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Probe clears Dartmouth faculty, staff of wrongdoing in case that spurred student’s hunger strike

Valley News
Published: 8/11/2021 7:42:34 PM

A second investigation into a former Dartmouth College graduate student’s discrimination and retaliation claims has cleared the remaining eight accused professors and staff, saying there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

Investigators’ decision, released on the Dartmouth College website in late July, is the final of two reports the school released this year, addressing claims made by former student Maha Hasan Alshawi, who launched a 24-day hunger strike to push the college to investigate her complaints last summer. She ended the hunger strike in August 2020 after the school agreed to open an external investigation into her accusations against nine Dartmouth College faculty and staff.

The accusations stemmed from one primary complaint in which Alshawi claimed her computer science professor, Alberto Quattrini Li, sexually harassed her in 2019 and then retaliated against her, in part by not inviting her on a research trip and letting another student access her office.

Along with the claims against Li, Alshawi filed more complaints with the school alleging that eight other professors and staff — including members of the school’s Title IX department — ignored her complaints against Li and even retaliated against her for them. The Title IX department handles investigations into sex- and gender-based discrimination claims.

The first external investigation and report, published in April, cleared Li of any wrongdoing, noting that he was not in the country during one of the times Alshawi said he sexually harassed her.

The most recent report is from Maureen Holland and Peter Lim, of the Philadelphia law firm Cozen O’Connor, who work with institutions dealing with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. The report gives an “executive summary” of the allegations against the remaining eight staff members but does not go into detail about investigators’ findings.

“We find that there is insufficient information to support, by a preponderance of the evidence, a finding that any of the named respondents engaged in retaliation,” the report said. There is also insufficient evidence to support claims of discrimination, according to the report.

Alshawi, who was a first-year Ph.D. student from Bahrain at the time of the alleged misconduct, wrote in an email Tuesday that she is “disappointed not only in the outcome but also in the failures of the process,” saying she showed investigators evidence to back up her claims of retaliation but was ignored.

Among her claims, Alshawi alleged Department of Computer Science Chair Prasad Jayanti retaliated against her for her Li complaint and discriminated against her based on her religion. He allegedly did this by withholding worksheets from her, giving her a poor grade as a teaching assistant and interfering with her ability to get into a more advanced class, the report said.

She also accused professor of computer science Amit Chakrabarti of retaliating against her by failing to continue as her supervisor, forcing her to find an academic adviser, saying her low grade as a teaching assistant would affect her fellowship and referencing her “misunderstanding” of the computer science material.

Though the majority of Alshawi’s remaining complaints were made against Jayanti and Chakrabarti, she also accused two employees with the Title IX office — Gary Sund and Kristi Clemens — as well as Associate Dean for the Sciences Daniel Rockmore and former Director of Institutional Diversity and Equity Antonio Ferrantino of all failing to properly investigate her claims against Li. She also accused Associate Director of the Office of Visa and Immigration Services Keriann Ketcham of interfering with her visa process and ability to transfer to another school and accused Assistant Dean at Dartmouth’s Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies Gary Hutchins of failing to respond adequately to her initial concerns about Li.

Messages to seven of the eight accused faculty and staff were not returned Tuesday. Sund declined to comment.

Officials shared the final report with Alshawi before publishing it on the website, but Alshawi took issue with making much of the findings public, according to the report.

“(Alshawi) identified several preconditions to the public sharing of the report which we evaluated and find are without merit,” the report said. The report did not list the preconditions.

In an email Tuesday, Alshawi took issue with the report itself, writing that Dartmouth hindered her ability to fully participate in the external investigations, partly by disconnecting her Dartmouth email accounts.

Alshawi is no longer a Dartmouth student.

She also said the school gave her little time to review the 3,000 pages of investigative documents related to the report.

“There was no justifiable reason why the investigators had to roll up eight investigations into one report,” Maha said, adding that she was given less than a week to read and respond to the documents. “They did this to harass and intimidate me.”

Alshawi said she currently lives out of the country but declined to say where, and that she has suffered from anemia following the hunger strike last year.

“To my mind, the retaliations have continued through this investigation, and I have reported new claims of retaliation,” Alshawi wrote, but did not list what new claims she’s made. “Most of the retaliations I have claimed are examples of Dartmouth attempting to wear me down, bit by bit, in retaliation for my speaking out about what Title IX claims and retaliations for bringing those claims.”

Dartmouth College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence declined to comment on the outcome Tuesday apart from writing, “This is the final report and the investigation is now closed.”

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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