Northwestern responds to sexual assault lawsuit
By Naheed Rajwani and Todd Lighty, Tribune reporters
Northwestern University on Friday disputed a student’s account that the school mishandled her allegations that a professor sexually attacked her in 2012, saying it took the matter seriously, conducted a thorough investigation and swiftly disciplined the professor.
In a detailed account in response to a federal lawsuit the student filed Feb. 10, the university said it took a host of disciplinary actions against philosophy professor Peter Ludlow, including freezing his pay in the 2012-13 school year and revoking his appointment to an endowed professor position.
Ludlow, a Northwestern professor since 2008, appealed the punishment, but a six-person faculty committee unanimously upheld the discipline, according to the university’s filing.
The university’s investigation found that Ludlow drank with the underage student in Chicago in February 2012, and “engaged in unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” by rubbing her back and kissing her.
Northwestern found that the student had been drunk and woke up the next morning in Ludlow’s bed with the professor’s arms wrapped around her. But the university said its investigation was unable to substantiate the student’s more serious claim that Ludlow had groped her.
Alan Cubbage, a Northwestern spokesman, said the school wanted to “set the record straight” about how it had responded to the student’s accusations.
“The university is truly committed to the safety and well-being of all of its students and fully supports those who come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct,” Cubbage said.
The student’s lawyer, Kevin O’Connor, said Friday he had not read Northwestern’s filing and declined to comment.
Neither Ludlow nor his lawyer, Kristin Case, could be immediately reached.
When the university learned of the student’s allegations, it launched an investigation led by Joan Slavin, the director of the university’s sexual harassment prevention office. Slavin conducted a six-week investigation beginning Feb. 13, 2012. She gathered documents and interviewed the student, Ludlow and other unidentified witnesses.
Slavin in April 2012 sent a 21-page report of her findings and recommendations to university administrators and emailed a summary to the student, according to court records.
The university concluded that Ludlow’s conduct violated its sexual harassment policy and disciplined him.
Besides freezing his pay for one year and revoking the endowed position, court records show the university told Ludlow to avoid one-on-one social contact with undergraduates, directed him not to have romantic relationships with “any Northwestern student in the future,” told him not to give alcohol to underage students and required him to complete an individualized “sensitivity/harassment-prevention training” program.
The student filed her suit using her name, but the Tribune does not typically identify victims in cases such as this one, in which the student alleged that Ludlow got her drunk and sexually attacked her.
The student, who was a freshman and underage at the time, tried to kill herself after the alleged attack, according to her suit. The lawsuit also alleges that university officials refused to share information about any disciplinary action against Ludlow.
The university, in its filing, disputed the student’s claim that it did not share disciplinary information. The university said it told the student’s lawyers of measures taken against Ludlow, although the school’s filing is unclear exactly what was conveyed to her lawyers.