behavior and potential violations of the college’s sexual harassment policy. But “there was insufficient evidence to support additional claims,” Pelton said.

Emerson is providing support to the staff member who brought the complaint against Todd, Pelton said.

“While the college typically does not release such information, these extraordinary circumstances, the very public nature of Professor Todd’s death . . . compelled me to speak to you today to provide an accurate and true accounting,” Pelton said.

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Todd was described as a “lyrical filmmaker” as well as a sound and visual artist on his Emerson biography page. He produced a series of films that were exhibited at venues and festivals around the world.

Todd also taught film production at other schools, including Boston College and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, according to Emerson. He also had worked as an editor, sound designer, and as a producer on broadcast and theatrically released media programs.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, family and friends of Todd’s are planning to participate in the Out of the Darkness walk in Boston in his memory. The fund-raising page describes Todd as “an extraordinary person: caring, conscientious, funny, energetic, and uniquely brilliant. His untimely death has left a jagged tear in the fabric of his community, and many people reeling in shock and profound confusion.”


Globe correspondent John Hilliard contributed to this report. Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre. fernandes@globe.com.
Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.