Dartmouth: Harassment, Assault Allegations in Psychology Department Handled Appropriately

Jan 16, 2019

Credit Allison Quantz for NHPR

In a court filing Tuesday, Dartmouth College strongly defended its response to allegations of discrimination and sexual violence in its prestigious Psychological and Brain Sciences Department.

The college is fighting a federal class-action lawsuit brought by seven current and former students. The plaintiffs are seeking $70 million in damages, arguing college administrators failed to take meaningful action to protect female students from physical and professional harm.

Tuesday’s filing represents Dartmouth’s first formal response since the suit was filed in November (Read the full document below).

The college is refuting allegations that administrators were aware of discrimination and harassment by faculty members dating back more than a decade, stating instead they first became aware of serious misconduct in the spring of 2017.

Earlier complaints of inappropriate behavior were dealt with suitably at the time, Dartmouth said, arguing that the few examples that exist are minor. Those include complaints that Todd Heatherton, a former department chair who formally retired last year, groped multiple students, and that Paul Whalen, a former professor forced to resign last year, regularly held lab meetings at a local bar.  

The school also denies that it failed to act quickly after students brought forward more far-reaching allegations in 2017. The extended timeline between those complaints and the professors’ dismissal was due to requests for privacy on the part of the students, Dartmouth argues, as well as the “rigorous and objective” nature of its investigation.

Further, Dartmouth is questioning an allegation of rape brought by one of the plaintiffs, Vassiki Chauhan.

Chauhan said Whalen assaulted her after administrators were already aware of concerns around his behavior, but before he was placed on leave. “Many facts regarding the alleged sexual assault are disputed, both by Former Professor Whalen and by another woman who was present,” the filing states.

The plaintiff's lead counsel, Deborah Marcuse, said Wednesday that Dartmouth's statements were largely unsurprising, arguing the signficance of complaints prior to 2017 will be a key focus of argument in court. The women, she said, "have given a gift to the institution by demanding accountability."

Earlier this month, Dartmouth announced a number of reforms aimed at combatting discrimination and gender-based violence on campus, including reviews of all its academic departments and additional training for faculty and staff.