Former Dartmouth Faculty Member Questions School’s Handling Of Sexual Misconduct Claim in 2002

  • 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
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Hanover — A former Dartmouth College faculty member this week raised concerns about the school’s handling of a sexual misconduct allegation in 2002 against a professor now under investigation.

Jennifer Groh, now a tenured professor at Duke University, said that more than a decade ago she filed a report against Todd Heatherton, who is one of three psychology professors now being investigated by the college and the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office in response to allegations of sexual misbehavior.

Dartmouth officials have said the allegations do not involve research work conducted by the three professors but have otherwise declined to describe the allegations that spurred their investigations, which also involve professors Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen.

Heatherton denied the 2002 claim via a lawyer on Wednesday.

Fifteen years ago, a female student told Groh that Heatherton had touched her breasts during a graduate student recruitment event “while stating that she was not doing very well in her work,” Groh said in an Oct. 14 email to Dartmouth administrators.

Groh, a Guggenheim Fellow who now directs a neurobiology lab at Duke, said she never heard back from Dartmouth officials after passing on the report, and noted that Heatherton became chairman of the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department and was granted an endowed professorship not long afterward.

“I hope that the current investigation will consider not only the present case but also whether a different approach in 2002 would have prevented it,” Groh said in her letter, which she made public on social media on Wednesday.

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

College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence declined to comment on the case, but encouraged others to contact investigators.

“We appreciate hearing from Professor Groh about her experience and encourage anyone with additional information about the allegations to reach out to us, the New Hampshire State Police, or the Attorney General’s Office,” Lawrence said in an email.

Groh confirmed the authenticity of her letter but declined to comment further on Wednesday. She said there were no sexual harassment or misconduct incidents that had involved her personally.

In her letter, Groh said that several faculty members back in 2002 were “alarmed” by an apparent lack of follow-up to the Heatherton complaint, as well as by his subsequent promotion.

She also indicated that she and other faculty members left the school in part because of the college’s handling of the case.

“Of particular concern were the obstacles to promotion raised for women faculty and the possibility that Heatherton could have been aware of the complaints raised against him,” she said. “These were contributing factors in the departures of a number of faculty (including myself) for other institutions.”

Groh’s public statement follows another allegation that surfaced publicly last week.

Simine Vazire, a tenured professor of psychology at the University of California–Davis, accused Heatherton of groping her during at an academic conference in Savannah, Ga., in 2002.

In a story published in Slate on Monday, Vazire said Heatherton “squeezed her butt” when she was attending one of her first major conferences as a 21-year-old graduate student.

Heatherton told the online magazine he did not remember the incident, but added, “if I touched her as she described, all I can say is that I am profoundly sorry.”

Vazire said she made a report to an external investigator at Dartmouth after hearing of the ongoing inquiry.

Heatherton, a prominent figure in social neuroscience who studies human impulse control, has worked to distance himself from Kelley and Whalen since the news broke in October. His lawyers have said he is under investigation because of an unspecified “out-of-state” incident that does not involve his colleagues or his research.

His lawyers also say Heatherton “has engaged in no sexual relations with any student.”

Published Wednesday at 5:55 p.m. Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.


An earlier version of this story misstated the month Jennifer Groh emailed Dartmouth administrators.