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They Revealed Harassment Claims Against a Professor, and Were Disciplined

Allegations had been swirling around William Jaworski for years.

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, New York Times

Allegations had been swirling around William Jaworski for years.

An associate philosophy professor at Fordham University, Jaworski was accused of making female students feel “uncomfortable” and “unsafe,” according to a letter he received from the university. Many formal and informal complaints were made against him, two of which were substantiated, one for sexual harassment and another for unprofessional conduct. The letter said the “pattern of behavior” had gone on for more than a decade.

So at the beginning of this semester, two seniors, Samantha Norman and Eliza Putnam, decided to do something about it. On the first day of class in January, they visited two of Jaworski’s philosophical ethics classes, taught at the university’s Lincoln Center campus, in Manhattan, before the instructor arrived. Standing in front of a white board with about two dozen students folded into desks in front of them, they delivered a warning.

“We introduced ourselves and said, ‘We just want you to know that there’s a history of allegations against this professor and multiple Title IX complaints,'” Putnam said.

They told the students to take care of themselves and take care of each other, they said. They were in and out in less than five minutes.

Just a few days later, the women received an email asking them to meet with the department of public safety. At first, they thought the university might be trying to learn more about Jaworski’s behavior. But it soon became apparent that they were the targets. The university began a formal investigation as to whether they had violated its code of conduct for dishonesty, disorderly conduct and verbal harassment.

This month, they were told that the dishonesty charge had stuck. While it will have little practical effect, it is a black mark on their record, one the women feel is aimed at stifling their speech.

Also this month, Jaworski, who denies the allegations against him, received a letter of his own.

“Your behavior has made many of our female students feel uncomfortable, others have felt marginalized and others have told us they feel unsafe,” Stephen Freedman, the Fordham Provost, wrote. “Since you have violated the code of conduct, have engaged in an unprofessional and inappropriate pattern of behavior that has persisted for over a decade and have made no effort to change your behavior, I find it necessary to suspend you with pay effective April 9, 2018 through the end of the Fall 2018 semester.”

Andrew T. Miltenberg, Jaworski’s lawyer, said in an email that his client “denies the allegations that are being made and intends to continue to respect the confidentiality and privacy of Fordham University and its internal process.”

Miltenberg suggested that Jaworski was being targeted because “the cultural leftists are intolerant of traditional morality.” The professor had intended to teach a course on “sexuality and morality from a traditionalist perspective,” his lawyer said.

“We are confident that upon review, the allegations will be determined to have been unfounded,” Miltenberg said.

Bob Howe, a spokesman for Fordham, said the university could not comment on any actions against Jaworski or the disciplinary proceedings against the students. “I can’t address the specifics directly, but I can say that we took and are taking appropriate action in these cases,” he said.

Kent Y. Hirozawa, a former member of the National Labor Relations Board and the lawyer representing Norman and Putnam, said the women’s experience speaks to a dangerous pressure to keep quiet about potential abuse. Former employers called as a reference might not share their concerns for fear of being sued. Co-workers might keep quiet for fear of opening themselves up to threats or legal action. And predators are able to continue, unimpeded.

“The conspiracy of silence about sexual abuse deprives future victims of the opportunity to protect themselves,” Hirozawa said. “What these students did to try to break the cycle was generous and courageous, and what they told their fellow students was true. It is ironic that Fordham should punish them for ‘dishonesty.’ The only dishonesty here is Fordham’s attempt to silence them and hide the truth.”

Norman, a philosophy major, had been a student in Jaworski’s philosophy of human nature class as a freshman, and she said first heard about the allegations against him only after it was too late to drop the class. She said she never had a personal experience in class that made her uncomfortable, but she said she went out of her way to keep her distance from him. She said several of the students in the two classes she and Putnam visited were freshman and transfer students, unlikely to have heard about the allegations against Jaworski.

Norman and Putnam visited one class together, and Putnam went to another class by herself. Ivoryona Williams, a sophomore, was in the class Putnam visited. She said that after she heard what Putnam had to say, she dropped the class.

“I can’t be in this class,” she said. “I just know for my well-being, I don’t want to be in any type of compromising situation.”

Norman and Putnam described themselves as frustrated that their warnings about the very behavior that got Jaworski suspended have formally branded them as “dishonest.” When they asked an administrator what the basis was for the finding, each of them was told that something they stated in front of Jaworski’s classes was inaccurate.

Despite the ruling, Norman said, she would do it again.

“I have no regrets,” she said. “How many survivors are told they’re not being honest?”

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