We previously discussed various cases where academics involved in allegations of sexual misconduct have moved abroad to teach at foreign schools. That has triggered a “MeToo” protests at these schools. One of those cases involved a former GW colleague, Ezra Wasserman Mitchell, who changed his name from Larry Mitchell before leaving for China to join the faculty of the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. Students reportedly called for an investigation. Now one of those activists in China who opposed Mitchell’s appointment is claiming that Mitchell was fired after the investigation, but the posted comments only indicate that Mitchell’s contract was not renewed. The website however still shows Mitchell as a faculty member. While I have not been able to confirm Mitchell’s departure, it does appear that the controversy is still raging in China since our previous discussion. However, we are no closer in resolving how such cases should be handled.
The screenshots are from Weibo, China’s version of Twitter from March 9th, 2018 and July 17th. One of my Chinese speaking friends says that the 2018 link states
“The school has noted reactions on social media to issues involving the Faculty of Law’s Professor Mitchell prior to his joining the faculty. A work team established by the school has undertaken further investigations. We repeat once again: the school has always highly stressed issues of faculty [or “teacher”[ morality and has zero tolerance for behavior that violates relevant provisions regarding faculty morality!”
The other link from July 17th. It says:
“Recently there have been posts on the internet again voicing suspicions that our former foreign professor Mitchell committed acts violating faculty morality prior to joining the faculty. The school engaged in a relevant investigation in 2018 and made a conclusion. Because the term of his contract expired, Mitchell has already left SUFE and is no longer a foreign professor at our school. We thank everyone for their concern.”
In the earlier protests, I discussed concerns over cases like Mitchell’s where there was no final adjudication of guilt. Women at the School of Law at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SHUFE) started their own campaign against “Professor Mi Luo” That is the Chinese name for Professor Mitchell, who was the dean of Case Western Reserve University Law School before he was accused of sexual harassment. The resulting scandal led to settlements with all parties by the university and Mitchell resigned his short-lived deanship and left for New York. He eventually changed his name to Ezra Wasserman Mitchell. Given the settlements, there was no ruling against Mitchell by the university or the federal court. Mitchell always maintained his innocence.
The amended complaint of Law Professor Raymond Ku alleges that Mitchell engaged in sexual harassment and retaliation as Dean, including suggestions of three-some trysts with students and administrators. The complaint further claims relations with students during Mitchell’s tenure at George Washington Law School and notes that he married a student while a law professor. Ku’s allegations have been reportedly affirmed by a former administrator who came with Mitchell to Case Western from GWU, Daniel Dubé. There are also unnamed faculty and students referenced in the complaint. [For Dubé’s affidavit, click here]
The complaint states that a professor reported an allegation from a student that Mitchell had proposed a “threesome” and sexual flirting and harassment by the dean. Media has reported that Daniel Dubé had come forward to say that he is Administrative Staff Member 3 referenced in the complaint. The complaint states that Administrative Member 3 reported Mitchell’s alleged sexual relationship with a law student and that he was then subject to retaliation from Mitchell. Mitchell denied all of these allegations and vowed to litigate the matter before a settlement was reached.
I raised the Mitchell controversy earlier with other cases that raise the question over the fairness of new legislation seeking to bar employment of accused academics if allegations were not ultimately adjudicated. Mitchell was never found guilty of the allegations. While some alleged how he changed his name as part of a subterfuge, Mitchell insisted that he changed his name to sound more Jewish, including the adoption of Wasserman (which is not a family name).
A least one Cleveland paper is reporting that Mitchell has left Shanghai University. If so, it is not clear whether Mitchell will now return to the United States.
The question again is how to handle such allegations if an academic was not found guilty. Mitchell maintained that he has a bawdy sense of humor that was often misinterpreted and that some allegations came from disgruntled individuals. For schools, the issue is one of due process for an academic balanced against strong policies against sexual misconduct.
Mitchell is a highly gifted academic and was a rising star before his scandal at Case Western. He could now be persona non grata at other universities. Ironically, the failure to reach a final adjudication on these allegations could be working against him. Absent a formal decision rejecting the allegations, Mitchell will likely face the same protests at other institutions in the United States and possibly abroad. The problem with settlements is that they leave allegations . . . well . . . unsettled.