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Dartmouth Psych Professor Retires Amid Harassment Inquiry

  • Psychology professor Todd Heatherton is photographed in a study area at Dartmouth College's Moore Hall on October 7, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hanover — A Dartmouth College professor has retired and apologized on Thursday for acting “unprofessionally in public” while he was intoxicated at public settings during academic conferences.

The retirement of professor Todd Heatherton, who had been on sabbatical leave, was announced in an update on investigations into Heatherton and two other professors in Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences that Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon sent to the college community on Thursday morning.

The fate of the other two professors remains undetermined at this time.

Heatherton, who had been the Lincoln Filene professor in human relations and also served as director of Dartmouth’s Center for Social Brain Sciences, has retired — effective immediately — following a recommendation by Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith that his tenure be revoked and that he be terminated, Hanlon’s email said.

“In light of the findings of the investigation and the dean’s recommendation, Heatherton will continue to be prohibited from entering campus property or from attending any Dartmouth-sponsored events, no matter where they are held,” Hanlon said in his email.

Heatherton and Dartmouth have not entered into separation or non-disclosure agreements, Hanlon wrote. Dartmouth also hasn’t made a severance payment to him.

Heatherton, who studied human impulse control, acknowledged his retirement and offered an apology in a statement emailed by his Concord-based attorneys from Shaheen & Gordon on Thursday.

“I retired because I thought it best for my family, the institution, and the graduate students involved. I acknowledge that I acted unprofessionally in public at conferences while intoxicated. I offer a humble and sincere apology to anyone affected by my actions,” he said.

Smith also has made recommendations regarding professors William Kelley and Paul Whalen, which were upheld by a faculty-elected review committee within arts and sciences, according to Hanlon’s email. These recommendations are now under review by the faculty-elected, Dartmouth-wide Council on Academic Freedom and Responsibility. After the council’s review, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees will make decisions in each case.

“Out of respect for the ongoing process, I am choosing not to disclose the recommendations by the dean or the Review Committee at this time,” Hanlon said in his email.

Kelley and Whalen remain on paid leave with restricted access to Dartmouth property pending the board’s decisions. They could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Dartmouth first placed the professors on paid leave in October amid allegations of “serious misconduct,” and days later the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office said it had opened a criminal investigation because at least some of the allegations involved potential “sexual misconduct.”

The attorney general’s investigation remains ongoing, Associate Attorney General Jane Young said in an email on Thursday.

“I cannot provide you any additional details at this time given that the investigation is still pending,” she said.

Heatherton’s attorneys did not respond to follow-up questions seeking more specific information about his behavior.

In a statement in October, Heatherton’s attorneys said he was “confident that he has not violated any written policy of Dartmouth, including policies relating to sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. He has engaged in no sexual relations with any student.”

Heatherton earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Calgary in Canada in 1984, according to a resume that was available on Dartmouth’s website until recently. He then earned master’s and doctoral degrees in experimental psychology from the University of Toronto.

He served as a post-doctoral research associate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and then worked at Harvard University from 1990 to 1994, serving as an assistant professor of psychology and as a director of the undergraduate program in psychology. He first came to Dartmouth in 1994.

Over the course of his career, he’s received numerous awards and research grants, and authored several books and well over 100 peer-reviewed articles.

Allegations against Heatherton have surfaced publicly since Dartmouth first launched its investigation. In November, Jennifer Groh, a former Dartmouth College faculty member who now is a tenured professor at Duke University, said she reported a sexual misconduct allegation against Heatherton to college administrators in 2002.

Groh, a Guggenheim Fellow who now directs a neurobiology lab at Duke, said a female student told her that Heatherton had touched the student’s breasts during a recruitment event “while stating that she was not doing very well in her work,” Groh said in an email to Dartmouth administrators last October, which she subsequently made public on social media.

In the fall, Heatherton’s attorney, Julie Moore, of Wellesley, Mass., said in an email that the college had investigated the claim and determined the touching was “accidental and totally unintentional — not a sexual touching at all.”

Groh, in her letter, said she didn’t hear from Dartmouth officials after passing on the student’s complaint. Not long afterward, she said, Heatherton became chairman of the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department and gained an endowed professorship.

In her letter, Groh said she left Dartmouth, in part, because she felt the college’s handling of the incident could be a barrier to promotion for female faculty members and that Heatherton might have learned of the complaints against him.

In addition, in a story published by Slate in November, Simine Vazire, a professor of psychology at the University of California–Davis, accused Heatherton of groping her during an academic conference in Savannah, Ga., in 2002.

Vazire said Heatherton “squeezed her butt” when she was a 21-year-old graduate student attending one of her first major conferences.

Heatherton told Slate he didn’t remember the incident, but “if I touched her as she described, all I can say is that I am profoundly sorry.”

More broadly, in a November statement to The Dartmouth newspaper, 15 Dartmouth undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral scholars anonymously alleged that the three professors had created a “hostile academic environment in which sexual harassment is normalized.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.