Dartmouth College says misconduct claims not research related

  • ** FILE ** Students walk across the green at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., in this Sept. 30, 2003, file photo. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File) TOBY TALBOT

Valley News
Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dartmouth College’s ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by three psychology professors does not involve their research, college President Phil Hanlon said on Friday.

“Because the three faculty members work in the same department and have collaborated on some research involving human subjects, media reports have intimated that the professors may have violated legal requirements or ethical standards relating to the treatment of individuals who participated in their studies,” Hanlon wrote in an email to the Dartmouth community.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is also conducting a criminal investigation into the allegations involving Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen, all of whom are tenured professors in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

Dartmouth has restricted the professors’ access to campus, and Kelley and Whalen have been placed on paid leave. Attorneys for Heatherton, who was already on sabbatical when the story broke, have said he is “fully cooperating” with investigators.

Heatherton’s lawyers have worked to distance him from the other two professors, saying the investigations into his conduct had to do with an “out-of-state” incident and adding that he “has engaged in no sexual relations with any student.”

Heatherton also recently ended a visiting scholarship at New York University “by mutual agreement,” representatives of the school said, without specifying why he left.

“Dartmouth continues to cooperate with law enforcement officials on their separate investigation,” Hanlon said in his email on Friday. “The attorney general has concluded that no threat to the public exists in this matter.”

An Oct. 31 story in the New York Times noted in the opening paragraph that the professors’ research “included studies of sexual desire and attractiveness.” The Times’ report described a 2012 study co-authored by Heatherton and Kelley, with contributions from Whalen, that measured first-year female students’ reactions to images of food and sex.

Hanlon said the school’s investigation did not relate to any of the professors’ research.

“I want to stress that we have received no allegations, nor have we uncovered any evidence, to this effect,” he said.

The news originally surfaced after posters appeared on campus asking about the whereabouts of the professors, leading The Dartmouth, a student newspaper, to publish a story. Administrators then confirmed that the three professors were under investigation, and days later, the state Attorney General’s Office opened its own inquiry.

Hanlon on Friday said that Dartmouth encourages people making internal college reports to also notify law enforcement.

“If they decline to pursue that option, we take very seriously our legal and ethical obligation to respect their wishes,” he said. “For that reason, we honor reporting parties’ wish for confidentiality unless we believe there is imminent danger to the community.”

“I would like to conclude by emphasizing that we are deeply troubled by these allegations,” Hanlon said. “We take these investigations seriously, and are committed to a thorough and fair process and an outcome that strengthens our community. I appreciate your patience as this process continues.”

Peggy O’Neil, executive director of WISE, said people in recent weeks had been seeking guidance from the Lebanon-based nonprofit, as they often do when sexual violence is in the news – and as people around the country are doing as part of the “Me Too” movement, prompted by myriad allegations about sexual misconduct by men in positions of authority.

“We’re seeing the response whenever something comes public,” she said. “It can trigger memories for people.”

O’Neil emphasized that WISE, which fights gender-based violence from its Lebanon headquarters and from its survivor advocate’s offices on the Dartmouth campus, offers resources 24 hours a day.

Amid these and other emerging stories of sexual misconduct, she said, “The most important thing is that we learn to listen to and believe survivors.”