EVANSTON, Ill. — A professor at Northwestern University has taken a leave of absence while he faces accusations of misconduct and bullying.
The university is investigating Prof. Alec Klein after a group of 10 former students and employees at the Medill School of Journalism sent a letter to the school's provost. The letter listed numerous complaints about Klein's conduct over the years, including sexual harassment, abusive behavior and bullying. Klein denies the accusations, and says they stem from a disgruntled former employee.
That former employee, Olivia Pera, worked as an administrative assistant under Klein at the Medill School of Journalism Justice Project. A prestigious and highly-regarded class, it takes a criminal case at the beginning of the school year and investigates it, often getting changes made for the accused or convicted person.
Olivia says she has official documentation she saved, and diary entries she wrote, that show a pattern of abuse by Klein and what she calls his "predatory behavior" towards her. In an entry dated September 29, Olivia writes that Klein asked her out for dinner to celebrate her first day on the job.
While there, she says he told her he had a 'chemical reaction' when they met at the first interview and made several advances towards her which she did not accept.
"He was nice to me at first," Olivia said. "It went sour really quick and got really harsh."
Olivia quit after six months. She formally leveled complaints against Prof. Klein, but they were found to be unfounded by the university. In a statement to WGN, Prof. Klein categorically denies all the allegations, pointing to Olivia's complaint specifically, saying:
"The university conducted an extensive investigation, interviewing current and former employees, former students and others, and reviewing emails, expenses and other records. The complaint was determined to be completely unfounded. I was cleared of any wrongdoing and the claim was dismissed."
Pera's allegations were successful in compelling Allison Flowers to come forward with her own. Allison was a student in Klein’s investigative reporting class in 2009, and then an employee with the Medill Justice Project as a research associate. She had several meetings with him as a student that were always behind closed doors, where he would ask intimate details about her personal life.
When she went to work for him, she says she quickly realized it was a huge mistake, alleging she experienced "hostile and harassing behavior," and saw him "treat students with a lot of cruelty." While she won’t talk publicly about her specific allegations, Allison has told Northwestern officials and been interviewed by them three separate times.
"While I was working at Northwestern, I did not report him to H.R.," she said. "I was too afraid of retaliation."
On Thursday, she received a cease-and-desist letter from Klein’s attorney, saying her statements are factually inaccurate or untrue. They are "malicious, defamatory and are designed to damage Klein."
Allison and Kaylen Belsha were students at Northwestern at the same time. Kaylen also took Klein's investigative reporting class, and also had closed-door meetings where he asked her very personal questions.
"I did have one instance where he did tell me a story that was sexual in nature that made me really uncomfortable," she recalls.
Kaylen also says she didn't tell the university at the time, but after speaking with other women over the years, she realized they had stories similar to her own. Then this week, Allison, Kaylen and eight other women sent a letter to Medill's dean and the provost of Northwestern, saying in part:
"Today, we are writing to tell you that Alec Klein’s time is up. His harassing behavior. His predatory behavior. His controlling, discriminatory, emotionally and verbally abusive behavior has to end. We all know about it. We’ve experienced it. It’s time you heard us. It’s time you listened."
Since the letter became public, 14 other women have come forward. Kaylen also talked with Northwestern about what had happened to her, and says she was told there would be no official investigation.
"The process is very difficult," Kaylen said. "At some point i think there are enough claims that pile up that should force the university to take some kind of action."
In a statement sent late Thursday afternoon, Northwestern said: “Prof. Klein has requested a leave of absence from all of his positions at Northwestern until the university completes its investigation, and the university has agreed that is the appropriate action.”
Klein says he categorically denies all of the accusations. Northwestern is encouraging anyone who has been a victim of alleged harassment or misconduct to contact the university’s Office of Equity.