Columbia Professor Accused of Sexual Misconduct Retires

Posted January 4, 2018 7:06 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — A longtime photography professor at Columbia University who had been accused of sexual misconduct told school administrators Wednesday that he was retiring, according to a spokesman for the university, Scott Schell.

The professor, Thomas Roma, notified the school of his decision after the accounts of five women who had been students of Roma at either Columbia or the School of Visual Arts were published in The New York Times.

The women described behavior that they said had occurred primarily in the late 1990s when they said Roma cultivated relationships with them, made advances and initiated sexual contact, including what one woman called “oral rape.”

Roma was the head of the photography program at Columbia’s School of the Arts, where he has taught since the late 1990s. He is also a prominent documentary photographer who has published 15 monographs and has had solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art and the International Center of Photography.

Roma had cooperated with a Columbia panel’s investigation of a complaint made by one woman, his lawyer countered, adding that assertions by the other four had “taken isolated, innocent incidents, none of them predatory” and “created fictitious versions of reality that are libelous.”

This week, in response to the allegations, Columbia had said that its policy is to investigate whenever there are accusations that a faculty member has harassed a student.

On Wednesday evening, Schell said the university had received a letter from Roma saying that he has decided to retire from the School of the Arts faculty, effective immediately.

Roma’s lawyer, Douglas Jacobs, said the retirement decision had been voluntary.

Among the former students who described misconduct by Roma was Ash Thayer, who said that in 1999 he asked her to turn around from a desk inside his Columbia office and then briefly placed his penis in her mouth before she pushed him away.

“Retirement should in no way minimize, excuse or repudiate the harm he caused young female students while he was their teacher and mentor and they were under his duty of care,” Thayer said, after being notified of Roma’s plans. “I want justice for the victims.”

In response to a question about how Roma’s decision to leave his job would affect an inquiry by the school, Columbia administrators said that, as a general matter, a retirement would not alter how the school conducts an investigation.